Naz Shah | From Poverty to British Parliament

Naz Shah’s Story

The streets of the UK buzz with cars, laughter and excitement. From the outset, life goes on and everything seems normal. In a small household in Bradford West, however, things are far from normal. A confused 6-year-old Naz Shah sits contemplating the events that had just unfolded. Events which she would only later fathom the full extent of – Naz’s father had abandoned her family.

Living with a pregnant mother who could barely speak English and a younger brother less than 3 years old, Naz’s family found itself in an impossible situation. In pursuit of stability, her mother commissioned a neighbour, Azam, to secure a mortgage with the jewellery she had sold. Although supposedly religious-conservative, Azam raped her. And the abuse went on and on, taking many forms and wrapped in much manipulation, until a tipping point. Naz’s mother killed her abuser.

At this point, Naz went from being a teenage daughter to acting as a mother not only to her siblings, but in her words, a mother to her imprisoned mother. Her time was stretched between working odd jobs like packing crisps, campaigning with activist groups about her mother’s unjust sentence, visiting her mother in prison and dealing with her own abusive husband.

Whilst initially these circumstances brewed anger, hatred and an attempted suicide, eventually Naz steered her life elsewhere. Harnessing a deep strength, perhaps drawn from her mother, Naz said she had learnt to feel gratitude. So much was wrong in her life, but “there were others who had it much worse”. Of course, there was still a burning fire for justice which drove Naz to advocate for many oppressed minorities – but this now sprung from a philosophy of niyyah (intention) which we only discover later.

Her journey to politics was an unlikely but fascinating one. Bradford West faced many problems – a corrupt Baradari politics system, a harmfully patriarchal community, rampant Islamophobia and much more. The story of how Naz Shah went from the woman jumping from squalor to squalor, to the woman who would defeat George Galloway in Bradford West’s election, involves a great many fascinating details. It includes her losing a job over whistleblowing, self-representing an impossible legal case (and winning) and eventually crossing paths with an unlikely advisor. Join us on episode 5 of the Transit Lounge – as we unpack the incredible set of events that has made Naz the woman she is now.

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Mufti Ismail Menk | Struggles of a Worldwide Mufti

Mufti Menk talks about his struggles

There is a popular perception out there that the shaykhs and the mufti’s have it easy. In between the local masjid, the library and classroom, the question pokes at one’s mind – how hard could their life be?

We pose this question to Mufti Menk – a familiar name in any Muslim household in the 21st century – and for good reason. Having been on the ‘Top 500 Influential Muslims’ List 6 years in a row, Ismail Menk is in a good position to shed some light on this issue.

Although his life has been clear of nightclubs, smoking and even the cinemas, the Mufti’s wide reach means he is familiar with how things work on the ground. From the multicultural understandings of a Christian high school to the intimate moral discipline of Indian Madrasa and the unique University scene in Saudi Arabia, the Mufti has reaped rich ways of thinking from multiple institutions.

On the Transit Lounge – a podcast from Toledo Society- we sit with Mufti Menk to beyond his rich intellectual journey. What is it that makes the Mufti so sought after and relatable to Muslims across the globe? As we push further – we notice the Mufti’s life has been no easy journey. In that hardship, there is a wisdom that emerges from lived experience. The Mufti works occasionally at a family business, had felt quite isolated in his distance studying abroad, and has been through a difficult divorce in his life.

Divorce is a particularly intimate, real and raw reality. There are no ways of escaping its grief and regret and it is rare to find a heart at ease following one. As was the case with the Mufti – with a divorce after having 2 kids, there is frustration, animosity and uncertainty. Only after long years, as we learn from the Mufti, do one’s eyes begin to start seeing. Allah had a plan and its wisdom often shows only after a long time. In the case of the Mufti’s divorce, this translates into a contentment and maturity, as he thanks his divorcee for her goodness and raising their kids well.

With the emotional maturity and wisdom arising out of the struggles of the Mufti, his popularity becomes all the more understandable.

