LONDON: The resignation of the UK’s first hijab-wearing mayor, and her leaving the main opposition Labour Party on grounds of racism and Islamophobia, highlight the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment across all British political parties, an interfaith expert told Arab News on Monday.
Rakhia Ismail, who was born in Somalia, left her post as mayor of the London Borough of Islington late last month, and on Sunday announced that she would resign from her position as a Labour Party councillor after eight years in service.
She said she stepped down because she felt she was marginalized as a woman of color and was not taken seriously by some male colleagues. She also cited incidents of Islamophobia from some Labour Party colleagues.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
In 2019, Ismail said she received a letter inviting her to Labour’s first national women’s conference which, beneath her address, was printed the word: “Somalia.” She said: “What has my birthplace got to do with this invite? I was shocked.”
She also cited Islington Council’s failure to organize an Eid festival in 2019, despite the borough’s significant Muslim population, as an example of anti-Muslim sentiment within the council.
Muddassar Ahmed, a patron of the Faiths Forum for London, a group dedicated to fostering interfaith dialogue and relations, said Ismail’s experience highlights the ongoing issue of Islamophobia in British politics.
“Sadly, this incident shows that no political party is totally immune from anti-Muslim sentiment,” he told Arab News.
“The Labour Party has come a very long way in appointing women of color to senior positions, but clearly there’s more work to be done,” he said.
“I hope the Labour Party learns from this incident and ensures that there’s a thorough investigation to understand why this happened.”
A Labour spokesperson said the party “takes any allegations of discrimination received extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.
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,” the spokesperson added.