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Our First FEMYSO Event

By Aliya Ismangil and Alexandra Darby
Campus Coordinators 2021-22, Campus Committee

A few months ago, the current president of the Forum of European Muslim Youth & Student Organisations (FEMYSO) reached out to ISB with the intention to reconnect. FEMYSO is a pan-European collection of more than 30 member organisations (MOs) who all work for and with Muslim youth or students. Though ISB has been a member of FEMYSO for a while, it has been years since the organisation has actively participated. We were kindly invited to their 26th General Assembly in Helsinki at the beginning of November, a weekend long programme that’s akin to an Annual Member’s Meeting. FEMYSO’s General Assembly weekends exist to ensure the organisation comply with their statutory duties to MOs. This includes Executive Committee (ExCo) elections when it’s time for a change of mandate (every two years).This year’s General Assembly, GA26, falls in the middle of a mandate, so it was a chance to hold the ExCo accountable for their work since their election last year. So within weeks, we, as two former Co-Coordinators of ISB Campus, went from knowing barely anything about FEMYSO to finding ourselves boarding a plane to Finland early on a Friday morning to spend three days in their world. We were both feeling extremely excited to be on our way to a country and a community neither of us had been to before, but also slightly apprehensive at not knowing completely what to expect. After a long morning of traveling from London to Helsinki, we checked-in to the hostel and grabbed a quick lunch of pizza with a new friend from Vienna, Austria. The jam-packed programme started that evening with a welcome, ice breakers and induction. This was extremely useful for us newbies at these events. The meetings are extremely structured, with voting cards needed to pass any proposal from changing the agenda and extending presentation times, or having to formally ask for clarification if needed. It reminded us of Model UN, if you’ve taken part in that. At this point, we were feeling quite overwhelmed with it all and lack of sleep from a full day of travelling was setting in! It was clear from talking with the ExCo members, however, that they were very excited to have representatives from ISB there. Whilst that was slightly intimidating, knowing we’re responsible for making a good impression for the whole organisation it was great to know that we had things to contribute!

The first day ended with a Qiyyam at a small mosque hidden in a side street in the city centre. The mosque was opened up just for us and our small group entered to close the day with prayers. Before we started, a dua request was made for one of the sisters’ relatives, and after the prayer the imam of the mosque who joined us towards the end led a short reminder. I was struck by how incredible it was to end the first day in Finland praying alongside Muslim youth leaders from across Europe. We hit the ground running the next day with our first full day of the agenda; starting with a quick reminder on setting our intentions before diving into the first of the ‘Accountability Sessions’. These sessions involve a presentation from each of the ExCo members summarising the work they’ve done in the past year and give time for MOs to ask questions about the work. We found these sessions to be a useful and comprehensive overview of the work that FEMYSO does. The afternoon also consisted of voting on motions put forward to the MOs, including welcoming a new MO to the forum. This year’s GA had the theme of ‘Holistically Sustainable’, exploring what it means for an organisation to develop in a conscious way, not only environmentally, but also socially and financially. With that in mind, the keynote speech was on ‘Being a Financially Sustainable Muslim Organisation’ by the brilliant Umer Suleiman, who is Global Risk Lead at Wahed, an Islamic Finance organisation. It was a brilliant overview on managing finances on an organisational level, and we definitely had lots of notes to take back to the Campus team! We closed Saturday’s timetable with a buffet-style networking dinner, which included FEMYSO’s annual European Youth Awards, recognising the great work of member organisations. As a lovely surprise, ISB got an honourable mention for our Feed the Homeless campaign during Ramadan in Manchester! And though the word ‘networking’ sort of fills us with a dread, this dinner was actually great fun. As well as the awards, there was a panel discussion featuring a few of the MOs, a inspiring tafseer by a prolific imam, and some fun games lead by the Muslim Scouts Fellowship. Our team won and landed ourselves with a bag of Finnish sweets and chocolates!

Our third and final full day finished off the last Accountability Sessions. The highlight of the day, however, was the MO Market. It was an opportunity for MOs to set up a stall and find out more about other organisations in a fair-like set up. Though our stall was modest, with the little we could bring in our hand luggage consisting of a table topper, poster and chocolates, it felt great to introduce and have conversations about Campus’ work. The conference was ended with a round table discussion, and though we felt it throughout the weekend, it was here that we realised the amazing and inspirational work all these young Muslims are doing for young people across Europe. Interestingly, despite the UK being a small island, we’re one of the only countries that have multiple MOs represented within FEMYSO. This was reflected in the several UK organisations present this weekend. When getting to know representatives from MAB Youth, MSF and the Islamic Foundation, we were filled with nothing but excitement for the opportunities for collaboration. It was also affirming to know that each of the UK organisations have unique strengths and that each of us is needed for our own spaces. The last day was also closed with a Qiyyam, with a reminder given by the local imam and several of the attendees. It was a beautiful way to finish the trip and remind us all of the unity we have despite being spread across Europe and facing different and similar challenges. As the weekend went on, we met more people and got more comfortable and on reflection, we started to feel the Campus vibes. Especially in the late night prayers in the concealed Finish mosque, the in-between moments of late night walks and group games waiting for the timetabled sessions to start. We took away so much learning for Campus and we can’t wait to see how we can work more with FEMYSO, and the other organisations we met!