In the episode we pick the mind of Mufti Menk and uncover more about what made Ismail Menk who he is today as we trace his struggles, upbringing, intellectual life and some interesting experiences!

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Dalia Mogahed – Muslim Engagement & The White House

Dalia Mogahed On Muslim Engagement

Being a Muslim in the modern world carries multiple dilemmas and paradoxes. Forced into the public spotlight all so suddenly, the political arena which Muslims are compelled to navigate is nothing short of frantic. There are so many questions but it seems there are so little answers: How should we engage? What should we do? Should we even engage?

Dalia Mogahed began grappling with these questions at the tender age of 15. Armed with the autobiography of Malcolm X, and an inquisitive eye into the justice embodied in Islamic scripture, social justice was all that was on Dalia’s mind. Not soon after, an event occurred which made this so much more real than an intellectual endeavour; September 11.

From here, Muslims were thrown into a fast, hostile and confusing political space. Dalia’s activism began in fear – fear for her community, for her child and for her religion. There was a need to act and do something to fight back, to secure a place for the American Muslim. So it started with outreach work – classrooms in colleges, later training law enforcement and eventually advising President Obama on policy related to Islam and Muslims. From the outside at least, things seemed to be moving.

But were they in reality?

As we sit with Dalia on The Transit Lounge, we explore the paradoxes and uncertainties of modern Muslim activism. A seasoned activist, Dalia delivers a deep truth we often lose sight of: it is never about the result, but always about the journey. To stay in the game and prevent burning out, one must recognise that as Muslims, we must strive, but it is only through God that we may arrive.

In the public spotlight having to constantly deal with the stress, death threats and backlash from within the community, Dalia’s unwavering commitment to spirituality is an essential. Whether that be daily dhikr, night prayers or constantly reaffirming her intention, there is a deep inner strength that Dalia appeals to.

In Episode 3 of The Transit Lounge, Dalia delves deep into practical lessons learnt from engaging the Obama administration, the dilemmas and absurdities in engaging the current administration and a peek at her new research on interesting aspects of the Muslim community.

Haroon Meer – Founder of Thinkst: A Method to the Madness

Haroon Meer – Founder of Thinkst

In an age of booming start-ups and overnight triumph, it seems the journey to success is inaccessible at worst and uncertain at best. What it means to be an authority in a field is a question a lot people ask, but not many people answer.

The answer to this question was central to the success of Haroon Meer; a South African Muslim at the helm of Thinkst, a cyber security firm that consults government agencies, big-name internet clients and more. He’s consulted NATO on cyber security before it was an active international threat, and his Canary cyber honey-pot devices are connected to major tech giants. With humble beginnings in the tail end of Apartheid South Africa, Haroon’s success was far from a silver spoon upbringing.
So how did Haroon take off?

On The Transit Lounge – a podcast from Toledo Society, Haroon described the one constant to becoming an authority in his field: relentlessness. Being at the top of the game means just that: putting the time in, keeping up with trends and staying competitive.

Central to Haroon’s philosophy is the idea that money follows value; not the other way around. Almost hard to believe, Haroon failed his first year of Computer Science. However, take this with with a grain of salt, as what followed was a measured and masterful pursuit of passion. He took classes in anything and everything he was interested in: philosophy, legals, sociology and more until he found his passion in computer science and pursued it without fail.

Far from the denizens of Silicon Valley and the West, Haroon operates comfortably out of South Africa, where Thinkst’s main office is located. Haroon reflects on his “Muslimness” during the episode, and the role his cultural and religious identity played in his journey. He also speaks of his early pool addiction and his short stint at the Quantico base!

You can click here to tune into the full podcast interview.

The Transit Lounge is part of Toledo Society – a podcast network dedicated to the English- speaking Muslim millennial.

Prof. John Esposito – Georgetown’s Unlikely Scholar of Islam

Professor John Esposito – Muslim Scholar

You are a 13-year-old boy, wide-eyed and beaming with energy. You live in a semi-enclave of middle-class Italian neighbourhoods tucked comfortably within Brooklyn New York. Neither of your parents made it past a high school education. The question starts to cross your mind – what is it that I want to do with my life?

