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Historic milestones: First Muslim mayors in Brighton, Sandwell, and Solihull

31st May 2024
Historic milestones: First Muslim mayors in Brighton, Sandwell, and Solihull

Elham Buaras, additional reporting by Hasan Patel

A string of notable appointments has led to the election of the first Muslim mayors in three English boroughs in the last month.

The first historic appointment took place on May 14 when Shahin Ashraf MBE became the first ethnic minority and the first Muslim woman to be appointed as the mayor of Solihull.

Ashraf, originally from Birmingham, was elected as a Councillor in 2018 and served as Deputy Leader of the Green Party. Her husband, Jehangir Malik OBE, will support her as the mayor’s consort.

As a local councillor, Ashraf serves on various committees including the Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education, Corporate Parenting Board, Governance Committee, Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and Solihull Health & Wellbeing Board.

“I sit here deeply humbled,” she told those gathered at the full council meeting, including her family and friends. “I promise to serve the borough with dedication and integrity.”

Nominating her, Councillor Max McLoughlin, the leader of the Green group on Solihull Council, said: “Shahin will be the first Muslim and first Muslim woman to be mayor of Solihull. This is something I know, and Shahin knows, comes with greater levels of attention and scrutiny than for many others who have worn the robes before.”

Speaking exclusively to The Muslim News, Ashraf, who was made MBE in 2015, said “It’s with great honour that I accept the responsibility of representing Solihull as the first ethnic minority and first Muslim female mayor. I hope my tenure as Mayor will unite our diverse communities for the common good. We can work together to show how Solihull has always been at the forefront of communities working together to make positive change for all.”

Two days later, on May 16, 63-year-old Mohammed Asaduzzaman became the first South Asian Muslim mayor of Brighton and Hove after receiving unanimous support from councillors.

Asaduzzaman has lived in Brighton for 30 years and was previously state minister for irrigation and water development in Bangladesh. He has also a political science degree.

Labour leader of the council, Bella Sankey, praised Asaduzzaman’s commitment to the city. “Brighton and Hove can look forward to a mayor whose compassion has already left a mark on the city’s social, cultural, economic and political landscape and whose role will inspire our residents to work better together and transform our city for the better,” said Sankey.

Sankey highlighted Asaduzzaman’s outstanding contributions, including his selfless act of providing 500 free meals to essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, Asaduzzaman advocated for vaccination access for individuals with uncertain immigration status, served as an interpreter for those requiring legal assistance, and offered support to victims of crime.

Asaduzzaman, elected as a Labour councillor for the Hollingdean and Fiveways ward just last year, has chosen a range of local charities to support during his mayoral term. The chosen charities include BHT Sussex, the Sussex Cricket Foundation, Chomp Brighton, My University Hospitals Sussex, Brighton Students’ Union, and the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust.

Green councillor Raphael Hill said: “I would encourage the mayor to be mindful of the politically neutral nature of his role as the mayor is separate from the administration. “I’m sure he’ll work hard to ensure that all councillors can make their voices heard in the debate.”

The final historic appointment took place on May 21 at Sandwell Council, where its councillors appointed Councillor Syeda Khatun as its first female Muslim mayor for the 2024-25 term.

The inauguration ceremony held in Oldbury celebrated Khatun’s historic achievement as the first Bangladeshi woman elected in the region and the first Muslim woman to secure a seat on Sandwell Council since her initial election in 1999.

Khatun received an MBE in 2004 for her contributions to community development. As mayor, she presides over council meetings and participates in various events within and beyond Sandwell. Expressing her gratitude and commitment, Khatun stated, “This is a great privilege and honour and my promise to all is that I will uphold this honour and make Sandwell proud. I feel very proud to represent everyone in Sandwell.”

Since 1986, Khatun has worked in various roles, including as a research/outreach worker and language support tutor. She has managed several voluntary organizations, initiated women’s and youth groups, and advocated for environmental improvements.

Additionally, she has served as a youth worker, project manager, and non-executive director. In 1999, she made history by becoming the first Bangladeshi woman elected in the Midlands, and the first Muslim woman to win a seat on Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. Her daughter, Syeda Hasna, will serve as mayoress. Khatun plans to fundraise for two local charities: Acorns, which provides palliative care for children, and the Yemeni Community Association’s Let’s Talk Hope project, which supports cancer patients.

Photo: This month witnessed a significant milestone as three English boroughs celebrated their inaugural Muslim mayors. Shahin Ashraf MBE now serves as Mayor of Solihull, Mohammed Asaduzzaman as Mayor of Brighton and Hove Council, and Syeda Khatun MBE as Mayor of Sandwell Council. (Credit: Respective councils)


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