Author Archives: Hina Bokhari

Muslims need allies

It’s Islamophobia Awareness Month. Which to be frank is not great. Sadly things have not got better since I was elected as the first female Muslim councillor in Merton in 2018. During my first term, I pushed Merton Council to accept the APPG definition of Islamophobia, but they didn’t. And there is still denial that it even needs to be defined. This is a problem if we are to truly tackle this type of racism.

Only a couple a weeks ago our candidate in the by-election in Kingston, who is a Muslim, was attacked viciously by the opposing Independent party in literature that marked him out as being unsuitable because of his faith. That night, I walked by his side as we refused to be cowed and continue campaigning. He was nervous and shaken by it all, but was also in disbelief. As we knocked on doors he remarked, “I remember that racism was quite common when I was kid but I didn’t think it was still this bad”. Sadly, I was not surprised. I have seen this type of behaviour on social media but what was shocking that this racist attack was on a leaflet. What got us through that night was the reception we had at the doors, nearly everyone we talked to who had seen the leaflet were shocked. Appalled that anyone would be attacked for simply having a religious faith.

Islamophobia, as defined by the APPG on Islamophobia, is “rooted in racism, and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” The Liberal Democrats were the first political party to accept the definition. (Proud of this!)

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Saying hello at a mosque breaks down barriers

Opening doors and saying hello is incredibly powerful. The gesture of being welcoming and having a chat can breakdown barriers, increase understanding and create opportunities. This is why I am so pleased that this weekend is #VisitMyMosque, a chance for anyone to visit their local mosque, ask questions and even make friends.

Since the pandemic, the event has been conducted online. Now that we can meet in person again, this is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to make the most of this great initiative. I was proud of a day I arranged for the London LibDems candidates to visit several mosques back to back, finishing at Regents Park Mosque.

This is the iconic Central London Mosque which was officially opened by King George VI in 1944. Ed Davey was the first LibDem leader to make an official visit there last year. He told the Iman ‘this was his chance to listen and learn’. This surely is the main message for all such visits.

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Cost of living emergency facing London and the UK

This week the London Assembly passed a motion I proposed declaring a cost of living emergency in London. We called for some specific actions that should be taken by both the Mayor and most importantly central Government.

It was building upon the excellent initiative by the Eastbourne councillor and Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Josh Babarinde who last month declared Eastbourne as the first town in the UK in a cost of living emergency.

More widely it is also builds upon what we have been doing at a national level as well. Ed Davey was the first political leader to call for a windfall tax on energy firms.

Even before the cost of living crisis London was facing the highest level of poverty of any city or region in the UK. A third of London children are living in relative poverty, so the rise in food prices not to mention energy bills will make things even more challenging.

During the Covid pandemic we witnessed the problems many families face with children being at home throughout the day. The families that rely on free school meals will face the impact again during the Summer school holidays starting in just a few weeks time. Parents are already deciding not to eat so their children do not go hungry. I can’t believe that this is happening in London or anywhere in this country. But it is.

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Hina Bokhari AM writes: Being a Muslim candidate during Ramadan

When I reminded my Lib Dem colleague, Richard Poole, that I was going to be fasting for the next four weeks of the elections, he asked immediately how they should support me and how to show respect to Muslim voters during the campaign. So I thought it would be useful if I shared some useful facts and insight into the month of Ramadan and how it may impact Muslim candidates like me and voters in the next phase of the election campaign.

Firstly, I want to thank Richard for showing an interest. When I was younger, few would ask about my faith. Now I have friends who want to join me in fasting and come over for Iftar, the meal at the end of the fast, at sunset. Lots has changed in people’s perception of Islam, sadly because of some very negative Muslim imagery in the media after the New York September 11th attacks. But from this difficult time also came positive curiosity, a genuine keenness to understand and to learn.

As a Muslim woman in politics, I am proud to talk about my faith and encourage people to learn and participate in our traditions and customs. I’m so proud that during the first lockdown we held the Lib Dem Iftar which included MPs, councillors and members fasting along with other Muslim Lib Dems. It was a great immersive learning experience which I would love to do again.

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Everybody included – why democracy and diversity are two sides of the same coin

At a recent event hosted by Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, I was asked to speak about two topics that I feel very passionately about: democracy and diversity. In terms of democracy, I have been actively involved with the campaign for Proportional Representation for many years because I believe that our current system of First-Past-The-Post means that all votes are not equal: a vote in a marginal seat has a much bigger impact than a vote in a safe seat. In terms of diversity, I believe that we should welcome people from many different backgrounds to the campaign for PR by making an effort to being inclusive and open.

