New Podcast Episode – Keeping Faith in Community with Hadiya Masieh

The latest episode of WIN’s podcast – Keeping Faith: A How To Guide – is now live at or on your favourite podcast platform.  In each episode, WIN interviews inspiring women to explore how we keep faith – in ourselves, in each other, in a cause, or in religious faith – so you can learn how to keep faith too.

Episode Three: Keeping Faith in Community with Hadiya Masieh

What does extremism really look like in 2024, outside of the headlines and political debates? Can we empower young people to harness their passions for positive change while steering clear of divisive rhetoric? How do we keep faith in grassroots work when the challenges our communities are facing seem to keep getting bigger?

This episode, we spoke to Hadiya Masieh, Founder and Executive Director of the Groundswell Project. In this frank and inspiring conversation, Hadiya draws on her 22 years of experience in counter-extremism and the highs and lows of running an organisation that works to bring communities together in an increasingly polarised world.

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide is part of Women’s Interfaith Network’s 2024 Keeping Faith Programme. Read more about the programme here and be the first to hear about upcoming events and ways to get involved by signing up to our newsletter.

Listen now on our podcast website or on your favourite podcast platform. Make sure to subscribe, share and review to help more people find us! Episodes are released monthly, with bonus episodes sharing stories from our WIN community.

Previous Episodes

Episode One: Keeping Faith in Climate Action with Rabi Debbie Young-Somers

Our conversation with Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, lecturer at Leo Baeck College and trustee of Faiths for the Climate, rages from environmental activism, to ritual can help women navigate life’s transitions in 2024, and the importance of nuance in tough conversations.

Episode Two: Keeping Faith in Peace with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh (The Parents Circle Family Forum)

Our conversation with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh – both bereaved mothers and spokespeople for the joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation The Parents Circle Family Forum – encourages us to look again at the ongoing conflict through the lens of reconciliation and restorative justice.



Full Transcript for Episode Three: Keeping Faith in Community with Hadiya Masieh

Maeve Carlin: Welcome to Keeping Faith, a how to guide, a new podcast from Women’s Interfaith Network exploring how women keep faith in ourselves, in each other, in a cause, or in religious faith so you can learn how to keep faith too.

I’m your host, Maeve Carlin, and today we’re speaking to Hadiya Masieh, founder and executive director of the Groundswell Project, an organization connecting communities across the country to build bridges, tackle hate, and amplify the work of grassroots groups. Alongside her expertise in community cohesion and interfaith relations, Hadiya has been a counter extremism consultant for various governments and NGOs around the world for the past 22 years, also working closely with big tech players like Google and Facebook.

She was a part of the UK government’s National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group and has co-authored reports with UN Women and the European Parliament. In today’s conversation, we’ll be exploring how we keep faith in a world that is becoming increasingly polarised, reframing how we think about extremism, a topic that continues to be a political football, and all too often pits communities against each other, and sharing powerful stories of grassroots community connections.

Keeping Faith, the how to guide, is part of Women’s Interfaith Network’s 20th Anniversary Keeping Faith program, a year-long conversation bringing women together to unpack what keeping faith means to them. We’ll be sharing updates about the program in future episodes, but for now, let’s jump into our conversation with Hadiya Masieh.

Maeve Carlin: Welcome to the podcast, Hadiya. Thank you for being here.

Hadiya Masieh: Thank you for having me.

Maeve Carlin: So you’ve described our current climate of polarisation so poignantly. I’m going to quote you. You said, “Right now we have a problem on our hands, but if we refuse to work collectively and tackle this strategically, we’re going to lose the battle. This is not the world I want to see, live in, or leave behind for my children. Sitting back and watching is simply not an option.”

There’s a real sense of urgency and a call to action in there. What do you think makes today such a crisis point for polarization and extremist ideologies?

