A ‘Date With Ed’ proves to be an inspiring lesson in political participation for a young British Muslim woman
Two weeks ago a female Labour councillor came down to speak to local Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in Oldham. She came to discuss the importance of participation at all levels, whether by going out to vote or becoming a candidate. She even gave me an earful as I still hadn’t joined the Labour Party and yet was content to complain that politics was dominated by males and not representative of females at all. By the end of the session I had grudgingly promised her and the other ladies who attended that the first thing I would do the next day is join the party (which kept them happy!) and become more actively involved to get women and young people’s voices heard.
Soon after, I received a text message inviting me to an exclusive invitation-only event in London, entitled ‘A Date With Ed’, to meet and partake in a question and answer session with Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan on January 17th. I immediately pounced on the offer, thankful to God for this fantastic opportunity; it seemed my promise to the ladies would be fulfilled!
On the day I met a crowd of Mancunians and a lady from Bradford also joining for the trip. Piling into the minibus, it was an exciting feeling to be representing northerners at the event. A four hour journey later, with a pit stop in Birmingham (where I prayed behind a KFC sign and best guessed the direction of the Qiblah1, only to be told by a Muslim employee that the door behind me led to a multi-purpose prayer room with ablution facilities), we finally arrived at the venue. Registration went smoothly and as I entered the hall I realised I should have entered the hall a lot earlier rather than milling around; the event had started and was jam packed with people.
I was astounded and overwhelmed. As someone who had been thinking about getting involved with the Labour Party since the age of 16, this was (not that I’ve ever been) like being in Disney Land! There were over 20 Labour MP’s and hundreds of people who were in important community and leadership positions with the ability to shape and influence crucial decisions yet to be made. I didn’t know where to begin networking but thankfully I had the good sense the night before to quickly print off my details on paper and laminate them as business cards – far from a professional quality, but it did the job!
The night started off with a speech by Usman Ali, the first ever Muslim Vice President of the National Union of Students (and a northerner, may I add), who kicked off the night. It was heart warming to hear about his own personal journey, how he got involved and the support he received from his local community, inspiring a new generation to become active.
The evening progressed brilliantly with young people, men, women and elders from the Muslim community all given the opportunity to ask questions to the Labour Leader. The audience experienced first-hand the leader of the opposition party answering some tough, challenging questions but giving some fantastic answers, even showing his sense of humour by joking that Jeremy Paxman would be out of a job soon. Addressing the audience was significant as it indicated that Ed Miliband was serious about engaging with Muslims for the long term, stating he “didn’t want to wait another 43 years to come back to the Islamic Cultural Centre”.
I had also heard a great deal about Sadiq Khan from colleagues and friends in Manchester, and needless to say I was not disappointed when he gave his speech. Hearing the many good opinions Labour supporters and majority of the Muslims had of him was also great. As one aunty quite rightly said, “it’s people like Sadiq Khan who truly represent the Muslim community and make us very proud.” No doubt we need more young Muslim men and women like him, and this can only be done through wider engagement.
Following the question and answer session, a private meeting was held while dinner was being served. This too I was fortunate enough to attend (although I missed out on the fragrant food). As luck would have it, I ended up sitting opposite the representative of the Muslim Women’s Association and CEO of Islam Channel, Muhammad Ali. With the latter I enjoyed a good banter over his refusal to believe I was of Bengali origin, while we waited for the guests of honour to arrive.
Although I was enjoying myself, I did also feel out of place and significantly inexperienced compared to those around me. Ending up only a seat away from Ed Miliband didn’t help either; all I could think of was to take a picture with him to show off to my family, friends and the ladies from the BAME session. However despite my insecurities, I was comforted by the words of Keith Vaz and Margaret Beckett from earlier on who both advised me to keep going and to be involved no matter what the barriers faced. These words further reinforced what the councillor had said to me the week before.
It was also truly inspiring to see the number of women councillors, MPs and leaders sitting on equal terms with their male counterparts at the meeting, being respected for their talents and contributions and not hampered by anything else.
The event truly motivated me to keep continuing on in the world of politics in order to help benefit the women and young people from BAME backgrounds. It inspired me to encourage them to aspire to become campaigners, councillors, MPs and MEPs without losing their roots and being proud of their faith and culture. Perhaps by striving to do so and encouraging others, we may in the not too distant future witness the first ever Muslim Labour Woman MP to wear the Islamic headscarf (hijab) in Parliament, standing as a true role model for all women across all communities in the UK.
1Qiblah – the directions which Muslims pray towards
Image from: www.guardian.co.uk
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