Review of the Year April-June 2016: Sadiq Khan elected London mayor

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

We continue our look back at the major Muslim news stories in 2016 at home and abroad. The months April-June were dominated by the election of the first Muslim mayor of London and the boxer Muhammad Ali’s death.

In April the Labour Party suspended Naz Shah over comments she made criticising Israel in 2014 before she became an MP.

The mainstream media targeted the Bradford West MP over Facebook posts she made before entering parliament, including one suggesting Israel should be moved to America.

She offered a “profound apology” in a statement to MPs for the posts. Addressing the Speaker, she said: “I hope you will allow me to say that I fully acknowledge that I have made a mistake and I wholeheartedly apologise to this House for the words I used before I became a member. I accept and understand that the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that. Anti-semitism is racism, full stop. As an MP I will do everything in my power to build relations between Muslims, Jews and people of different faiths and none.”

Naz Shah MP

In a Facebook post in 2014, Ms Shah shared a graphic showing an image of Israel’s outline superimposed on a map of the US under the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict – relocate Israel into United States”, with the comment “problem solved.”

The post suggested the US has “plenty of land” to accommodate Israel as a 51st state, allowing Palestinians to “get their life and their land back.”

It added Israeli people would be welcome and safe in the US, while the “transportation cost” would be less than three years’ worth of Washington’s support for Israeli defence spending.

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Also in April Malia Bouattia became the first Muslim woman to be elected head of the National Union of Students.

Bouattia was elected at stage one of the count with 372 votes, with Megan Dunn coming in second with 328 votes. The election took place during the NUS’s National Conference in Brighton.

Bouattia, who is a former Birmingham University student, has campaigned against the Prevent policy which is being implemented in British universities which she considers Islamophobic and racist. She is also well-known to be pro-Palestine.

Malia Bouattia

During her emotional election speech Bouttia said she was forced to flee Algeria as a child due to the civil war there. She said her family brought her to the UK so that she could have a good education.

She also launched an attack on the Conservative government for taking away the rights of the underprivileged and said her name had been dragged through the mud by right-wing media.

Meanwhile, the man accused of killing Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah issued a statement saying that he carried out the murder because Mr Shah claimed to be a prophet.

The killer Tanveer Ahmed

Tanveer Ahmed, 32, from Bradford, was accused of killing Mr Shah outside his shop in Glasgow.

In the statement given to his lawyer, Mr Ahmed claimed Asad Shah had “disrespected” Islam by claiming to be a prophet.

The shopkeeper, who had moved from Pakistan to Glasgow almost 20 years ago, was found with serious injuries outside his shop on 24 March. He was pronounced dead in hospital.

Mr Shah was from the Ahmadiyya sect, a controversial group regarded as non-Muslims by both Sunni and Shia Muslims due to their disbelief in Prophet Muhammad as the final messenger of sent by God.

May and June 2016

In May Imam Suliman Gani got the BBC to apologise to him for calling him an ISIS supporter, following similar apologies from Prime Minister David Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

The BBC statement said: “During the BBC programme London’s Mayor: the Big Debate on 18 April 2016, presenter Andrew Neil said that Imam Suliman Gani was ‘a supporter of Islamic State’ also known as Daesh.

“The BBC wishes to make clear that this statement was not true and that he is not a supporter of IS. Imam Gani opposes Islamic State and its activities which he has in the past condemned and campaigned against.

“The BBC apologises to Imam Gani for the distress and damage this statement caused him.”

On May 11 David Cameron was forced to apologise to Gani who he accused of supporting ISIS.

The Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons under Parliamentary privilege, had said Suliman Gani “supports ISIS”.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Cameron had been referring to reports that Mr Gani supports “an Islamic state” rather than ISIS specifically.

He said: “In reference to the Prime Minister’s comments on Sulaiman Gani, the Prime Minister was referring to reports that he supports an Islamic state. The Prime Minister is clear this does not mean Mr Gani supports the organisation Daesh and he apologises to him for any misunderstanding.

Also on May 11 Defence Secretary Michal Fallon, who called Shaykh Suliman Gani an ISIS supporter during a radio interview, said sorry for the “inadvertent error” after the imam launched legal action against him.

Fallon said he had been repeating comments made by Andrew Neil during a TV debate.

The spokesman told the Mirror: “Michael made clear he was quoting a claim by Andrew Neil on a BBC Mayoral debate programme. He was unaware of the clarification and apology that the BBC had issued on Neil’s claim.

“Had he been aware, he would not of course have quoted him and as soon he became aware he put the record straight. He naturally apologises for this inadvertent error.”