With this in mind, it was great to have an opportunity to be a panel speaker with someone so experienced as Lord Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform in the House of Lords. Paul has given so much to the campaign for electoral reform, both as an MP and in the House of Lords.

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London Liberal Democrats call for action on cladding

Rightly, we expect Government to step in when the market has gone wrong. Through regulation or remediation, the state is there to protect its citizens.

And yet millions of leaseholders are being horribly let down by the Government. A government which is letting developers off the hook.

The Government and developers have now known for over four years that homes are unsafe – not just with dangerous cladding, but with all sorts of other fire risks which have been identified – and not just on high rise blocks, as I know too well from the local Worcester Park fire in my local area back in 2019 in which 23 low rise flats were destroyed by fire within minutes.

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Hina Bokhari writes: My first 100 days as a London Assembly member

100 days ago I had the honour of being elected as a Liberal Democrat London-Wide Assembly Member. We doubled our representation at City Hall and became a group again, with Caroline Pidgeon as the leader. 

I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of hundreds of members and activists, the fantastic team of GLA candidates, team members led by Anood Al-Samerai and the inspiring Mayoral candidates Luisa Porritt. Thank you to all who achieved this result. 

Now that there’s two of us in the London Assembly we can double our efforts, double our reach and even double our votes. 

That’s why it’s been important for me to get noticed and that’s not by just wearing lots of yellow and orange!

I didn’t plan to go semi-viral thanks to a photo of me sitting next to the former Tory Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey at our first public meeting. We were discussing how cold it was in the chamber but the Labour group spread rumours of us hatching a coalition plot – there was none. Labour had a strop over chairs of committees, they then refused to chair any. In any case, as a result, Caroline is chairing Transport and Oversight and is a member of the Police Committee, I am Deputy Chair of Economy and a member of the Environment and Fire Committees. My job is to scrutinise the Mayor and to raise our London Liberal Democrats’ campaigns. 

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Visiting your local mosque

Eid Mubarak everyone. Muslims will be celebrating another Eid with certain restrictions still continuing in places of worship. But it’s wonderful to see that many worshippers are returning to pray at their local mosques. This is why I invited Ed Davey to witness the hundreds praying outside in the court yard of Regents Park Mosque on the last Jumma (Arabic for Friday prayer) before Eid Al Adha. It was a touching moment for me as I have many beautiful memories of coming to the mosque, praying in the gardens at night during Ramadan and playing with friends in between Arabic lessons. My father was influential in supporting an Islamic studies school that still runs to this day every weekend for children. My father also held our regular Muslim Teachers’ Association meetings at the mosque and we attended every Eid here as a family, meeting many relatives and friends. So when I asked Ed Davey to visit the mosque, this wasn’t just a historical moment, it was personal. This mosque means a lot to me and thousands of Muslim families in London.

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Teach Black History every day

When I started teaching, I taught in a vibrant, multi-cultural school with teachers from all ethnic backgrounds. An Irish head, a Pakistani deputy and leading black senior staff, all women. I never thought about it then, but it made a difference on how the curriculum was taught in that school – so much so, that we probably taught “Black History” a lot of the year. I don’t recall it being called “Black History” but we did teach it. This was over 20 years ago. Things have changed since. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have had that start in my career. The curriculum now has become less flexible, the pressure to meet targets has grown and Black History Month became a tick box in many schools. 

However, this year it’s been different. After the tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, there’s been a genuine attempt in the media in particular to highlight British Black historical figures. My daughter has come home talking about Benjamin Zephaniah and reading his poetry. I’ve seen Google animating headings with Dr Harold Moody who established the League of Coloured People in Britain.  It’s been wonderful to see this year, the first Black British female headteacher, Yvonne Connoly being honoured with a CBE. 

In Sutton I have been joining the amazing local group Residents Against Racism. We meet on the streets in a small gathering holding placards but most importantly we talk about what we need to do to bring change. I am proud that the Community Action Sutton Group holds regular Fairness Commission Race Equality meetings who are making real strides in making affective change. Recently the discussion led to a determined goal that we improve the training of staff on Black History. 

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Ramadan reflections

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Once again, I find myself wondering where the days and weeks have gone as we approach the end of Ramadan!

The end of Ramadan brings the day of Eid, usually a day of joyous celebrations, congregating at the mosque and each other’s homes. In their excitement, my children have been busy putting their artistic skills to good use in creating decorations for the big day! A slight ease in lockdown means perhaps seeing my mum at her doorstep from a distance, but beyond that there will be no congregations or visitations this year. Instead, we are doing our best to create a festive atmosphere at home, with decorations, plans to wear traditional clothes and make traditional food, and of course plenty of Skype and Zoom calls with loved ones!