As was the dilemma of a young John Esposito, who unbeknownst to him, would later go on to become one of the biggest authorities on Islamic Studies in the modern world. Leaving home at the tender age of 14, Professor Esposito spent 10 years with Capuchin Franciscan Church Order in training. At this point, you would be forgiven in thinking the good professor was on the path to becoming a priest.

After leaving the seminary, however, John Esposito took on a master’s program and later a PhD – specialising in a strange and unpopular subfield of a subfield – Islam. To contextualise, during the 1960s, Islam wasn’t a hot-button topic like it is now. Frankly, a specialisation in Islam as an academic was little more than a bad career move. On the first episode of The Transit Lounge – a podcast from Toledo Society – the professor grapples with this paradox. Always a practical person and ‘street smart’ as others eruditely pin him to be, his choice to specialise in Islam is one which the professor still cannot explain.

So, the silence of a niche academic field overtook him, but only for so long.

In 1979, an event in the Middle East transpired; its’ shockwaves would bring Islam to the fore of robust political discussion for many years to come; The Iranian Revolution. From here on, the Professor signed 3 book contracts to start with and went on to publish over 50 more. Quickly gaining momentum in the global Islamic discourse, the Professor became a senior member of the UN Alliance of Civilisations, began lecturing Islamic studies at the esteemed Georgetown University and is now the director of the Bridge Initiative combatting Islamophobia.

Professor Esposito describes his success as a combination of two things: hard work and luck. Part of it is putting in the hours and part of it is ‘being in the right place at the right time’. But how much of it could really be luck? On the episode, we uncover some astonishing coincidences that made Professor Esposito’s career (including a funny story involving an unlikely donor). But there seemed to be something deeper than these two factors at play; an ingredient only uncovered after much contemplation and probing.

In the podcast, we reflect over what this ingredient is, in between the tears and laughter we share with Professor Esposito. Tune in to hear more about the name you’ve heard but the story you don’t yet know in episode 1 of our Transit Lounge podcast.

Toledo Society Introduction – Why Muslim Podcasts?

Addressing a gap in Muslim media.

Muslim minorities in English-speaking societies have been on the forefront of global political discourse. Their challenges, struggles and complexities are known to any Muslim seeking to find their place in the contemporary world. Whether it through political, social or intellectual pressures, Muslims constantly find themselves questioning and balancing multiple identities.

The research reflects this complex clearly. According to a 2017 PEW Research study, 24% of American-born Muslims no longer identify with their faith. Similarly, studies by Yaqeen Institute demonstrate clear impacts of Islamophobia, particularly on Muslim women expressing their religious identity. One thing is for sure; the site of Muslim identity construction is deeply contested – reconciling between Muslim-ness and a plethora of other identities is no easy task.

Enter Toledo Society. Toledo Society is a network of podcasts for a new generation of English-speaking Muslims. We aim to produce quality, immersive content aiming to reinvigorate a rich Muslim identity; not only informed of the realities of the world, but also confident enough to face them. We strive to provoke excellence, creativity and most of all, authenticity within the Muslim today. 

So you might ask; why podcasts?   

Podcast adoption is growing exponentially. And for good reason. Not only is it a convenient way to explore new ideas, but it is an ecosystem that allows for deep engagement with personalities and topics you wouldn’t otherwise have the time to engage with. 

There is a plethora of shows in the pipeline that will talk to a young and spirited audience. Our first show is ‘The Transit Lounge’, where our host Mohamad Zaoud tracks the journeys of people who have had a considerable impact on the Muslim World – whether they be community heroes, founders of businesses with high social impact or influential academics. 

Toledo is led by a team of seasoned media professionals. Moeed Ahmad, Hisham Krayem and Mohamad Zaoud – all highly experienced in driving innovation and growth in modern media networks such as Al Jazeera and TRT World, bring a host of experiences and insight in making sure our content addresses people where they need it most.   

The Transit Lounge is now available on all major podcast apps, and our first episode airs on October 9th with Professor John Esposito.