New Yorker Profiles Sadiq Khan: From Madrassa to Mayor, via Sectarian, Muslim Politics

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New Yorker magazine has published an almost comprehensive profile on London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan, tracking his life from his youth spent in Islamic madrassas, to his rise in becoming “the most popular politician in the country” according to polling.

Author Sam Knight writes of Khan’s opposition to Brexit, his “stardust” qualities, his diminutive stature, his (intentionally) comedic demeanour, and his history in sectarian, Muslim politics.

The piece reflects on how Khan represented terror suspects and Islamist radicals, although it leaves out the man’s connection to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has described white people as “devils” and Jews as “bloodsuckers”.

The magazine holds up Khan’s election as “another stride in London’s giant, unstopping swagger”, lauding the multiculturalist wave that Khan rode into office. The 10,000-word feature starts by hailing Khan’s work after the Grenfell tower fire, as well as detailing his affinity towards former U.S. president John F. Kennedy.

But it also includes information about Khan’s religious adherence, something the London mayor has been less keen to trumpet during his time in office:

He will quote passages from the Quran and the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet, when discussing terrorism. When I asked him how to say his name (Urdu speakers pronounce it “Saadik”; English speakers tend to say “Sadeek”), Khan spelled out his name in Arabic—“sawd alif daal kaaf”—and explained that it means “truthful.” In 2009, when he was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council, an ancient body of senior politicians, Khan brought his own Quran to Buckingham Palace and left it there, because the palace did not have a copy. Sometimes it is as if he were leading a one-man religious-education exercise. “Many people in positions of power and influence, they have not broken bread with a Muslim,” Khan said. “Part of it is reassuring them: The sky is not going to fall in. You are in safe hands. All the stuff that you worry about, I worry about as well. All the dreams you have got, I have got as well.”

Khan has made a concerted effort since being elected as mayor to appear alongside other faith leaders in the United Kingdom, but has also previously been caught progressing the agendas of Islamic sects who engage in acts such as female genital mutilation.

Raised in South London, the article recalls the mayor’s memories from growing up:

After classes, Khan went to a madrassa, for instruction in Islam. He would cross the road to avoid skinheads in bomber jackets, members of the National Front, a far-right organization that had a strong presence in Tooting and Earlsfield. People shouted “Paki!” at his father on the bus. “There is a very good reason why all my brothers joined the boxing club,” Khan said. “In our area, on our estate, there were certain things you couldn’t say and get away with. So, if somebody called you the P-word, that means there is a fight. That’s it. We’re having a fight. You couldn’t allow that to be tolerated.”

His initial foray into the legal world was at a firm called Christian Fisher, which allegedly “frequently represented suspected I.R.A. members”.

“There is a slight duality about Sadiq,” his former colleague Matt Foot told the New Yorker. “I think his strong Labour working-class roots are a big part of what he is. I think he has also been very efficient.”

The piece notes how Khan represented terror suspects such as the former Islamist-turned-LBC host Maajid Nawaz, and terror suspect Babar Ahmed, as well as the Mayor’s previous racial slurs in labelling moderate Muslims as “uncle Toms” — a phrase he has since recanted.

It also details how Khan became embroiled in sectarian politics in London in his re-election bid for Parliament in 2010:

…The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, put up an antiwar South Asian candidate named Nasser Butt, who had the potential to split the Labour vote in the constituency.

“I became an immediate threat to Sadiq’s Muslim-vote bank,” Butt told me. However, Butt belonged to an Islamic sect, the Ahmadiyya, that holds theological beliefs different from those of mainstream Sunni Islam, the predominant branch in the U.K. During the campaign, Liberal Democrat posters were torn down and Butt suffered anti-Ahmadi abuse. At an election event at the Tooting Islamic Centre, the Conservative candidate, Mark Clarke, who is mixed race, had to be locked in a room for his own protection, after being mistaken for Butt; Butt was advised to stay away altogether. Although he blamed activists from the center, which is attached to the Balham Mosque, for the discrimination during the election, Butt was convinced that Khan was also involved. “He was part of it,” he said. “I was quite sure he was directing it.”

Khan has always denied any wrongdoing. But on May 3, 2010, two days before the election, Butt sent his son to secretly record a meeting at the Islamic center. Butt gave me a copy of the recording. On it, a speaker identified as Harris Bokhari, the son of Khan’s old head teacher and mentor, addresses the room. “The majority of Muslims in this area are voting Lib Dem, because they think Nasser Butt is a Muslim,” Bokhari says. “You need to go into the community and take these posters down.” One man at the meeting asks Bokhari how to fill in his ballot papers. “All you need to do is just look for Sadiq Khan, Labour Party, and just tick it,” he says. “Whatever else you vote is up to you.” Bokhari told me that he does not remember the meeting. Khan held his seat by less than three thousand votes.

Khan’s rise to Mayor has not been meteoric, and according to those around him, the man has designs on a higher office: that of Prime Minister.

It is this ambition that keeps him from making sweeping political statements on a regular basis, even about Brexit, which Khan campaigned against. One source told the New Yorker: “If he becomes ‘Remainer-in-Chief,’ that is a big problem when he wants England to vote for him.”

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