A Muslim historical past of the UK

Sadiya Ahmed has been busy throughout Britain’s newest COVID-19 lockdown. She has produced a podcast, created a heritage images competitors, and is engaged on organising a Muslim Historical past module to run alongside the nationwide curriculum.

It’s all a part of this former tutor’s intention to make sure British Muslim historical past takes its rightful place inside mainstream British historical past.

“Muslims aren’t simply on the margins of British society, however are a part of British society,” she says.

She desires to position their tales alongside the already documented “mainstream” British historical past in archives, museums and academia.

“It provides our communities an authenticated illustration and declare to British historical past, as ‘our historical past’, one we’re evidently a part of.”

It’s a mission many historians say is lengthy overdue.

There may be “a well-liked [mis]notion that Muslims in Britain are an alien presence, individuals who have arrived right here solely lately. In different phrases, they lack roots, and due to that they lack ties and emotional bonds with this nation”, explains historian Humayun Ansari.

“Rootedness”, Ansari says, is a “human want”.

“It’s the sense of ‘rootedness’ that establishes emotional ties between individuals and place. Archival silences have a demoralising impact and are damaging to shallowness.”

Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, an impartial think-tank centered on equality, variety and human rights, is optimistic. He believes a brand new era of historians, and historical past that’s extra accessible by way of on-line sources and social media, is creating area for everybody’s historical past to be informed.

“I believe we’re seeing a broadening of the tales which might be being informed and heard,” he says.

“British historical past is the story of how we, the British, got here to be us. It could actually solely absolutely do this job by changing into extra inclusive.”

He mentions the popularity given to the 400,000 Muslims within the Indian armies that fought for Britain within the first world struggle, greater than a century in the past.

“This was a largely unknown and untold story,” says Katwala, “however there was quickly growing public consciousness of the Black and Asian contribution to the world wars, which had a a lot larger profile through the First World Battle centenary than it had earlier than.”

Muslims have been preventing for the British military for greater than a century, however till lately their story was largely untold [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

‘Our histories might be misplaced’

Ahmed arrange the On a regular basis Muslim Heritage and Archive Initiative (EMHAI) in 2013 to doc the historical past of British Muslims.

“Future generations want to know that Muslims have historic roots in Britain that really return centuries,” she says.

The primary Indian restaurant in London was established by a Muslim surgeon in 1810, and the primary purpose-built mosque was opened in 1889.

“I really feel every era thinks that they’re ‘the primary’ as a result of our historical past is basically undocumented, however we aren’t conscious of the all of the accomplishments of the previous … With out that data, we’re sort of caught in a perpetual cycle, which grounds our id as migrants or immigrants, and never residents, and subsequently not seen as equal to somebody who’s from a white British heritage.”

Ahmed, aged 3, together with her mother and father Mohammed Iqbal Mughal and Zahida Mughal [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Britain’s greater than 3.3 million-strong Muslim neighborhood is heterogeneous. The biggest a part of the non secular group originates from South Asia, however there are additionally Arab and African communities, Muslims from Southeast Asia, the Balkans and Turkey, in addition to those that have transformed or are the descendants of converts, all with histories ready to be informed.

EMHAI goals to inform these tales and create area in historical past for a bunch Ahmed says has largely been “absent from locations similar to museums and archives”. She believes it is among the causes Muslims and different diasporic communities, “don’t go to or interact in these areas”.

“If we don’t go to museums and archives, we gained’t really feel like we belong right here. Not belonging is alienating.

“If we don’t take possession and doc these tales, our histories might be misplaced. As if that historical past by no means existed.”

Put up-war migration

Just like the post-second world struggle migration from the West Indies to the UK, many South Asians got here to plug Britain’s labour shortages, with migrants from Commonwealth nations typically working in transport or factories.

However, says Ahmed, whereas “the tales of unskilled labourers from South Asia that got here to work in factories is a real portrayal” she is eager to emphasize that “it’s not the one perspective”.

Though many migrants from South Asia did come to work in factories, this was not the one expertise. There have been additionally many docs, legal professionals and academics, in addition to different professions, amongst those that arrived [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Ansari, who’s a professor of the Historical past of Islam and Tradition at London’s Royal Holloway College, explains that: “Within the early Sixties, the federal government sponsored [a series of] movies – Calling all Muslims! – enthusiastically inviting Muslims to come back to work in British industries or to review in British universities.”

Ahmed says there have been “very educated those that got here right here with PhDs, and so they had been extra educated than some individuals right here, however they weren’t getting the roles that they had been certified for”.

