What’s your job role and background?

I’m an Imam, which is a Muslim chaplain at HMP Oakwood prison. My background – so I’ve worked promoting business, marketing and branding, specialising in book design covers and video production, branding for various companies. I did that for maybe 10 – 12 years and I realised that it wasn’t really fulfilling for me. I wanted to do something else, and during that time I was studying my faith and an opportunity at the prison came up for an Imam and someone told me, look you are qualified to be an Imam. In the Muslim faith, you don’t actually study to become an Imam, you just study your faith, so you are actually qualified, and I didn’t realise that. So, I applied for the Imam role and I wanted to apply for it because I really wanted to support my community and give back and do something in my life that can help people. So I became an Imam in the prison system.

How do you think your approach to leadership has changed or developed as a result of undertaking the MPA?

Imam means to lead. We all have to be leaders, but often when you study to become an Imam, you only study the theological side, so you study scripture, etcetera, but you don’t actually study how to lead or how to manage people. I felt I wasn’t a real Imam, I wasn’t really leading, I just was preaching.

But I wanted to study this MPA – it’s quite unique. It’s not just about studying academia. Professor Andrew Davies was really fantastic. He supported me all the way and he really wanted us to explore our own faith with the lens of leadership. So, I looked back at scripture and classical works in Islamic literature, but I looked back with a different lens, looking at it with the lens of leadership and management. And I realised there is a lot there to take from my own faith.

I think during this course I became an Imam. It took me doing this course to become an Imam, I think a lot of Imams in the community don’t have that kind of training. I think it’s really important that the Imams take this on.

With the knowledge you’ve developed, what challenges do you think this will help to resolve in your role?

So my role is an Imam, and during the time supporting, giving individuals pastoral care, we have to do a lot of logistics management because we have to provide courses and training and also we have to provide Ramadan packs. We run the largest prison in the UK, and we have the largest Muslim population in the UK. We have four hundred Muslims in the prison. We have to provide Ramadan for them as well. So the logistics of that is a big job and we’re not trained in that, Imams are not trained in that kind of field, so I think it’s helped a lot to do that.

Also, my role has changed somewhat as well – during Covid, faith services ceased, so we couldn’t actually engage with the faith community anymore because they were locked down 24 hours a day – so we set up a TV station. Because of my background in media, I took it on myself, so now I run a TV channel called Faith TV in the prison system. It’s just our specific prison and all faiths, the Christian chaplaincy, Hindu chaplaincy, they provide me with content, and I put that on the television channel. We’ve got our own team now of prisoners, we train prisoners up to use editing equipment, giving them real skills so they can actually get job opportunities on the outside.

This course has helped me a lot because I have to oversee the whole mission: vision, operational strategy, the training, recruitment, business development, write a 4-5000 word development operation strategy for Oakwood Media. This course helped what I’m doing immensely. I probably couldn’t have set this up without the MPA.

How have you benefited from working with peers from other faiths on your course and what have you learned from them that can be used in your own role?

Working with other faiths – working in a prison, you have to work with other chaplains as well. But working here makes you realise that much of the problems we face in our own communities; they have similar problems to us. So, a lot of the problems that all faith communities face are quite universal. Speaking with other faith leaders and gaining their advice, their support, I think has helped a lot in terms of the work I do as well.

What advice would you give to anybody else considering taking the apprenticeship?

I think from a Muslim perspective, I’m the only Imam on this course, and the first year I was the only Imam. To really understand your work within the communities that you’re working with, just knowing your scripture is not enough. You need to be able to read, influence, understand, manage, do outreach work and that takes a level of understanding and skill and strategy as well and we’re not taught that. So, I think more Imams, more mosques, more Islamic organisations need to be taking this up. The skills are very important. I think every Imam, every Muslim, needs those skills to marry up with their ideological understanding. Then you can really make a difference, I think.