A Muslim mayor for London?

Published: March 25, 2016
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The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets 
@ayeshaijazkhan

The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

On May 5, Londoners will be voting for a new mayor. There are five candidates contesting, but the race is essentially between the two representing the largest political parties. Zac Goldsmith is running on the Conservative ticket while Sadiq Khan is the Labour candidate. The differences between them are stark.

Zac hails from the aristocratic white elite and is the son of a billionaire. His primary income is derived from the trust fund his father left him. Sadiq, on the other hand, is the self-made son of a bus driver. His parents were migrants from Pakistan and he grew up on a council estate. In spite of securing the Labour ticket, Sadiq is, for all purposes, the underdog in the election. Not because he lacks experience or is not capable of being a great mayor for London, but because as someone who comes from the minority Muslim community he is immediately disadvantaged in the eyes of many.

London is, perhaps, the world’s most diverse and cosmopolitan city. As such, it is far more open-minded than most other cities in the world. Imagine, for a moment, an openly Muslim man with a name like Sadiq Khan contesting for mayor in New York. It’s unthinkable in today’s Islamophobic climate.

Conversely, picture a Christian or a Jew contesting an important election in a Muslim-majority country, and it’s a non-starter. Unfortunately, in much of the Muslim world, the law discriminates against non-Muslims. In Pakistan alone, the Constitution bars non-Muslims from holding the office of president or prime minister, for example.

In the United States, as in much of the Western world, there is no legal bar to religious minorities holding public office, but the environment is currently so Islamophobic that it is simply not conducive to Muslims participating fully in politics.

Comparatively, London is probably as good as it gets for minorities. But it’s still far from perfect. It is still not free from bigotry or racism or Islamophobia. Would Sadiq Khan’s election to the position of mayor thus create history and place London in a league entirely of its own, a model for both other Western and Muslim countries to follow? Yes, it would. Sadiq Khan’s win would be far more exciting than Zac Goldsmith’s not only because he is Muslim but because he is a religious minority in the UK and one that is increasingly, and often unfairly, looked upon with suspicion.

Indeed, Sadiq Khan himself has been subjected to unnecessary questioning regarding some allegedly radical speeches his ex-brother-in-law made. But, as Mehdi Hasan pointed out in his piece for The Guardian recently, “If a moderate like Sadiq Khan shouldn’t stand for London mayor, which Muslim can?” and how come Zac Goldsmith has never been asked to account for the controversial speeches Imran Khan, his ex-brother-in-law, makes? The piece also notes that members of Zac’s campaign have capitalised on the prevalent Islamophobia and derisively referred to Sadiq as “the Muslim” and Zac has used words like “radical” when describing Sadiq.

So those who claim that race, religion, gender or ethnicity have no part in politics must be living in an alternate universe. The minority is always subjected to greater scrutiny, is looked upon with suspicion and is expected to prove its patriotic credentials in a way the majority never is. As Bernie Sanders, an American presidential aspirant, has repeatedly pointed out, “I was never asked for my birth certificate like Obama was… maybe it has something to do with the colour of my skin.”

On March 15, the Mirror reported that Zac’s campaign has been scaremongering, pitting voters of Indian-origin and particularly those from London’s Hindu community, against Sadiq Khan, with untrue information contained in leaflets distributed specifically to them. As Adam Bienkov, deputy editor of Politics.co.uk tweeted the same day, “Zac calls Khan ‘divisive’, then targets other ethnic minorities with scare campaign about him”. Some of this has backfired for Zac as his leaflets were described by members of the Indian community as “patronising” even as they contained pictures of Zac embracing Prime Minister Modi, portraying him as a great friend of India’s.

“If you want to support Sadiq Khan because he is Muslim,” I was told on Twitter by a fellow Pakistani, no less, “why don’t you just move back to Pakistan?” This knee-jerk reaction misses the point entirely. If I lived in a Muslim-majority country like Pakistan, a Muslim running for key office would be the norm and not the exception and thus, I would be more inclined to support the active participation of non-Muslims in public office there. When Rana Bhagwandas, a Hindu, became the Chief Justice of Pakistan briefly, for instance, I was as pleased with that as I would be if Sadiq Khan were to become mayor of London.

For a minority community to feel properly empowered and assimilated, it is essential that capable members of their community are a part of important decision-making and administrative matters. Glass ceilings for women, people of colour, or religious and ethnic minorities, must be broken if we are to truly embrace diversity and equality. In his piece for The Guardian, “Yes, he tried: what will Barack Obama’s legacy be?” Gary Younge writes that “When he [Obama] was contemplating a run for the White House, his wife asked him what he thought he could accomplish if he won. ‘The day I take the oath of office,’ he replied, ‘the world will look at us differently. And millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently. That alone is something.’”