I won’t lie,  Ramadan under lockdown was tough. The communal prayers and breaking of fast are such an integral part of the month, not having them has been a disorienting experience. But there have been some major positives; I have had extra time with the children and a rare opportunity to reflect on my priorities in life.

One of the stand out moments in Ramadan for me was the #LibDemIftar. It was a great zoom event with members both of a faith or none. Muslim members shared their experiences of Ramadan and the impact of Covid-19 on the Muslim community.

There were plenty of poignant points; The fact that the first 4 BAME doctors who died of the virus were Muslim, how disproportionately ethnic minorities have lost their lives and why more research needs to be done. Some colleagues learnt how work places could be more accommodating to Muslims who were fasting, which is particularly important in the current climate since a high number of workers at the front-lines of the response to Covid-19 are Muslims, and would have been fasting throughout the month.

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You’re invited to our first #LibDemIftar

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Today is the the first day of Ramadan. And because of COVID-19, it’s different this year for Muslims. No family or friends to join the experience so this year it will be virtual. The meal at the end of day, the Iftar, can be shared on Zoom!

Thank you to all those who are joining MPs and others for the very first #LibDemIftar.

Despite it being tough to fast, some members have agreed to have a go and show solidarity with me and other Muslims. Muslims in the country and around the world will be abstaining from food and drink, for a month everyday, from sunset to sunrise. This year will be more challenging for Muslims across the country, like many other faiths, they will be staying at home and abstaining from sharing traditional activities with friends and family.

As a Muslim myself, I have seen many of my brothers and sisters from Christian, Jewish, Tamil and other faith and minority groups celebrate their special festivals on Zoom, through WhatsApp and FaceTime. This has been like no other time in our history. But the strength we can build from this can be mutual understanding. Even during a period when we are being told to stay home, we can still come together and support each other.

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#LibDemIftar – a first for us! 

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Would you like a date with a LibDem? Not in the romantic sense. This is the fruit you can eat as Muslims do when they end their fast for the day, the Iftar.

Next week, Muslims will be observing the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan and this year, the Liberal Democrats will be joining them! Acting leader Sir Ed Davey, MP Layla Moran, Siobhan Benita and other high profile Lib Dems, will join Muslim communities this Ramadan by fasting alongside them on Saturday the 25th of April. They will be taking this opportunity to raise money for a charity of their choosing – many that tackle hunger in the UK, an issue which has become more prevalent in the recent weeks, as our foodbanks come under greater pressure during the coronavirus outbreak.

During Ramadan, Muslims seek to focus on their faith and compassion for others, through abstaining from food and drink from dawn until dusk. They don’t even lie. This is also a time of great community spirit, as people gather together in mosques and each other’s homes, to take part in communal meals and prayers. This year of course, that won’t happen. Mosques in this country closed their doors just as churches, synagogues and temples did. Nonetheless, after weeks of minimal social contact, the curtailment of Ramadan festivities will come as a further blow for many who feel isolated from their communities. This is something that many faith groups relate to.

Our party deciding to fast with our Muslim neighbours, is therefore a significant display of solidarity during a difficult time for all of us. Muslims, and indeed many others, will be feeling a loss of community spirit. By taking part in this fast, and sharing our experiences over social media, we can help re-create the Ramadan spirit online.

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Finding the Easter spirit

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I am a Muslim. But since I was a child I have been influenced by many religions. My father, the late Naz Bokhari was a champion of interfaith work in his community, and instilled in us a healthy respect of other religions. When we were young he would even sing school hymns in the car on long journeys and tell us stories from other cultures and faith groups.

Later when we were older, he would encourage respectful engagement with the observances and celebrations of others, believing these to be opportunities for different communities to come together and celebrate the shared values underlying these ancient practices. This is why I was honoured to be involved in organising the first ever iftar (breaking of the fast for Muslims) meal at Lambeth Palace, which was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Christian traditions and festivals are part of my childhood and I have particularly fond memories of Easter: taking part in Easter Egg hunts, joining in with the festivities, and of course drastically increasing my chocolate intake! I was also able to relate to those who were fasting for Lent – given my own experiences fasting in the month of Ramadan. These traditions are now being continued wholeheartedly by my children; we enjoy our annual Easter egg hunt, and taking part in festivities with my Christian in-laws.

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Chag Pesach Sameach

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My daughter was really upset last night when she looked at her calendar. “How can we celebrate Ramadan without our family?” She like many children from different faith groups are having this conversation, Easter eggs hunts have been cancelled, Sri Lankan and Tamil New year celebrations halted and this week Passover begins for the Jewish communities across the country but this year will be like no other.

In these difficult and concerning times for our nation, it seems out of place to talk or write about anything other than the pandemic gripping our country, but I think it’s important that we continue to find moments of hope and joy, and it is in this vein I would like to wish everyone “Chag Pesach Sameach”.

