Zain Hussain makes better use of his free time than you. He doesn’t waste endless hours on FIFA, scrolling through Instagram or making one hundred million excuses not to start his essay. Unlike your average 22-year-old student, he probably even checks his bank balance regularly – rather than just standing at the cash machine and praying that it doesn’t flash up the dreaded ‘insufficient funds’.
Being a Muslim himself, he’s always been fascinated by Islamic culture. But also other countries, beliefs and ways of life. Last year, he completed an undergrad degree in Arabic and Hebrew and also spent time volunteering and working with charities in Jerusalem and Jordan. Now he is studying for a Masters in International Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
As if he isn’t putting the rest of us to shame already, he now spends his Sunday mornings teaching Hebrew to Jewish kids in the Wimbledon District Synagogue. Wow, we thought we were doing well this week after we finally managed to tidy our room. Yeah, it seems that Zain lives the life that your parents really want to tell their friends that you live.
Why did he start teaching? “I needed money,” he told Jewish News. “A year abroad drains your bank balance.” Fair enough. So, how did the job come about? “I knew the headteacher there so asked about part-time jobs. I went for the interview and got it. Lucky for me, there aren’t too many Hebrew teachers about.”
Every Sunday, he teaches two different classes (one for eight and nine-year-olds and one for 11 and 12-year-olds) but he says that his pupils didn’t know that he was a practicing Muslim “for a long while”.
How did it eventually come up? “I just told the older class ‘I’m Muslim’,” he says. “It came out in conversation, mind. I didn’t just decide to announce it one day.” That sounds like a good approach, so how did they respond? “They were shocked. Some of them thought it was really funny and strange.”
“They asked understandable questions, like: ‘If you’re a Muslim, why are you here?’ But most didn’t find it negative, I don’t think. It was just… it was interesting. It wasn’t a problem. I don’t think anyone had any issues.”
Zain believes that it’s important to draw attention to the experiences and outlooks and values that Muslims and Jews share. He and a friend, who’s also a Hebrew teacher, held an assembly in which students from both faiths discussed issues of identity and the things they have in common.
Not content at stopping there, he also organised the first interfaith exchange between his mosque – Minhaj ul Quran in Forest Gate – and the Wimbledon and District Synagogue. It seems that, as stories about division and separation dominate the mainstream press more and more, we don’t talk enough about times when unity and mutual respect bring different groups together.
Zain, you’ve set the bar pretty high tbf.
Featured image credit: Zain Hussain via Facebook