Hadiya Masieh: I think if you look at the situation that we’re in, it’s very different to what it was a decade ago. Those ideologies and dangerous ways of thinking existed way back. But the issue now is that they have a medium and a vehicle for pushing themselves out there much more violently and proactively. And who are they pushing this information to? It’s mainly young people online.

So we now live online, most people in the world live online, and there is no way of controlling what we read and what we see, and, and organizations that have an agenda to divide communities and divide humanity know this, and, and, and use this as a weapon and use this to infiltrate the minds of young people in particular.

So with my, um, knowledge on this, you know, my background is that I’ve been working in, um, counterterrorism and, um, de radicalization for, you know, almost 15 years. And I’ve seen young people going down extremist routes, whether that’s white supremacy groups or religious extremist organizations, and it’s all been done online.

So they’ve got this information via the internet, that we can’t control. And if we are not able to control it, what do we do? It seems hopeless. But there is a silver lining in the fact that we can still warn vulnerable individuals of this type of activity. So they’re not completely exposed, they can understand that potentially extreme organizations will want to recruit them and this is how they do it.

So a lot of our work is around exposing the tricks of the trades of extremist organizations. So young people and vulnerable people can safeguard themselves away from those types of ideologies. So we’re going into schools, um, giving them this information and I’m able to give them the information because not only have I seen young people go down these routes and seen many, many cases, I myself was radicalized when I was at university campus when I was 19, I’m now 46 years old.

So, you know, I’ve got this understanding of how it, how people can be. radicalized, because I was radicalized myself, and then I’ve managed to de-radicalize, you know, hundreds of individuals through the work that I do with government. And that information for me is important to share, and that’s why we set up Groundswell, because we wanted to share this information to protect young people from the dangers of, um, extremist ideologies that are using the internet to push themselves forward.

Maeve Carlin: And we should say, because we may not have time to do it justice today, if you want more information about Hadiya’s story there’s a wonderful video on the Groundswell website, which we will link to in our show notes.

Hadiya Masieh: Thank you.

Maeve Carlin: I think the kind of vulnerability of young people in this space is really concerning, isn’t it?

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah, exceptionally. And they’re the ones who are targeted by extremist organisations because their youth is a vulnerability.

They’re looking for answers, they’re at that stage where they’re very easily manipulated. I worked for the UK government on their, um, intervention program. Channel where people who were being flagged up with extremist views would come to someone like myself and I would try to de-radicalize them and I’ve seen hundreds of young people being affected by social media so it’s been quite daunting for me to see this. But,at the end of the day, we know how extreme groups target young people, so we do need to be there for them to get them to see the warning signs and to protect themselves.

Maeve Carlin: I mean, it’s not just the technologies that have changed as well. I mean, I think often we hear the word extremism, we have quite a limited idea of what that means. But we’ve seen so many different forms of extremist thinking pop up in recent years, whether that’s from, you know, the misogynist manosphere to conspiracy thinking like Q Anon and other theories like that.

Can you share some of the changes you’ve seen in the landscape of extremism over the last few years?

Hadiya Masieh: Well, how I’ve seen it change is, it’s now termed mixed and unclear ideologies because when people used to follow various ideologies, maybe 10 years ago, they really believed in that ideology, whether it’s like the white supremacy ideology, a religious extremist ideology, they understood that ideology via reading or via, you know, meeting other people.

And they took that ideology and made it part of their lives and wanted to spread it. There was a purer version of it, let’s say. Now, when I’ve been speaking to young people, they don’t have those, very staunch values and ideas, if you see what I mean. It’s mixed and unclear because they’re being bombarded.

They get their information no longer from a library. They get it online, on the internet. And it is never ending information. So somebody who wants to join a white supremacy group or is liking what a white supremacy group is saying could similarly like what an Islamist organization is saying, because it’s, it’s anti-Semitic or, you know, an Islamist organization could be making friends with a Jewish organization because they’ve got the same enemy. Do you see what I mean?

