The book in my view had an unfair advantage. Given its subject matter – the unique, pioneering, role model for many (beyond his own community) – the writers could not go wrong. Mohammed Ajeeb CBE; a true leader.
The book helps us to learn about the person (according to those who have known him) whose life’s journey has been one of ambition, endeavour, courage, perseverance, self-discipline and unflinching resolve. They have also described him as articulate, forthright and engaging. As a researcher into the Pakistani Kashmiri community, you can guess my joy at being provided another excellent reference book, which has already been referenced in my next book on education. So, my heartfelt gratitude to Ishtiaq Ahmed, Yaqub Nizami, Zaffar Tanveer and Dr Sufyan Abid Dogra for producing the excellent book: Muhammad Ajeeb CBE – Rising Above Ordinariness.
The book takes us on a journey into the story of multicultural development in British society. It also offers us a glimpse of the internal workings of the Pakistani community. We learn about people living in crowded accommodation and making do with very limited food choice:
We lived in a four-bedroom house with 18 other males…. For the first two years we could not purchase any halal meat and therefore we had to make do with eggs, tins of beans, processed peas, cauliflower and potatoes and not much else. p14
The ‘push’ factor of migration.
The village, Chattro, in Mirpur Azad Kashmir, had little promise for his future life. His father, a hard-working sole bread earner, a mason by profession, could only afford the high school education that was locally available for him. Had he remained living there…he would have ended up in menial clerical jobs… Therefore, he decided to leave his birthplace and move to Karachi, which in those days was a good place (for work and part time education). p56
We learn about the efforts of the earlier migrants from our community who had little, who travelled far and who achieved much despite hostilities of racism and poverty. I wonder whether the subsequent generations, especially the current youth, could follow suit in accessing the opportunities that the world offers.
We learn that there was greater integration of the Pakistani community in the earlier days of migration. The men in the community were more willing to interact with the majority white community, at workplace, neighbourhood and public houses.
While others in his community were still of the view that England was a temporary workplace from which they would return to Pakistan he had bought a house, been appointed to the Race Relations Board and joined the Labour Party, which was to become the vehicle for his most significant achievement, becoming the first Muslim Lord Mayor in the U.K. Given their acceptance that they were in someone else’s space, many in his community overlooked racial abuse; not him. Once he walked out of a job because the supervisor was being racist towards him.
The word ‘community’ is a broad and inclusive one when it comes to a person of Ajeeb Sahib’s stature, given his ability and willingness to relate to, and work with, all peoples, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other differences. So, it is befitting that, in addition to the Pakistani community, the book includes plaudits from a range of people – Hindu, Sikh, Caribbean and Christians…
“Just look at our backgrounds. Mohammed Ajeeb, a Muslim from Mirpur, Azad Kashmir; myself a Hindu from Jinja, Uganda, of Gujarati Indian origin…living, working, playing in peace and harmony in Bradford, in the U.K.. I feel blessed and proud to have him as my Elder Brother.” p69.
His appeal was broader and more mainstream. He was not a BME politician but a Labour Party politician.
“Ajeeb never tried to crawl into the limiting and belittle shell of an ethnic Pakistani or Kashmiri or Mirpuri or clan-based Councillor of a biraderi; but always took pride in being a Labour Party Councillor.”
One writer pointed out:
His abiding legacy is the instilling in each one of us…the belief, confidence, conviction, and capacity to engage and operate across political and community divides, in the pursuit of common objectives and in the changing of people’s lives for the better. p29
His achievements are worth acknowledging and celebrating at any time. But they take on a special worth given their uniqueness and pioneering nature.
… in the history of British Pakistanis, he stands the tallest, just like the Lister Mills Chimney that dominates the horizon in hilly Bradford, giving people a sense of direction.”
A man who “has never shied away from addressing difficult issues within the Muslim communities.”
His inspirational life was summed up by two writers in these words:
By his achievements he has demonstrated that barriers could be overcome and that it is possible to chart a path to success to the highest level, even in a racially hostile climate and under adverse conditions. p29
(He has) risen above party political lines and social and cultural affiliations to speak openly and honestly on important matters that matter to all of us. He has not shied away from controversy and he has not been frightened of criticism….p71
I recommend the book for adults and the younger generation across all our diverse communities; so that they gain an appreciation of the post-war development of our society and are better able to build on the foundations laid.