Some early migrants had been legal professionals, academics and docs. There have been additionally zoologists and biologists. “They’re not the stereotypical professions that you simply’d say, ‘oh, Muslims solely do x, y, and z’. The tales offer you a wider image of who the Muslim neighborhood actually are,” Ahmed displays.

‘Transient guardians of our historical past’

Ahmed, the oldest of 9 youngsters, was born in Walthamstow in east London, to an Asian-Kenyan mom and a Pakistani father from Wazirabad, which is “affectionately referred to as the Sheffield of Pakistan due to its stainless-steel business”, she explains.

Her motivation “to do one thing” to doc and share Britain’s tapestry of heritage has all the time been there, she says.

“It got here from the convergence of my mother and father’ tales from my childhood of their lives rising up in Pakistan and Kenya, their early lives, and expertise of creating a house in Britain.”

Ahmed (centre) with three of her siblings [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Rising up in an intergenerational family of siblings, “a few of whom are round 15 to twenty years youthful than me”, made her realise “we’re all however, transient guardians of our historical past”.

Via constructing these intergenerational connections, of shared pictures and the tales behind them, conversations had been began which can by no means in any other case have occurred. Ahmed found that, except probed, many individuals selected to not share the main points of their youth within the UK, the struggles and the sacrifices.

“I don’t assume it was essentially a way of disgrace or a scarcity of satisfaction, however one thing that simply isn’t spoken about. Everyone seems to be so busy with their day after day chores and duties, histories may solely be shared in passing, however not in-depth or documented,” she says.

Oral historical past tasks, like Ahmed’s, enable youthful generations to raised perceive a few of the “complicated decisions” early migrants confronted.

One instance is the creation of prayer areas and mosques. The post-war era might have “arrived from Muslim majority international locations, making a neighborhood that developed from nothing”, Ahmed says, “but it surely didn’t imply that they had been Islamic students, architects or designers”.

That got here later, by way of the subsequent era of Muslims, who, amongst different issues, questioned the restricted area for ladies’s prayer areas that had been created by the primary wave of Muslim migration, and have redesigned mosques of at this time with inclusivity.

The delivery of an archive

Ahmed’s final objective is to create a museum or “museum-style” studying area, however she realised there was a extra fast must create one thing “extra tangible” that has “historic significance”.

And so EMHAI was born.

“Archives are what a legacy is constructed on, and these are what my neighborhood had been lacking. I quickly realised that the archives are our legacy.”

To this point, Ahmed has recorded 112 oral histories, a collection of recorded interviews that doc and acquire recollections and private commentaries of historic significance.

“Once we began, it was troublesome, it could take weeks and months to get individuals to conform to an interview. And to clarify to them what it could entail and why we’re doing this.”

Funeral prayers in Pakistan [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Ahmed began by interviewing family and friends, after which the mission grew by way of phrase of mouth and social media, which has meant she will “hook up with a wider viewers”.

Earlier than the COVID pandemic, Ahmed or one in all her 10 volunteers – who’re all educated in interview strategies – would normally converse to the contributors within the consolation of their very own house.

“We’ve a complete course of. It’s not simply stroll into somebody’s home, do an interview and stroll out once more. It’s one thing that you need to have emotional involvement in, you need to be emotionally current,” she explains.

Some interview set-ups can take weeks or months. “There was one time the place we had been attempting to get {a photograph} from somebody. And simply to get that {photograph}, it took us 18 months.”

A template is used to make sure everyone seems to be requested an identical set of questions, with room for particular person tales. Every interview takes simply greater than an hour.

Recurring themes embody “on a regular basis” topics like style, work, training, racism, meals and religion.

“… It’s about being an individual who occurs to be Muslim,” she says. “It’s about setting that particular person, their expertise within the context of British historical past, exhibiting how we stay our lives.”

A kind of interviewed was 50-year-old Rakin Fetuga, one half of the hip-hop group Mecca2Medina. He says the one half Islam performed in his childhood house in London’s Notting Hill through the Nineteen Seventies, was an image of Mecca on his front room wall. For him, being Nigerian and British got here first; being Muslim got here later.

Rakin Fetuga (left) believes an unedited historical past of Britain must be narrated [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Fetuga believes mother and father should train their youngsters historical past at house fairly than relying solely on colleges. He cites the tales of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman, however he additionally says the historical past of being African in Nineteen Seventies’ Britain should even be taught.

“We have to train our youngsters that after we got here right here within the 70s on the doorways it mentioned ‘no Blacks, no Irish, no canines’. They should perceive the historical past as a result of the youngsters rising up at this time within the classroom, you say one thing, they’re like ‘That’s racist’. I say to them, ‘Excuse me, you don’t even know what racist is’.”