It’s like, they don’t understand what they’re following anymore because they’re in this world of confusion and somebody’s just saying something that makes a little bit of sense and they just want to latch onto that. And then another person from a different ideology is saying another thing that’s making sense and they want to latch onto that. And then, then they look at who they’re following. It’s like a whole mixed of ideologies that they just can’t navigate through.

Maeve Carlin: I think it’s so interesting, isn’t it, that the internet puts us all in the same room, as it were. People that would never be in the same room, we’re all in the same online room together, online space.

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah

Maeve Carlin: And you’ve talked about working with young people and we know that the radicalization of women, young women, and girls often involves, you know, what we can call gender based violence, whether that’s coercive control, online grooming, and even, you know, in the worst case scenario, trafficking. How does this affect how we should approach young women at risk of radicalization?

Hadiya Masieh: From the work that I’ve done over the years, if I can draw on that, you can’t just lump women all in one basket. We’re all different. But I have seen patterns. Um, Women who are very educated and powerful and like, you know, a lot of women are, but there are women who, who have seen what’s going on in the world and are politically aware and activists and want to do something.

And when they’re at that stage, if an extremist organization, you know, gives a solution to them, they are likely to, to go and follow that. And when, when I saw young women joining ISIS, a lot of them were very educated A grade students. They were young, I must say. All of them were around, between the ages of 15 and 20, 25.

So they were the young passionate women who were joining IS, believing that they were a solution to some of the political situations that affect Muslims in the world. And then obviously when they got there, it was a different story.

And then I saw, there were women who were being coerced as well. I did see that. Men who just duped their partners and wives into thinking that they were going on holiday and actually, um, taking them to IS territory.

And yeah, the, the kind of misogynistic ways of various cultures and so called religious views give excuses for men to behave in a certain way. You know, that’s, I guess across all the various faiths, that’s an issue.

Maeve Carlin: It’s the weaponization of faith against women, isn’t it really, rather than the faith itself.

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah, I’m very reluctant to finger point towards any one faith because I’ve seen it in, in all faiths. And this misogynistic way has obviously had an impact on the women.

But what I want to say as well is because I know mainly about the, um, IS grooming. I’m going to call it grooming because they are grooming young girls. They have manipulated young women. And what, what I want to do as part of groundswell is to make sure young women are given information and warning as well as to what this looks like, so not to fall for tricks and to say, “These are the types of things they will say to you. These are the types of things that they’ll try and, you know, trick you about.” So obviously IS now it’s not operating in the way it was back in, you know, 2014, um, but we want to make sure that we’re never going to go down that route again and if it does happen again, we’re prepared.

And these skills, what’s good about it is a lot of grooming groups and extremist groups use only certain types of methodologies. So if we know those methodologies, then we can at least safeguard ourselves and our young people.

That’s what I want to do is, is we’re never going to tackle the internet. We’re never going to stop all of that hate that’s happening online, but we can protect ourselves and our young people from that. And that’s been really successful, I must say, from what we’ve been doing. Going into schools and teaching thousands of kids about the signs and about how to protect themselves. So I don’t think that should stop and it’s always changing. So we have to be that step ahead.

Maeve Carlin: I think that’s so important, framing kind of counter extremism as a safeguarding issue that, you know, it’s about protecting young people. I think that’s really important.

Um, we’ve been talking about this changing landscape.You’ve advised four different UK Prime Ministers and must have experienced huge changes in the ideologies and narratives that surround these issues and how we confront them. How have you kept faith in your work in a shifting policy landscape?

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah, that has been tough. Um, In your introduction, you actually said, I’m part of the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group. That actually was part of, um, a labour initiative, and as soon as the Conservative Party came in, they got rid of it. I think that was in 2011. But then two years later, Muslim women were being recruited by IS and being targeted. So it would have been good to have had the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group there at that point.

So, so this is what I’ve seen is like a good idea happens and another government comes along or another minister and throws something out that was actually really good. But when you’re an activist and when you want to see a result and you feel very passionately about something, you try not to let that bother you because you’ve got a mission and you have a goal.

