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UK’s first hijab-wearing mayor resigns from Labour

30th Oct 2020
UK’s first hijab-wearing mayor resigns from Labour

(Photo courtesy of Rakhia Ismail)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The UK’s first hijab-wearing mayor has resigned as Labour Councillor citing “oppression” and “discriminatory behaviour.”

Councillor Rakhia Ismail, whose term as Mayor of Islington Council ended last month, announced her decision to quit the party and the council in an emotional speech at a council meeting on September 24 via a video conference.
The Holloway Ward Councillor, who is and first Somali-born woman to become Mayor, told her colleagues that she had an announcement to make as she handed over the mayoralty to Councillor Janet Burgess.

She said, “Over the past six years I have felt as though my values have not been respected by the leadership establishment and members. I am sorry that it has had to come to this.”She then told the meeting that she had to take a moment and that she would be back to finish her statement. However, she did not return to the call.

She also took to twitter to announce her resignation from the party. She said it had been an “honour” to be the First Citizen of Islington but added that she “enjoyed” the role as it allowed her to escape from “oppression.”

She said, “I’m saddened deeply that the party I thought was for justice and fairness and for the many is the opposite, from my personal experience. Therefore, I find it hard to represent Holloway Ward as a Labour Councillor because I was battling with a party system that simply allows white men to have what they want when they want.”

Speaking to The Muslim News, Ismail said she had nothing but a glowing experience with Holloway Ward Labour Party officials and members. Islamail said she wanted to represent all the under-represented constituents including the borough’s white working class community.

Adding, “Resigning from the party was something that I never wanted to do. I kept on hoping it will get better and after five plus years, nothing has changed and treatment towards me has worsened while I was serving as the Deputy Mayor and Mayor of Islington, but what keepsme going was the love and respect the community give me as Mayor.”

Ismail pointed to a letter she received in February 2019 inviting her to Labour’s first national women’s conference which, beneath her address, was printed the word, ‘Somalia.’ “What has my birthplace got to do with this invite? I was shocked,” said Ismail.

Ismail also claimed she was initially blocked out of the official mayoral Twitter account. “Before I became first Mayor of the London Borough of Islington, I was told the media team will tweet on my behalf, which was totally wrong because past Islington Mayors were allowed to tweet. I saw this different treatment as Islamophobic.”

She also alleged Islamophobia among some colleagues was behind the decision by the council not to organise an event to mark Eid in 2019, despite her facilitating two months worth of dialogue with Muslim leaders and council officials.

“Since I became Councillor, I’ve hosted an Eid party, an event always paid for by Islington Muslim leaders. For the past seven years, it has grown, and I kept on asking the leadership to make it a calendar event as it got bigger and bigger, despite this it’s still not a calendar event.”

Islington Council, however, say the event was cancelled by community representatives due to organisational challenges and issues with public liability insurance.Ismail also alleged that a Labour colleague shouted at her for tarnishing the reputation of the area after she highlighted to the media the issue of knife crime and was reduced to tears after being told to be quiet during a Labour group meeting.

Ismail says she was contacted officially by the Leader of the Labour Party on October 14 following her interview with LBC Radio Exchange. “Ismail’s decision to resign is disappointing, especially coming so soon after her term as Mayor of Islington, having served the borough admirably through an incredibly challenging time,” said a spokesperson for the Labour Party.

“Islington Labour has a diverse and talented group of councillors serving their community. The Labour Party takes any allegations of discrimination received extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.”

The Labour Muslim Network, which seeks to promote British Muslim engagement with the Labour Party, tweeted, ‘We are saddened and extremely concerned that the first Somali-born, Muslim woman to become Mayor has quit the Labour Party as a result of discrimination and Islamophobia.This is one of many resignations in recent weeks we are investigating rooted in experiences of racism.’

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