It has been a challenging few years for the Jewish community, with anti-Semitism on the resurgence in our society, including at the highest echelons of power. As a Muslim, I can strongly empathise with being made to feel like you don’t belong. As we commemorate the Jewish exodus from Egypt, we must ensure that our society never resembles the one established by the Pharoahs, where the Jewish minority was exploited and discriminated against.

This isn’t the easiest time to be commemorating a religious festival. Our nation is facing an unprecedented crisis, and our attentions will be focused on supporting the most vulnerable around us. As a Muslim, I will be in the same boat as the holy month of Ramadan begins in a couple of weeks, and I have myself been thinking about how I will be spending the month, in the absence of communal rituals. These festivals are usually meant to be times for families and communities to come together and share in what is most important. To lose this, at this most challenging of times, will not be easy. We must not underestimate the impact that this loss will have on already isolated individuals, some of whom may be vulnerable to mental health issues.

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What do Lib Dems do in a crisis? – we care for others

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I won’t lie. I’ve been anxious at how quickly Covid-19 pandemic has progressed.

I’m about to start homeschooling my children, and despite being a qualified teacher, it’s daunting. But this is also a time my children will see my actions and behaviour and be formed by them. So I only feel right that I should focus my free time on the elderly and most vulnerable who will be be self-isolating over the coming weeks and months.

This is going to be a testing time for our nation. But I don’t feel we should be in the Blitz spirit – this is a completely different threat. This a start of a revolution – a chance for humanity to show its strength against an invisible enemy and fight for the services we take for granted: the NHS, the teachers, the care workers – the so called “low skilled workers”! This episode could change the way we educate, socialise and communicate. But most importantly how we care for each other, particularly our most vulnerable.

During these times, we need to pay extra attention to the elderly. Many will need assistance with obtaining groceries, medication and other essentials. Some will receive fewer visits from family and friends; increasing the risk of a harmful incident, such as a fall, not being noticed until too late. Reduced social contact will also have massive psychological implications, in the form of loneliness.

The rise in loneliness and social isolation over the last few years, particularly amongst the elderly, has been well documented. It is one of the reasons I championed a “happy to chat bench” in Cheam – to encourage people to reach out and build the relationships which are so vital to sustaining healthy lives. The imminent period of isolation is likely to lead to the issue being exacerbated. The happy to chat bench might not be coronavirus friendly, but let’s all do our bit to think of creative ways to combat this issue. You may have seen Ed Davey’s important announcement that the Lib Dem party is mobilising members to set up a taskforce to help people deal with self-isolation. Please visit www.libdems.org.uk/coronavirus to see how you can help.

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My first 100 days as a Councillor

When I joined the Lib Dems in April 2017, little did I know that a year later I would be the first BAME Lib Dem councillor elected in Merton.

I have many people to thank for my journey, but essentially this happened because I was trusted by my new Lib Dem family to help lead our success in Merton and show our values by the way I serve – which is what I’ve tried to do.

The election campaign was intense and emotional. West Barnes was a top target ward and a lot rested on us winning. But it wasn’t easy. Early on the two sitting Conservatives were still confident, delighting in using social media to patronise and ridicule us. Labour brought out their big guns: the neighbouring MP, local parliamentary candidate, Momentum activists and the Leader of the Council who made our ward his second home. He claimed he would ensure there were no Lib Dems on Merton council. This was a battle!

At times it was nasty. I was shouted at by Labour activists when I talked to residents, and people who declared they would vote for us were heckled in the street.

But our campaigns were local, relevant and consistent. We listened and acted on what we were told, committed to real change, and a fresh start. As candidates we were on the streets nearly every day for nearly 2 years, building on years of work by our sitting and former councillors and others. We were not here just to win, we were here to serve.

By the count I was exhausted, and there were moments I felt we may have lost. By midnight as the votes piled up it was clear it was between us and the Tories. By 4am, a recount. The Tories just couldn’t believe we had beaten all their candidates for the first time in 18 years. But we did! We won all 3 seats in West Barnes and had a real breakthrough with our first wins in Dundonald and Trinity wards too. Our best results ever, with a group of 6 councillors.

My first week in I did as I promised and started to make a difference. I organised an inter-faith Iftar (the meal Muslims have to end the day’s fast) during Ramadan – the first ever organised by Merton Council – for local community and faith groups at our local library. At my first Council meeting I proposed a plan to keep local parks free for a football charity, following a big campaign we had run in the election. Residents came to the meeting and brought banners and posters in support. We lost the motion but the next day we were on the front page of the local paper, and more importantly we’re still fighting!

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