And what I want to see it is young kids, young women, not being affected by some of these outside ideologies and being manipulated. And then ultimately worst-case scenario, they lose their lives or they do attacks on other people and lives are lost. If we can give young people the ability to use their passions in the correct way.

And offer you know, organizations to join because, at the end of the day, when they’re seeing a lot of this pain in the world, they don’t know how to express it. And we want to give them opportunities to express their, um, concerns in a good and safe space that doesn’t harm themselves or anybody else.

When you see the extent and the lengths extremist organizations go to, to recruit people, it’s mind blowing. Because their creativity is often underestimated. So we have to be just as creative, just as passionate, just as, willing to, to make sure that they don’t get into the brains of our young people.

And so when I’m thinking about all of the political issues and the changing landscape, that vision never changes for me. And so that’s how I keep the faith and keep the passion in it because it’s just, it’s all, it’s just a one goal. And it is hard sometimes because you don’t get the support you need or you, you’re in these places and you’re saying the same thing. You’re meeting the same people who’ve been doing this for a long time. So we all like sometimes get a little bit deflated when we’re like, “Oh, we’re still here”. Maybe we just need to still be here talking about the same thing. And even in in the changing environment, we stay constant.

Maeve Carlin: I think that’s something that a lot of us in in the charity sector can relate to. Uh, and you know activists as well.

I think also there was a point in what you said there about how it’s actually this really good quality in young people that’s being exploited, which is caring about the world and being politically engaged. And those things aren’t bad in and of themselves. They’re just being exploited.

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah. That’s a very powerful thing, to exploit emotions. I’ve always said when I speak to the young kids, I’m like, don’t allow anyone to steal your passion. It is the strongest thing that exists in the world, in fact, it’s stronger than any kind of atomic bomb even. You know, this is what a lot of these groups understand. They want that passion and I warn them, “Don’t let it be stolen. This is what belongs to you and needs to be used for something positive in your life and your community’s life”, and just directing it there. And I actually see their faces light up actually when I’m saying that because I don’t think they understand what they have. And then when I say what you can do with it, it does make them think. And if we carry on with that type of messaging, they can only be a good thing.

Maeve Carlin: It’s, it’s because that passion is so powerful that it’s attractive to bad actors. Yeah, I can see that being a really empowering message for young people to hear.

We’ve been talking a lot about changes and it’s hard to think of a bigger sort of paradigm shift over the last few years than the pandemic. You’ve spoken a little bit about the kind of unexpected interfaith connections you’ve made in the course of your work. How do you think the pandemic has changed our approach to connection, particularly between and across communities?

Hadiya Masieh: I think everybody felt, um, the, the beauty of community connection during COVID. And it was a thing that lit people up. It was the, the thing that made people feel hopeful and gave them that ability to get through the pandemic. It was community and love and compassion and thoughtfulness of people that was coming out in a way that you would normally never see.

Everybody’s doing their own thing and faith communities are doing their own thing in their own, you know, siloed ways. And then the pandemic just brought everyone together and it was really positive. So we got to see what it was like to, to belong to our community again. That was being lost.

And when you look at community and what it has to offer, it’s not just a nice thing. It’s part of our survival. We, people die from loneliness. People need others to survive, as we’ve seen.

So what we’re trying to do is not let that be lost. Like, okay, you all made some fantastic connections and friendships. Now the pandemic is over, it doesn’t mean that we have to lose that. So Groundswell is around, keeping those connections. If anybody’s in need, if anybody wants something, there’s still like groups and WhatsApp groups that people get involved in and they don’t feel isolated and alone because of that. We’re trying to encourage people to join events locally, too, that they can become involved in, get to meet everybody and from different faiths and backgrounds in a really natural way. And I think that’s something a lot of people are craving, to be honest.

They, they do want to find out more about their community groups and people, and they also want to volunteer and, and give back their time. So, Our Kindness app is actually something that we’ve developed to, to promote and create a structure, where that can be done easily.