Indeed, each time a woman or anyone from a minority race, religion, ethnicity or other disadvantaged group breaks through a glass ceiling, particularly in as public a profession as politics, these words will hold true. Sadiq Khan’s election, therefore, would not only be a win for Muslims in the West, but religious minorities at large. It would also bolster London’s place as a world leader in multiculturalism and assimilation of immigrants.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th,  2016.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • ajay gupta
    Mar 25, 2016 - 11:05PM

    u know what? a muslim running for mayor in any Indian metro is a non issue! this is secularism, in a country that has had muslim presidents, chief justices and chief ministers! & helped liberate oppressed bengali muslims from their compatriots in the land of pure!Recommend

  • echoboom
    Mar 25, 2016 - 11:46PM

    Usual rant from a liberaloon, secularoon, and murtadoon…always undermining Islam and muslims. Belongs neither in england nor in Pakistan. soon insha Allah this species will be extinct. get lost you scum.Recommend

  • Mar 26, 2016 - 1:02AM

    Excellent article from madame author. Rest assured the
    hindus here on ET will be gnashing their teeth and biting
    and tearing each other in their frenzy,… inferiority complex,
    laden frenzy…..karma.Recommend

  • Gramscian
    Mar 26, 2016 - 2:14AM

    Elect a candidate on his or her merit, vision and integrity, not religion. Rest is secondary. Recommend

  • Anarchist
    Mar 26, 2016 - 2:19AM

    ‘how come Zac Goldsmith has never been asked to account for the controversial speeches Imran Khan, his ex-brother-in-law, makes?’

    Why should a person be held accountable for ‘controversial’ (whatever that means) speeches of his ex brother in law? An absurd statement.

    Also, why do you have to bring IK into everything? It seems to be a personal grudge than anything else. Recommend

  • vinsin
    Mar 26, 2016 - 3:39AM

    If Sadiq doesnt win will the author demand partition? Muslims appeasement will not bolster London’s place as a world leader in multiculturalism and assimilation of immigrants.Recommend

  • vinsin
    Mar 26, 2016 - 10:24AM

    @ajay gupta:
    Muslim appeasement is not secularism. Everyone knows that India is much poorer than England. When India is planning to liberate Kashmir Valley and Tibet?Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Mar 26, 2016 - 4:08PM

    Not because he lacks experience or is not capable of being a great mayor for London, but because as someone who comes from the minority Muslim community he is immediately disadvantaged in the eyes of many.

    Not so fast madam Barrister, since when did the jews become a majority community in London? Todays popular mayor is from the conservative party who replaced the previous popular one from the labour party. The Londoners are very sober and resilient people, they will make the right choice, they always had regardless of the candidates claims of greatness. Londoners need a mayor who serve the needs of the Londoners.

    Rex Minor. Recommend

  • Ajay Gupta
    Mar 26, 2016 - 5:56PM

    @India is not planning to liberate Kashmir valley. All Muslims as chief justices have been qualified & presidents have been appointed on the basis of political considerations, not religious!Recommend

  • Woz ahmed
    Mar 27, 2016 - 2:59AM

    Let us not forget the current mayor of London is married to a Pakistani origin person, but this was never an issue.

    I sadly won’t be voting for Sadiq, because his party dosent match my values, politics should be on policies, not personalities.Recommend

  • Hameed
    Mar 27, 2016 - 6:39AM

    Bibi you obviously didn’t research Sadiq’s buddy Suleman Ghani at Tooting Islamic Centre. Search on what sort of nefarious activities this guy is up to including instigating religious boycott (yep in UK where he is himself a religious minority) with no clear condemnation from Sadiq. Sadiq is another politician looking for opportunity with little care for much else apparently. Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2016 - 9:55AM

    ALLAH may give victory to Sadiq Khan. London. New York ,Paris or Islamabad is not an issue. We live in global village now. Religion Ethnicity color are out of the window. I am sure Brit are wise enough not to discriminate some one on above basis unless Mr Sadiq don,t have policy and substance in his campaign. Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2016 - 11:02AM

    @Woz ahmed:
    Then you should be voting for the dog loping
    down the street. No personality there. But then
    the Paks have a reputation…a bad one, of bringing
    down any Pak/Pak origin who has done good/better.
    And are rising above. Like Malala, Chinoy-Obaid,
    Sana Mir etc. hope your convoluted mind understands this.Recommend

  • observer
    Mar 27, 2016 - 11:28AM

    A Muslim mayor for London?

