Record number of Muslims take seats in new UK parliament
LONDON // A record number of Muslim MPs - including the first women - will take their seats when the new House of Commons convenes in London on Tuesday. After what the Muslim Council of Britain described as a "momentous" election, the number of Muslim MPs has doubled to eight, including the first Conservatives.
Record numbers among the UK's two million Muslims were believed to have turned out to vote in the May 6 general election after several high-profile publicity campaigns by faith groups to get people involved in the electoral process. The only disappointment for Muslim activists came when Shahid Malik, one of two Muslim ministers in the last Labour government, fell victim to the national swing towards the Conservatives and lost his seat in Dewsbury.
But it was the success in the election of the first three women Muslim MPs, all representing Labour seats, that was heralded as the most significant breakthrough. The female trio were: ? Yasmin Qureshi, who won the Bolton South East constituency in north-west England with a majority of more than 8,600. ? Shabana Mahmood, who increased the majority of her Labour predecessor, former International Development Secretary Clare Short, from under 7,000 to more than 10,000 in Birmingham.
? Rushnara Ali, who recaptured the Bethnal Green and Bow seat for Labour with a crushing 11,000-vote majority. A record 22 Muslim and Asian women stood in the election for all three main parties. Ms Mahmood, 29, an Oxford University graduate and now a successful barrister, said that she initially feared that members of her own community would not accept her. "When I was first selected, a lot of people said to me that Asian men or Muslim men won't talk to you or engage with you, but I found for a lot of people it's a breath of fresh air," she told the BBC.
"The image of the voiceless Muslim woman who cannot leave the house is just not true: they are interested in politics. Parliament is for the people - all of the people - and the ethnic minority population should claim it." Ms Qureshi, 46, also a barrister whose family emigrated from Pakistan to the UK when she was nine, said that was "delighted and humbled" to have been elected. Until the election this month, there had been a total of six Muslim MPs, including four in the last parliament. All were male and all represented the Labour Party.
Now, though, two Conservatives will be joining their ranks: Sajid Javid, who retained the Bromsgrove in central England with an increased majority of more than 11,000, and Rehman Chisti, who won the Gillingham and Rainham seat in SE England with an 8,500 majority. The other Muslim MPs elected included former Labour transport minister Sadiq Khan, whose supporters in Tooting, south London, adopted the chant "Yes, we Khan" during the campaign.
Khalid Mahmood also successfully defended his parliamentary seat for Labour in Birmingham Perry Bar, increasing his majority to more than 11,000, while another Labour candidate, Anas Sarwar, succeeded his father, Mohammed Sarwar - who became Britain's first Muslim MP in 1979 - with an increased majority in Glasgow Central. The Muslim Council of Britain said: "This election has proven to be a milestone for Britain's Muslims, who have confounded critics to take part in our democratic culture in even greater numbers.
"Throughout the duration of the election campaign, MCB's affiliates organised a number of hustings and meetings to scrutinise their candidates. MCB's successful Muslim Vote campaign has persuaded many first-time voters to take part. "It would seem that these elections have ushered in the age of the discerning British Muslim voter. No party and no candidate can take the Muslim vote for granted. "Our issues have been both diverse and common, whilst we have conceivably voted on our own set of priorities for the common good of the nation."
Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organisation for almost 500 Muslim groups nationwide, said: "At this stage, it is time we applaud all those who have won seats, and commiserate with those who were not as successful. "Yet with such large turnouts reported, this is a success for all of us and our democratic culture." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: May 14, 2010 04:00 AM