Desi Lord Mayor of Manchester

Pretty soon, the press will be full of stories concerning  the alienation of British Asian Muslims. While this is an important perspective, and may be an accurate depiction of a segment of British Muslim society, it is not the whole picture. 

There are also success stories like that of Mohammed Afzal Khan, Manchester’s first Asian Lord Mayor. Khan was a high school dropout who worked  in the textile mills until he had a typically desi epiphany:

One night in the late 1970s, clocking off from work following another long night shift, he began the trudge out of the valley toward his home. At the top of the hill, he turned to survey the scene: the chimney jutting out of the mill, the red-tiled roofs on the terraced housing emblematic of working-class northern England.
“I thought, ‘Do I want to spend the rest of my life in this mill?’ ” Khan recounts. “The answer was no. That was the moment that changed everything. I realized that education is paramount.”   [CSM]

Khan went back to school to learn the basics, working his way through college while his wife (he got married at 19) trained as a dentist. After a series of jobs “from bus driver to youth worker,” he became a police constable. Although he had achieved a measure of security and status, this wasn’t enough for Khan.

He spent 2-1/2 years as a police constable, developing a keen interest in the law. When he was informed he would not be allowed unpaid leave to study, he took a risk and quit.
“My police superintendent said, ‘You’re making a big mistake, your future is here,’ ” he recalls. “I said ‘I’ll live with my mistake.’ And I have.”  [CSM]

Khan graduated from Manchester University, and became a partner in a Manchester Law firm. Even this wasn’t enough for Khan.

A father of three, he found time for community and interfaith work before the lure of local politics brought him a council seat in the Cheetam Hill section of the city five years ago.
City mayors in Britain, for the most part, are not directly elected. In Manchester, they are chosen by the council. Khan won the approval of his 95 fellow councilors. A stint as deputy mayor led to the top job. He was appointed on May 18. [CSM]

Khan’s job was hard enough even before the 7-7 bombings. Now, he’ll have to work even harder to bridge the rift opened by the terrorists’ cowardly actions and the racist response to them. But if anybody has the background for the job, it’s this former factory worker / bus driver / youth worker / constable / lawyer / interfaith advocate. For Britain’s sake, I hope he succeeds.

11 thoughts on “Desi Lord Mayor of Manchester

  1. this is great, not only bcuz he’s in a position to do something to bridge the gap between Brit Muslims and the rest of society but moreso bcuz he had balls and followed his heart regardless of all the naysayers. Excellent stuff

  2. I think the success examples are always used to prove “it can be done!” The message is that EVERYone has an obligation to do likewise because it is only your lack of equal dedication in the face of adversity that has prevented you–if you will be like him, you can BE him!

    The message of successful exceptions is the opposite. The paucity of “examples” actually proves just how hard it really is.

    The focus should be on the differences in the community that allowed this, rather than on some unique difference in the dedication of the individual. Communities vary, they are powerful and some will instead crush you, rather than support you, if you “be like him.” If that result is then taken as a evaluative/comparative measure only of personal effort, it is very destructive.

    sorry I just plopped in from nowhere and opined here…but always feel contrary about this “exception-inspiration” idea. I’m another kind of hybrid and find the discussions attractive and inspiring this morning.

  3. The focus should be on the differences in the community that allowed this, rather than on some unique difference in the dedication of the individual

    no, at the end of the day you are only responsible for your actions. At the end of the day, the only person you can truly change is you. So placing the cause/root of the issue in teh community, saying it’s too hard bcuz of others, that’s nonsense. There seems to be a lot of sympathizing these days w/ ppl who just give up, feeling sorry for them. That is the worst response you can give someone who’s already down on their luck. You basically tell them ‘it’s ok, it’s not your fault, it’s something else’…when really, you have a choice to get an education for free, you have options to pursue further education, you have the ability to do so. This guy proved that one person can make a difference, that you are not defined by your community/environment, you define who you are.

  4. Here in New Zealand the very “Scottish” city of Dunedin had a mayor of Indian birth and descent, Sukhi Turner, from 1995 to 2004. She was only 43 when she became mayor and was very popular for the nine years she remained in that position. You can read about her and the maward given to her by the Indian Government at

  5. Aslam, M afzal khan,

    hope you are well, do you remember me? i was shopping at the longsight market with my wife when i met you, you were with another person whose name was also naem ( saturday 24th of july)
    i recall telling you about the naats/nasheeds materiel that i had written and that i was excited to meet you and if you knew yusaf islam. i have been searching for an oportunity for my materiai to be heard by proffesional ears and some direction for 4 years. I see my self as a new nasheed up coming artist from manchester with an ability to perform sing and write naats and to inspire and to remind the young and old generatoin in Britain of the true Islam. And through english lyrics tell the message. please could you call me or email me your number i’didnt recieve. aslam naem mirza