Reimagining British Muslims
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Thursday 30th June 2022

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

by Navid Akhtar, CEO of Alchemiya Media.

Ok, so now the dust has settled and I am slowly coming down from the euphoria of the incredible idea that one of the most important cities in the world, London (my city) has a Muslim mayor.

Sadiq Khan, a son of a bus driver to London Mayor, from humble beginnings, has moved swiftly from the bottom to the top of society and he didn’t even have to resort to the Vito Corleone / Jack Kennedy school of upward immigrant mobility.  It’s still hard to comprehend that we (Muslims) as a minority community in Britain have come so far, in one generation.

Most British Muslims are from the Indian subcontinent, and while it may be close to 70 years since the British left, our roots, parents, and grandparents values are a synthesis of Anglican goodness combined with Islamic pluralism. It works well in Britain and the ethos of hard work, keeping your head down, staying positive, and playing by the rules have now produced a brilliant result.

But before I break open the bubbly (halal of course), I have to remind myself the victory is not about British Islam or Muslims, but a recognition that there is an incredible opportunity to both celebrate and improve a city like London as a blueprint for the ‘best place to live in the world.’

Every year I come across detailed quality of life surveys, reports that rank the best cities in terms of ‘quality of life’. The irony is that you have to have a pretty good quality of life already to even come across them. They are obviously aimed at the focused and empowered individuals who have the means to choose where they can live, to gain maximum benefit from clean air, good schools, affordable property that grows slowly (long term) as an investment. What they fail to measure is the human factor of tolerance, acceptance and compassion to all. Imagine if we actually measured cities in their ability to put humans first, and the needs of the less empowered, children, low paid workers, refugees, the sick, the disabled, and even animals.

At the heart of this idea is creating a city that cares, a city that looks after the people that make it work, a city that opens itself to new ideas, new people and new ways of living and working.

These are the reasons why I voted for Sadiq and it was obvious to me the harder the opposition and the media tried to put him in a box, the easier he was able to rise above it. His whole campaign stayed focused on delivering and improving the services that the people need, and will improve the city. He didn’t waste time in responding to the ‘dog whistle’ slanders against him, but cut through this negativity with a clear hopeful message – London is already great, let’s make it work for everyone. A mayor for everyone regardless of religious belief or none, gender, age, background and social standing.

A mayor who wants to see our city move forward, to become a better, nicer place to live, not a closed off exclusive enclave for the privileged few. Most importantly he understands what it feels like to be viewed as an outsider, to be excluded even when you have ideas, talent, ability. He sees the possibility of what we can achieve together and how we can harness the talent of this great city, and its best asset, its people.

Personally, I am even more proud of the millions of non-Muslims, friends, work colleagues, neighbours who only judged Sadiq the politician, Sadiq the Londoner and put their hopes in someone who they believe is the best person for the job.

I, like many other Muslims in Britain, am a lifelong Labour supporter. I believe it is the party that best represents our (Muslim) values and aspirations. Like many other Muslims, I also felt disconnected from the political process during the later Blair years, but that’s so over and now it’s time for Muslims to reengage with the mainstream of society and politics.

We have to confront our own negativity and move beyond the ‘victimhood’ of anti-Muslim sentiment. I know it’s tough out there, but we have so much more to gain by taking part.

We can no longer be passive observers in discussions about the future of this country whilst others make decisions that affect our lives. This is really important with young people, as they have new ideas and need to bring them forward. The only way to do this is to be involved and active in party politics and mainstream society. Sadiq Khan, for me, has given British Muslims the break they need.

Navid Akhtar is the CEO and Founder at Alchemiya Media . He is an award winning TV Producer for BBC, C4, UK TV+ and Radio. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

Navid Akhtar CEO of Alchemiya

Navid Akhtar CEO of Alchemiya
photo by Zara Singh

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