Palestinians are brave and resilient, but we’re also deeply hurt

As friends and relatives are forced from their shelters once again, an Islamic Relief worker* in Gaza recounts the toll the ongoing devastation is having on families.

“I never thought I would leave that area alive. I experienced the most terrifying moments of my life with gunshots flying over my head, ongoing bombing and tank shelling, and the rumbling sound of tanks just meters away from where my family and I were staying. For a moment, I was reciting Shahada [a Muslim profession of faith]and I just accepted that I will no longer exist in this world. Subhan Allah, it is our fate to live this life.”

These are the words of my Islamic Relief colleague describing being forced to leave Khan Younis with her family a few days ago, after tanks approached the western side of the city, which was previously assigned as a safe humanitarian area. She and another colleague had to flee for their lives after the city was invaded.

Alhamdulillah they are both safe and sound now, but we were extremely worried about them as we had heard the news about the operations in the area. It was impossible to communicate with anyone in the area. I kept trying to find any information about my colleagues and my many relatives and loved ones in the area.

My wife’s aunt, who is an older woman and uses a wheelchair, was staying with her son and his family in an UNRWA shelter in the area. I heard the centre was hit with artillery and many inside died. My wife was seriously worried about her aunt. Alhamdulillah, we received confirmation through SMS – the only working communication method now – that they are all safe. They had to go through checkpoints with tanks and soldiers. People say that at this checkpoint people are asked to pass in front of facial recognition cameras. Men and boys above 15 years of age are asked to take off their clothes. The Israeli forces could imprison anyone without giving reasons, leaving the women and children of the family without any support or provider.

Alhamdulillah, my colleagues and friends are all safe and together, but many other Palestinians have reported incidents of improper treatment. Hours earlier the International Court of Justice asked for temporary measures, but nothing has changed here.

After hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave Khan Younis, they carried their belongings and went through checkpoints not knowing where to go. Many of the families are still sleeping in the streets. Unfortunately, bad weather has hit Gaza hard. Our weather is not like the UK, but we have a few days of very heavy rain at this time of year, and they just happened to be this week. People already staying in tents in open areas have been suffering flooding from the heavy rain. A 2-meter square tent made of wood and nylon is not a proper place to house a family. Many are suffering from illness and pain due to the tough circumstances they’re living in.

My colleague at a local organisation, which partners with Islamic Relief, told me:

“I was in tears. I cried when I compared this sad situation in the tent with my lovely home in Gaza. I used to have everything in my house. Whenever, someone visited me, I presented them some Ka’ak [Palestinian biscuit stuffed with dates] and coffee. Today I live on the dirt and do not have enough food to eat. I just wish we will return to our homes and live in peace”.

Yes, my dear readers, Palestinians are proud people. We used to live in dignity in our homes. We used to enjoy life and going to the sea with our friends and family. Our small city used to be vibrant. We miss that. We miss our normal daily routines. When I speak to my friends they always mention that we were crazy to complain before about how boring our lives were. Now, we have learned to thank Allah for his smallest blessings. Now, we are deprived of the most basic things and pray we can have them back. It is a lesson in patience and contentment for us, and for the whole world it shows that we Palestinians are solid and unbreakable.

My people are solid, but we can’t accept being represented only as fearless, brave, resilient, stoic creatures. We do like being described this way, but we do not like how these words fail to recognise our humanity, fragility and vulnerability. We are normal people. We are hurt… deeply hurt. We are extremely tired and exhausted. We have had enough of the world. How can myself or my children believe the world when they talk about humanity and human rights after seeing our people killed and our lives destroyed? Schools, colleges, playgrounds, hospitals, streets, homes, mosques, everything. Shame on the world that still ignores our suffering. Please, my dear readers, keep us in your prayers and support us. Please keep asking for a ceasefire.

Please help Islamic Relief support people in desperate need in Gaza: Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague and others mentioned. Read the other blogs in this series here.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of Monday 29 January 2024. Image shows children in a shelter in Gaza taking part in games to improve their wellbeing during the crisis.

new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 24 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.