Qari Asim: Hope over fear, what Sadiq Khan's election means for Britain

THE election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London has enormous personal and political significance which I have been celebrating.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 8th May 2016, 8:19 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2016, 8:20 am
Sadiq Khan is the new Mayor of London.
Sadiq Khan is the new Mayor of London.

Like my own father, he is the son of a Pakistani immigrant who came to this country because of the opportunities that England offered.

Khan’s political campaign relied heavily on his personal story. His father was a bus driver and his mother sewed clothes. He said his story was “a story of London”. He added: “London gave me the chance to go from a council estate to helping to run a successful business and serving in the Cabinet. My vision for London is a simple one – I want all Londoners to have the same opportunities that our city gave me.”

Khan is not the only son of a Pakistani bus driver who has held a high-profile political office.

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The current Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, is also the son of a bus driver, and Yorkshire born and bred Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim female to serve in a British Cabinet, is also the daughter of a bus driver.

Sadiq Khan’s victory once again shows that Muslims are not a ‘nation within a nation’ as Trevor Phillips claimed last month.

British Muslims may have beliefs and religious values that are different in some respects to other communities, but their collective commitment to integrate and make a positive contribution to society should not be constantly questioned.

Young British Muslims are proud of their faith, but also of their country. Sadiq Khan’s historic victory should serve to further enhance their belief in democracy and the political system, and reaffirm their belief that the opportunities open to them in Britain are endless.

I am overwhelmed because the mayoral campaign was dominated by smears on religion and ethnicity. The first Muslim to lead a major Western city, Sadiq Khan’s landslide victory is all the more important because it not only sends a strong message to professional trolls such as Katie Hopkins who said that she would “run naked down Regent Street with a sausage up my bum in protest” but also to global bigots, including Donald Trump, who breed hatred, fear and suspicion.

This victory flies in the face of polls last year that suggested that a third of Londoners would be “uncomfortable” with a Muslim mayor - Michael Ancram, the Defence Secretary, wsas among those during the campaign who questioned whether Sadiq Khan could be trusted with security matters.

Khan’s victory also sends an incredibly powerful message to Islamist extremists who assert that religions cannot peacefully co-exist, and promote the “clash of civilisations” narrative . They hope for young Muslims to migrate to war-torn Syria and Iraq claiming that Muslims will never be treated as full equal citizens in the West.

Those extremists need to reflect that even in a Muslim country, the son of a Muslim bus driver or someone of a different ethnic background would be unlikely to be given the opportunity to become the mayor of the capital city.

The extremists want European Muslims to hate the West, but Sadiq Khan is the West, so are the three million Muslims living in Britain. I am hopeful that Khan will act as an inspiring role model for young Muslims and a symbol of integration; he is in a unique position to be more effective at tackling extremism than anyone else.

Khan faced one of the most toxic, fear mongering political campaigns we have seen, rooted in subtle racism. The ethics of that divisive campaign have been rightly questioned by Conservative politicians as well as defeated Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith’s own sister.

But the voters rejected his opponent and gave Khan the biggest personal mandate in British political history. Londoners have proved that London may be one of the most diverse cities in the world but British people are united by British values.

Brits don’t only tolerate difference, but respect it and celebrate it. Neither anti-Semitism nor anti-Muslim hatred or any form of bigotry should have any place in our society.

Khan’s victory will not end Islamophobia but it will offer hope. It shows that most people in Britain have no time for hatred , just as most British Muslims have no time for Islamist extremists and their abhorrent views.

Khan has a hard act to follow in Boris Johnson and the first 100 days in office will be crucial. One over-arching issue that deserves his immediate attention is the further uniting of all communities in Britain under the British flag.

One of the symbolic ways to unite is to invite Brits to back the #WeAreAllEngland campaign with groups from every ethnic and faith background celebrating an inclusive and shared sense of national pride in the England that we all belong to.

The election of Sadiq Khan is an inspiring story of what Britain stands for: tolerance, merit, and democracy.

Londoners are more interested in what this extremely talented man has to offer to London on issues that matter rather than his religion, ethnicity and background. I am celebrating that my fellow citizens have chosen hope over fear, and unity over division.

Qari Asim is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds. He tweets via @QariAsim