Maeve Carlin: Can you say a little bit more about, about work that you’ve done mapping different community initiatives?

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah, so the idea actually came from my work as an IP, that’s an intervention provider, where young people were feeling quite lost or they needed some support or generally people who are quite vulnerable, they, they may go online to join extreme organizations, but actually they just needed that support with mental health, or they just needed some support with substance abuse, or they just needed support with domestic abuse or debt support. You know, like what I was seeing is that this person went to join an extremist organization because they needed support that they didn’t get.

So I was like, well, actually in their communities, there’s all of these organizations there to support them with their issues. If we can highlight them and map them. So wherever you live, you know, I live in North London, so all the organizations that are supporting human beings in North London, we map them because they are showing kindness to people and trying to help them out. And we signpost people to them. So we work closely with the NHS as well, um, around the social prescribing model where vulnerable people are signposted to support. And then they get the help that they need and then that makes them less sick because when you’re stressed you become sick and you become ill.

So if we can help de-stress people, because you know everything’s there to help them, we’re heading in the right direction. And it does work to stop anxiety. And that’s the biggest issue today is that young people feeling extreme anxiety because they’re confused and they don’t know what to do or they’ve got no friendship circles. So this is a really great way of solving that issue.

Maeve Carlin: I was thinking when you were talking about COVID, I imagine if you did a national poll of how many people had street WhatsApp groups before the pandemic and how many people had street WhatsApp groups after the pandemic, I think there’s definitely a lot more sort of on the ground kind of sense of community, isn’t there?

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah. And I’ll just give you an example. There’s a local synagogue and some of the congregation have got a WhatsApp group on the street as well. And they’ve decided to put some money together to give fortnightly to one of our food banks. So this is a continuation from what happened in COVID. And once a fortnight, we get fresh vegetables and food for a food bank that we offer to some refugee communities that are local. And that’s such a beautiful thing to happen. And we do want to highlight that more and we want to show the rest of the community that this is something that’s happening.

And what I found is people want to then copy that too. So it’s, “Oh, I would like to do that.” And then they’ll set their own WhatsApp group up and help another food bank. And that’s how it grows. And that gives me a lot of hope that if we focus on the positivity, ’cause our motto is find, connect, amplify, and that is find the positive voices and the people doing great things on the ground, connect them to one another and amplify what they’re doing so people can see and feel hopeful.

And that’s an, you know, the antidote to a lot of the hate and the polarization and the extreme groups that are just pushing negative all the time. We, we do need to push the positive because it’s there, we harness it, and shout about it. That’s a really good way of tackling all of this negativity.

Maeve Carlin: Well, that leads me really naturally to my next question, because I want to speak about the Groundswell Project, the organisation you founded, which is doing such vital work connecting communities. Can you share how bringing people together through Groundswell has perhaps restored your faith in the face of all this division and polarization we’ve been discussing?

Hadiya Masieh: Yeah, I think when you see other human beings helping one another, regardless of the situation and the circumstances, just seeing human to human, not with any labels, that type of positive action and kindness is something that gives everyone faith.

Everybody who sees those types of things will be affected in their, in their heart area. And it does give people that feeling of hope. It definitely gives me that. And I push that down to everybody who works with me and everybody who works at the organization. They go above and beyond to try and, you know, push out these positive things, whether that’s training young people.

It’s not an easy task, but when they see the fruits of their labor and they see the results, it’s something that gives them the willingness to keep going. So when you, if you like, even if you plant a seed and it becomes the tree and you see the fruit, it’s the same analogy that like, “wow, this is worth it, this was worth every bit of pain and headache that I went through” and all of our staff, they thrive on that. They thrive on the fact that they’ve made a difference in somebody’s life, that they’ve pushed something out that was positive and challenged something negative that they’ve seen in their community. They’ve managed to create a solution to, you know, a problem the whole of the community were facing. And when they do that, it gives them encouragement and it gives everybody encouragement, I think, to see good things happening in front of them and feeling that they were part of that as well.