    If that is what the Lord wills.
    I hope He will chose to have mercy upon us.

    It would also bolster London’s place as a world leader in multiculturalism and assimilation of immigrants.

    As if Lee Rigby, 7/7 and ‘Dozens of Groomings’ are not punishment enough.Recommend

  • Tp
    Mar 27, 2016 - 11:50AM

    Muslims must first shed bigotry in their own lands before seeking special treatment for themselves.Recommend

  • Woz ahmed
    Mar 27, 2016 - 12:47PM

    @Motiwala:
    You should read and understand a post before commenting, I said I vote on policies not personalities and then you make a childish comment about personalties and who I should vote for.

    If I was in Pakistan should I vote for someone because they are the same clan as mine or from my locality, or the person whose views match my politics ?Recommend

  • Shakil Ahmed
    Mar 27, 2016 - 2:09PM

    Westminster politics is full of elitists, lets elect a common person from common Londoners!
    leave religion aside! fight goes much basic here, a common Londoner versus a rich kid from elitist mindset!Recommend

  • gm
    Mar 27, 2016 - 2:09PM

    Good Lord. Save us from the narrow minded lot. Does anyone hear anyone asking the question “How many members of the British Parliament are Christians.” No. So why use this discriminatory phrase for Sadiq Khan? This man has been elected a Councillor for his local Council long long ago. He has been elected Member of Parliament twice and is still so. He sits on the front benches in the House. No one voting for him ever shows that narrow minded attitude. So what is behind the title Muslim Mayor? Some despicable agenda ? If not what else.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 27, 2016 - 2:29PM

    Always like reading you….but this time you have looked at this with blinkers on. The thing to celebrate is the ‘ system ‘ that allows for this to happen and to ensure that it is not abused.
    Sadly liberal laws in the ‘ west ‘ are being abused ( mostly by Muslims ) in order to promote an ideology alien to western culture….. so if the west is cautious, I would not blame them.Recommend

  • Levi Mannesman
    Mar 27, 2016 - 3:07PM

    Good to see Pro Israeli Muslim for a change.Recommend

  • curious2
    Mar 27, 2016 - 3:43PM

    Imagine, for a moment, an openly Muslim man with a name like Sadiq Khan contesting for mayor in New York. It’s unthinkable in today’s Islamophobic climate.
    .
    A significant percentage of American’s thought Obama was Muslim – didn’t seem to hold him back from winning. Islamophobia is a buzz word used by some Muslims but for the most part “white” people don’t care much about religion in the USA or the UK.Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2016 - 7:08PM

    @curious2:
    You are MUCHO dead wrong. There is a backlash against
    Muslims. And NO a significant number did NOT take O’bama
    as Muslim. That was Trump doing his fear mongering and
    ‘birther’ mongering,…4 years ago.Recommend

  • Haramullah Fattuddin
    Mar 28, 2016 - 12:14AM

    So the biggest quality of this Labour Party Contender is that he is Muslim.

    Any other quality please.Recommend

  • Haramullah Fattuddin
    Mar 28, 2016 - 12:21AM

    @Spooky:
    So the biggest quality of this Labour Party Contender is that he is Muslim.

    Any other quality please.Recommend

  • curious2
    Mar 28, 2016 - 8:42PM

    @Motiwala: @curious2: You are MUCHO dead wrong. … And NO a significant number did NOT take O’bama as Muslim.

    I beg to differ – many polls indicate that 29-33 percent think Obama was a Muslim. Easy Google – just use the term “American’s think Obama is a Muslim”. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, 29 percent of Americans say they think that Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of RepublicansRecommend

  • Paki
    Mar 29, 2016 - 1:08PM

    It would also bolster London’s place
    as a world leader in multiculturalism
    and assimilation of immigrants.

    Like it needs that already. Is this what this article is pivoted on, really?Recommend

  • Ajax
    Mar 30, 2016 - 6:53PM

    Muslim Countries have elected Christians as Mayors and even heads of state.
    So before you justify bigotry by saying, “they do it too”, make sure you are right.
    A good example is Senegal. The country is 94 % Muslim but they elected a Christian as President. Even though Christians make up just 5% of the population. Just as Muslims make up 5% of the population here.Recommend

  • Syed
    May 4, 2016 - 9:36PM

    Bh(india) and secularism! Yes indeed very secular when you slaughter Muslims in India on suspicion of storing meat in their refrigerators.
    This is not secularism but slimism.Recommend

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