EMHAI has created three archives together with the primary British assortment of tales and recollections of the Black, African and Afro-Caribbean (BAAC) Muslim neighborhood in London.

Launched in 2017, Ahmed wished to “replicate the range of the Muslim neighborhood” in Britain, and says Black British Muslims are sometimes ignored throughout the Muslim neighborhood. “The variety of what Black Muslim means must be understood and taught.”

She hopes to create extra focussed tasks on completely different communities, just like the Somali and Nigerian communities, however doesn’t have the funding for it in the intervening time.

Ahmed’s work has impressed others to gather and curate their very own histories.

“That’s what I actually wished On a regular basis Muslim to be, to encourage others to do that,” she explains. “As a result of it’s not only one particular person’s job, one organisation’s job, it’s undoubtedly a neighborhood accountability. And it’s taken a while to get to some extent the place persons are starting to grasp the worth of their tales.”

Not anticipating to remain

The EMHAI archives are a group of video or audio oral historical past interviews, transcripts, pictures, paperwork and ephemera and are partially catalogued and archived in places throughout the UK, together with Bishopsgate Institute and Sacristy Home Museum.

We Weren’t Anticipating to Keep, is one other of its collections. This one paperwork the lives of Britain’s largest Muslim group – south Asians from 1950 to 2015.

Early migrants had been primarily males, however they quickly introduced their households to hitch them [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Many early migrants believed their time in Britain could be short-lived, with beliefs to economize and return “house”. However with extra job alternatives and higher salaries within the UK, single males quickly introduced their households to hitch them.

“Their households joined them and their youngsters had been born within the UK, making this their ‘house’. They began to really feel extra settled and built-in right here. They valued the justice system, meritocracy, and equality that the UK provided them,” says Sundas Ali, the co-author of Identification, Belonging & Citizenship in City Britain and lecturer in Politics and Sociology on the Oxford College.

In We Weren’t Anticipating to Keep, vibrant photograph galleries seize moments – from births and youngsters’s events to younger males dressed of their best posing beside well-known London landmarks.

Halal chickens and Jewish butchers

Meals is a standard theme that weaves by way of the archives, with many mentioning the troublesome quest to seek out halal meat in Sixties’ Britain.

The On a regular basis Muslim mission has created three archives capturing the ‘on a regular basis’ moments in individuals’s lives. Meals is a recurring theme [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

One interviewee remembers receiving parcels of it despatched to his west London house from Bradford the place there was a extra established Muslim neighborhood. One other remembers a form Jewish butcher in east London who allowed Muslims area to slaughter chickens on Sundays.

“Via listening to the tales from the mission, I admire how we are able to take on a regular basis choices or actions with no consideration, similar to shopping for halal meat,” says Ahmed.

“It additionally made me realise that if such fundamental experiences are unknown, then there’s a disconnect between generations that leads to a lack of connection to their tradition and heritage.”

With love, from Walthamstow

One other contributor, Nazeea Elahi, 46, tells how her father’s encounter with a London cabbie led to her household settling in Walthamstow.

Fazal Elahi was 36 when he arrived in London from Pakistan, forsaking his spouse and 4 youngsters aged under 10.

Fazal Elahi’s passport [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

“[My father] had no fastened deal with to go to [when he arrived at Heathrow in 1963], all he knew was that he had a cousin dwelling someplace in Bradford. Having no thought the place Bradford was in relation to London, my father went to a taxi driver at [Heathrow] airport and requested to be taken to Bradford.

“The taxi driver laughed and mentioned it was too far and to present him an deal with in London as an alternative. My father replied that he didn’t know anybody in London.

“He requested the motive force if he knew a home in London the place Pakistani individuals had been dwelling, if that’s the case may he drop him there. The taxi driver took him to a home close to Queens Street, Walthamstow. That was how my household ended up dwelling in Walthamstow as an alternative of Bradford.”

Mariya bint Rehan, 34, whose mother and father got here from Pakistan’s Punjab area, affords a sensory description of her personal childhood recollections working in her father’s nook store. She remembers “a lukewarm strawberry Yazoo straight off the money and carry flooring on the finish of a gruelling wait, the candy odor of cardboard which flooded the store and the misplaced style of a Snickers bar from the 90s”.

Mariya bint Rehan’s father’s nook store [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Rehan, a author and illustrator, says the nook store allowed her father to purchase their first household house in Walthamstow, and ship his 4 youngsters to school, forging professions in publishing, regulation and philanthropy.

After promoting his nook store he went on to personal a number of small companies together with a small property firm. Whereas her mom taught English in feminine prisons and now owns her personal haberdashery in north London.