It’s not something that they are watching from far away, like, “Oh, I did that.” And they recognize their own passion, and they recognize their own abilities and strength. And it makes them want to do that more.

Maeve Carlin: Well, we’re talking about positivity and hope, but, have there been times where it’s been difficult to keep that faith and that hope, leading an organization like Groundswell in this current climate?

Hadiya Masieh: Every day. I’m feeling…it’s a challenge. But as you said, it’s my faith that’s kept this going, not just my religious faith, but the faith that we’re doing something that’s worthwhile. And when you do something worthwhile, you see a lot of miracles happen in a strange way. People come to your rescue, as it were. I’ve seen that happen within the work that I’m doing where I’ve started and I’m like, “I know that I’ve just got this goal. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to happen”. But it’s a bit like this yellow brick road forming in front of me. And I’m just able to walk down it and you just have to believe that it’s going to happen and so far I’ve never been let down by that. It’s something that has kept me going otherwise I would have given up a long time ago.

But if that were to happen where like, “okay, this needs to stop”, I’ll just have to accept that but it’s very much a heart driven mission and everybody who works with us is very heart driven as well. So that’s, that’s what we want to maintain.

And then when, you know, the practical things of the funding and all of that, we just hope it will come. We, we try our best, it’s not a money-making thing, is it, at the end of the day? But you do need that sustainability. So that often is, is difficult for me, but I just keep the faith that it will find a way.

Maeve Carlin: People won’t be able to see, but I’ve been nodding away at a lot of the last things Hadiya was saying. Well, thank you so much, Hadiya for sharing your insights. There have been so many kind of great nuggets.We all need a little bit of hope and faith right now.

Um, so we just have one last question. How can those of us listening keep faith in that on the ground, grassroots work, when we’re facing such big, daunting challenges?

Hadiya Masieh: If we are lucky enough to have a faith, um, you know, or we, we have a belief in something, lots of people’s religions give them that focus and insight. But even if you don’t, at the end of the day, belief in ourselves and in humanity is the biggest thing that we have gone through lots of things throughout our history, but we’ve come back stronger.

So belief in, in people’s humanity and their kindness is really important. If we lose that, we won’t be able to continue as human beings. So, you know, we turn to our faiths and, you know, my belief is that we’re all the same. We’re all human beings and our faiths are there to make us better or to give us hope.

Um, I don’t see faith as a, as a weapon for division. I see it as for, for unity because we, we all want what’s good in the world and we have that commonality. So if we justkeep what we have in common, work collaboratively, work together. Don’t do anything that can contribute to any more polarization, because there’s enough of that.

That’s how I get up and think about the world every day. And just ignore all of the bad stuff because it will drive you insane and the focus on the positivity is, is, is the key.

Maeve Carlin: Thank you so much, Hadiya. That’s been such a great chat. Thank you for making the time.

Hadiya Masieh: Thanks for having me and well done to Women’s Interfaith Network for putting this on and for supporting us.

Maeve Carlin: We are so grateful to Hadiya for sharing her story with us today. You can find out more about the Groundswell Project’s work, use their kindness mapper, and hear Hadiya personal story of rejecting radicalization at, which is linked in our episode notes wherever you’re listening to this podcast.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Keeping Faith: A How To Guide. Subscribe now on your podcast app to be the first to hear about our upcoming episodes, and please leave a review or share with a friend to help more people find us. To find out more about the podcast, the 2024 Keeping Faith Programme or to get involved with the Women’s Interfaith Network, you can follow the links in our episode notes or go to Until next time, Keep Faith!

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide was created by Women’s Interfaith Network. The podcast is co-produced by me, Maeve Carlin, and Adam Brichto. Our executive producer is Lady Gilda Levy. Theme music was composed by Jamie Payne and our logo was designed by Jasey Finesilver. Additional Support from Tara Corry.

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