Shaykh Suliman Gani

Also in May, Labour’s Sadiq Khan became the first Muslim mayor of London after defeating his Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith.

Khan received 1,310,143 votes after the second round of voting compared to Zac Goldsmith’s 994,614 votes.

In his victory speech he said he wanted to give Londoners the chance to have a home, and better jobs, and cleaner air. He also said this election was not without controversy but London had chosen “hope over fear, and unity over division,” adding that he hoped London would never sees a campaign like this again.

The 45-year-old MP for Tooting reclaimed City Hall for Labour after eight years of Conservative rule, and at the end of an often bitter campaign during which the Conservatives accused Khan of “pandering to extremists.”

Khan had said he would make solving London’s housing crisis a key priority, and place a freeze on public transport fares for four years.

He said he would set a target that half of all new homes should be “genuinely affordable” and promised to boost landlord licensing, as well as name and shame rogue landlords. Oxford Street would be pedestrianised and the capital’s air quality would be restored to legal and safe levels.

However, he upset many Muslims by opposing boycotts of Israel, pledging to hold a Tel Aviv festival and questioning Muslim women who wear the hijab and niqab.

June 2016

In June it emerged that a high-profile campaign encouraging Muslim women to “make a stand against terrorism” was covertly produced by the Home Office’s communications unit.

The #MakingAStand campaign was launched by Inspire, a women’s counter-extremism organisation, in September 2014, and described by founder Sara Khan as a “jihad against violence.”

Home Secretary Theresa May attended a launch event in support of the campaign, but Inspire has always maintained that it is independent of government.

But an internal government document seen by Middle East Eye lists #MakingAStand as a “RICU Product,” the Home Office’s strategic communications unit responsible since 2011 for disseminating counter-extremism narratives as part of the government’s Prevent strategy.

World news

On the international stage in May, Slovakia’s Prime Minister said that “Islam has no place” in the country.

Speaking about migration, Robert Fico told Slovakian news agency TASR: “When I say something now, maybe it will seem strange, but I’m sorry, Islam has no place in Slovakia. I think it is the duty of politicians to talk about these things very clearly and openly. I do not wish there were tens of thousands of Muslims.”

Along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Slovakia has called for Europe’s borders to be sealed off to block the main routes used by refugees to enter Europe.

The Prime Minister told TASR that he had heard about other countries’ negative experiences of migration, including Malta.

Responding to his interview, the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia told The Slovak Spectator: “The repeated statements of Mr Premier do not only harm Slovak Muslims but also the country’s interests as a sovereign country which is building its position on the international scene.”

And finally in June the man widely regarded as possibly the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, died at the age of 74.

The former three-time world heavyweight boxing champion died at a hospital in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona, after being admitted on Thursday.

He was suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali shot to fame by winning light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Nicknamed “The Greatest”, the American beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to win his first world title and became the first boxer to capture a world heavyweight title on three separate occasions.
He eventually retired in 1981, having won 56 of his 61 fights.

Crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC, Ali was noted for his pre- and post-fight talk and bold fight predictions just as much as his boxing skills inside the ring.

But he was also a civil rights campaigner and poet who transcended the bounds of sport, race and nationality.

American Muslim theologian Yasir Qadhi paid tribute to Ali shortly before his death.

He said: “There is no denying that Muhammad Ali is the most famous and influential American Muslim, ever. It is doubtful that anyone will replace that status for the foreseeable future. If the only good that he brought was to bring a positive image of Islam, and to spread the name of our beloved Prophet (SAW) in every household and on every tongue in the world, it is a life that is indeed enviable.

“But in addition to that, he has had a stellar career as the single greatest athlete, of all times. As well, he was an icon of positive political activism, and of preaching truth to power. His court case about refusing the draft for Vietnam was fought all the way to the Supreme Court, which he eventually won.

“He converted to what he thought was Islam at a time when Islam was an unknown religion; then he became Sunni after Malcolm X introduced him to mainstream Islam, and he’s been a proud and public Muslim ever since.

“If that wasn’t enough, he is one of the most eloquent and poetic star athletes that the world has ever seen. His quotes, like his medals and awards, are legendary (my personal favorite is: ‘The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.’)

“We must all go eventually, and Muhammad Ali has lived a good life. Yet still, the heart is saddened and the eyes are sad to see a living legend go before our eyes. Whenever it is his time to go, I pray that Allah eases his suffering, grants him a dignified death, accepts the good that he has done, and overlooks his mistakes.”

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