A Tale of Muslim Britain

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first British Muslim woman to attend Parliament, spoke to a large and diverse audience at a Unit for Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement (DICE) public event held on 21 June at the University of Leicester.

Many of the audience were members of the public on their first visit to the University, including a high number of Muslim women.

At a time when the Muslim Council of Britain has written a second letter to the Chair of the Conservative Party asking for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party (having received no formal response to their first), Baroness Warsi urged members of the audience to engage more directly in politics, remarking: ‘If not you, then who? If not now, then when?’ The audience was clearly enthused – early feedback showed that 83% of respondents rated this latest DICE event as ‘excellent.’

Drawing on her own life-history, which she describes in her book ‘The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain’ as beginning in a ‘tough working-class home’, Sayeeda, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, went on to became a solicitor with the Crown Prosecution Service.

In 2005, she stood for election as a Conservative MP for Dewsbury. Sayeeda was made a peer in 2007 – at 36 the youngest in the House - and then became Co-Chair of the Conservative Party in 2010. She served in David Cameron's Cabinet, first as the Minister without Portfolio, then as the Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and finally as Minister for Faith and Communities. She resigned her post in 2014, citing disagreement with the Government's policy on the escalation of the Israel–Gaza conflict. Sayeeda started her own Foundation in 2016 and now sits on Shelter’s Commission on Social Housing.

In weaving her tale of Muslim Britain, Sayeeda highlighted the wide variation in Muslim identities in Britain as well as the racism, sexism and Islamophobia she herself had encountered. Sadaf Akhtar, a local Muslim women’s rights advocate, and student at the University’s Department of Criminology, asked Sayeeda what advice she would give to British Muslim women tackling misogyny whilst working towards assisting Muslim communities. ‘Her response was brilliant,’ remarked Sadaf. ‘She said: 'face it intellectually, mirror back the comment loudly, and stand your ground!’

Feedback from our audience following a wide ranging Q&A included the following comments:

‘It is so refreshing to have a talk where the priority is given to questions and discussion. It felt like a genuine exchange of ideas and thoughts!’

‘The event broadened my understanding of the complex challenges and opportunities faced by Muslims in specific and ethnic minorities in general in UK.’

‘Thank you for such an engaging and thought provoking evening. This is exactly the kind of engaging event I expect from a great university and will attend the future events.’

‘I note that DICE conduct similar high profile events regularly and that provides people the opportunity to question and address matters that otherwise would remain pending in people’s minds.’

‘It brought home the fact that one shouldn't pay too much attention to the media as they tell a very one sided story of the Muslim community.’

Professor Surinder Sharma from DICE said: "Some people in the audience would have liked our guest to speak for longer, but we were very glad of the extended time given to Q&A with the audience –which was a decision taken by Baroness Warsi. The role of DICE is to address current debates by bringing forceful and committed speakers with wide experience, such as Baroness Warsi, to the Leicester public. Baroness Warsi has been at the forefront of public discussion about British Muslims for more than a decade. This presentation and subject was particularly relevant in Leicester in these changing times."

DICE promotes diversity, inclusion and community engagement within the University of Leicester, and on a local and national level. For further information and news of future events please visit the DICE website.