Hasina Zaman, CEO of Compassionate Funerals, London talks to CTS

Hasina Zaman, CEO of Compassionate Funerals, London talks to CTS

Hasina Zaman is the co-founder and CEO of Compassionate Funerals, which provides a full funeral service for diverse communities. The company offers transitional compassionate care by spending the majority of time listening to their client’s wishes and then creating the service that reflects their needs. The company launched five and half years ago.

Hasina has entered into a business that has traditionally been reserved for men. In fact, she is the first Muslim woman to head an organisation that provides a funeral service to people of all faiths.

Compassionate Funerals is now a successful business with Hasina at the helm. It recently won a trade award for ‘Most Promising Funeral Director’.

Starting the service was a ‘stab in the dark’ for Hasina and borne out of a necessity to provide for her four children after divorce that left her feeling her ‘soul had died’.

Why a funeral service? After all it is not something that is in the forefront of peoples thoughts when starting a new venture. For Hasina, tough and depressing as the subject matter was, it made business sense. Death is a universal reality and, frankly, the demand for services that surround the end of a life will always be there.  She was told that it was a tough business to enter – dominated by men and monopolised by a handful of companies. She was told that as an independent business she would not be able to make a dent in the market. Undeterred by this, remarried now to Allistair Anderson, and with the blessings of her father, she started the business with Allistair, who had spent all his working life in the funeral industry.

Hasina simply wanted to provide a service to all faiths and communities based on compassion

Surely, this should be the ethos for anyone offering a service to the dead and the bereaved?

Hasina says that this is not always the case, and recollects that she did not experience the compassion she expected during her late mother’s funeral. It was as if her mother was on a conveyor belt; beginning with the Islamic rituals being performed robotically and then descending into an argument at the graveside about whether or not she should be buried in her coffin.

As a result of this, Hasina is determined to really listen to the wishes of the deceased’s family members, helping them to deal with the shock and the trauma of the loss as well as maintaining contact after the funeral to offer emotional support.

Care, love and tenderness are applied to the deceased. Additionally, there is no ill talk in the person’s presence. The body is handled carefully and respectfully and a peaceful environment is created.

In essence, Compassionate Funerals applies an Islamic ethos about caring for the deceased to people of all faiths and backgrounds, as Hasina believes that this is the right way to help families to deal with loss and bereavement. In fact she looked to the Qur’an to inspire the name of her company, the very first verse in the Qur’an, Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Raheem, “In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate”.

She sees this as her time to shine. The Islamic perspective on death and dying fascinates the mainstream funeral industry and she believes she can play a significant part in changing the way that services are provided to the deceased and their families from all communities.

In addition to the funeral service Hasina works with local care homes and hospices in educating and informing carers about all aspects of caring for the deceased. She and Allistair also want to demystify death and are part of the death cafe movement, influenced by the death positivism activities which was set up in the 60’s. They participate and host different events to talk about dying, death and bereavement.

In setting up Compassionate Funerals Hasina has achieved what she set out to do, create a financially viable business to support herself and her children. It has not been an easy task but her faith has played a significant part in sustaining the determination to succeed.

Although born into a Muslim family Hasina had a mostly secular upbringing. It was only in her 20’s when she met some ‘cool Muslims’ and was introduced to Shaykh Mohammed that her interest in Islam developed. Now she says that her faith is beyond that of her identity, it is at the core of everything that she does-‘it influences me every day and night of my life…I turn to Allah. I am grateful for everything…’

Hasina grew up in the east end of London and as a young woman had no great ambition to be a funeral director but she did have a desire to achieve, to make the best of all the opportunities available to her and to prove that barriers could be pushed aside.

Hasina was born in Pakistan to Bangladeshi parents. Her father was in the Pakistani diplomatic services and as a young child she lived in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, and Bangladesh before the family settled in the UK.

Hasina grew up in a household where her late mother had serious mental health problems and this experience has contributed significantly to the person that she has become today. It is only now through her faith that she has made peace with her mother, having been angry for much of her life for not having a ‘proper mother’.

Hasina went to a local comprehensive school in Tower Hamlets in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For Asian women who went through the education system at the time it was the norm for teachers not to have any great expectations of these women to achieve academically or pursue careers. The commonly held view was that Asian young women left school at 16, married and had children and that was their life. Some people did that but others had ambitions to pursue a different path in life and Hasina was one of these women.

She recalls one of her male teachers, telling her that she could do whatever she wanted to do; there were no limits to what could be achieved. This stuck in Hasina’s mind and it appears that she has held onto this advice even now, in her later years, highlighting how an inspirational teacher can motivate people well beyond the school years.

Hasina left school without achieving any great academic success but was extremely talented in sports and supported by her father she competed successfully in athletic events. A road traffic accident curtailed her running career but Hasina upon leaving school at 16 had always known that she would go back into education and train as a teacher. In 1993 she did exactly that by qualifying as a teacher and working in schools as well as further education colleges teaching sports science.

After marrying and having four children in the space of 6 years Hasina gave up teaching to focus on family life.

Hasina has three daughters and one son. She was scared of becoming a mother because of her own childhood experiences but now she realises that she has become the mother she wanted to be, supporting her children with their ambitions. She describes her daughters as being tough and secure enough to pursue their dreams.

If Hasina spoke to her younger self what would she say to her? Surprisingly she says, ‘I would tell her not to be scared’.

For a woman who is regarded as fearless in the eyes of her family and friends Hasina Zaman is a true testament to the adage ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.