Open all hours nook retailers just like the one Rehan’s father ran had been typically used as comedy materials for racist “jokes”. However Rehan says she desires to redefine the stereotype, telling EMHAI: “I … wish to reclaim the reductive stereotype of the ‘Indian’ nook store, and its subsequent reinterpretation as noble, ingratiating assist characters in another person’s story.

“I wish to substitute it with my dad and his resolve in creating a greater life for my siblings and I. I’m happy to say my backbone now unfurls in satisfaction over the recollections of being the daughter of a outstanding nook store proprietor.”

However racist jokes weren’t all individuals of Rehan’s father’s era – and earlier arrivals – needed to fear about.

‘Throwing matches’ at ladies’s hair

Ansari describes how there was an “anti-immigrant sentiment that began to unfold amongst layers of white society, as did racism in direction of minority ethnic communities, reaching a crescendo in Enoch Powell’s ‘River of Blood’ speech in 1968 in response to the arrival of South Asians from East Africa”.

“Residentially concentrated and segregated, South Asian Muslim communities suffered the complete pressure of racism. They had been blamed for not integrating into British norms and values,” he provides.

Within the Fifties and 60s, Muslims in Britain had been largely recognized in ethnic fairly than non secular phrases – as Pakistanis, Arabs, Yemenis and Somalis. They skilled systematic marginalisation and rejection in employment, housing and training totally on grounds of their ethnic heritage, Ansari explains.

This led to “skinhead ‘P***-bashing’ but in addition violent assaults on mosques. Within the altering context of the next many years, the main focus of racism shifted and it’s debatable that the foundations of at this time’s Islamophobia had been being laid in these many years”.

Navid Akhtar (far left) as a toddler [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

Navid Akhtar, 54, the founding father of Alchemiya, a Muslim content material streaming service and a contributor to the archive, remembers his personal experiences with racism rising up in Nineteen Seventies’ Britain.

“To be known as a P*** or to be even to be spat on, issues like that, you simply took it in your stride after some time, you discovered methods round.

“I can actually keep in mind individuals spitting on my mom and in addition to feeling the feelings of simply confusion and anger there was all the time aid as a result of on the similar time listening to that there have been individuals who, as a result of they knew ladies had oil of their hair, they had been actually throwing matches onto their heads.”

Akhtar’s account affords a glimpse into intergenerational conversations that passed off as every era sought to make its personal method and fashioned various identities to those that got here earlier than.

“My mother and father had been Pakistani [from Kashmir], that was their fundamental id, they introduced that right here [to the UK],” says Akhtar, who was born in Paddington the place he spent the primary few years of his life.

“I typically discovered myself saying to my father you possibly can’t develop Pakistani mangoes in Northern Europe, which is what you’re attempting to do.”

Busses, beer and boiled eggs

Others recall much less harrowing experiences.

Ghulam Haider, 87, arrived on a scholarship in 1957 to pursue his MSc in engineering at Imperial School in London. He returned to Gujranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province after commencement and labored for Pakistan Petroleum earlier than returning to the UK in 1962 to proceed his profession in civil engineering, constructing roads and bridges.

He remembers staying at a lodge in London’s Russell Sq. when he first arrived, and receiving another training from his English mentor on the time. “He confirmed me how one can trip a bus … He additionally took me to a pub and mentioned ‘you don’t should order beer … you possibly can order orange juice’.”

Ghulam Haider (left) with Jack Wade, the person who confirmed him round London and launched him to life within the UK [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

On studying that Haider didn’t eat bacon, he suggested him to “stick with boiled eggs”.

“And that’s what I did,” Haider remembers. “For a very long time, in every single place I used to simply order boiled eggs.”

Haider has lived a cushty life within the UK, however his was removed from the expertise of many.

Fatimah Amer, a historic researcher specializing in social and minority histories within the UK, says her father, who had graduated high of his class at Cairo College and labored in several authorities departments, moved to London from Egypt in 1970 “within the hope of pursuing his research”.

However “quickly the burden of lease and payments took its toll” so he began on the lookout for a job.

“At a time when prejudice and discrimination was nonetheless rife his {qualifications} and expertise meant nothing within the UK and he resorted to looking for employment amidst the small Egyptian neighborhood,” Amer explains.

Mohamed Amer got here to Britain to review for his Masters [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]

He discovered work within the catering business, initially within the first-class restaurant carriage on British Rail – the place he met Amer’s mom – and later in five-star accommodations on London’s Park Lane.

“Within the midst of attempting to construct a life right here in England my father says he by no means stopped dreaming of in the future going again into training, the rationale he got here to England within the first place,” she says.

“In 1993, he obtained the grasp’s diploma he had come to England for, 23 years after he first arrived.”

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