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#London Rising High

The new mayor is riding a wave of popular support

#London Rising High
Photograph by AP
#London Rising High

"My name is Sadiq Khan, and I’m the mayor of London,” was straight out of My Name is Khan’s famous sentence: ‘My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist’—a dig at his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith’s racist campaign. Known as a man who comes from ­behind, Sadiq Aman Khan, 45, was born to migrant parents from Pakistan. His father Amanullah Khan, a bus driver and his mother, Sehrun Khan, a seamstress, came to this country in the 1960s and lived in a council estate in Tooting.

Fifth of seven brothers and a sister, sharing bunk beds with his brothers, Khan was not brought up in luxury and he and his brothers suffered racism in the 1980s, so Khan learnt boxing to defend himself. He says, “When we were growing up, getting beaten up was a regular thing. Being called the ‘P’ word was common. Knowing how to take a punch was essential.” A football and cricket enthusiast who also completed the London Marathon in 2014, Khan became a Liverpool fan after he and his brothers faced racism during a Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge.

After going to the Ernest Bevin comprehensive, the University of North London and University of Law, Guildford, he went on to become a human rights lawyer. But he had started gravitating towards politics at the age of 15, influenced by the guidance of his school’s head Naz Bokhari, who made Khan realise “skin colour or background wasn’t a barrier to making something of your life,” Khan says. Khan was raised a Muslim and has never shied away from acknowledging the importance of his faith. In his maiden speech as an MP, he spoke about his father teaching him the Hadith. Virendra Sharma, Labour MP from Southall who has known Khan for nearly two decades, notes, “He has a huge majority from Southall” and iterated, “He will be an asset for community relations. He is not a Muslim mayor. People are mistaken. One thing is clear that he is the Labour mayor. He never stood as a Muslim mayor, he did not stand on the platform of faith.”

His religion was used to target him during the election campaign and there have been references to his “connection” with terrorists but former minister Barry Gardiner, Labour MP from Brent, rubbished the rumours and observed, “It was ­extraordinary that not only did he rise way above the racist and anti-Muslim slurs, but actually visited the Naesden Temple to say to the swamis and the assembled congregation that, look, we have things in my community, the Muslim community, that we need to be able to learn from you—about the nature of service, about the ­nature of your civic contribution and these are things we badly need to learn from you. I thought that was quite extraordinary.”

“He held his inauguration in Southwark Cathedral. It could have been very tempting for the first Muslim mayor of any major non-Muslim country/city in the world to want to do it in a mosque by way of being a role model for people of his own community. He didn’t do that.”

A lesser known fact about Khan is that he studied maths and science to become a dentist. He was switched to law by a teacher who told him he was always arguing and then the TV series LA Law did the rest. “LA Law was about lawyers in LA who do great cases, act for the underdog, drive nice cars, look great and I wanted to be Sifuentes (a character in the ser­ies),” Khan said. He began his career as a trainee solicitor in 1994 at Christian Fisher. The same year he met and married his wife Saadiya Ahmed, a fellow solicitor, coincidentally also the daughter of a bus driver. During their courtship, the pair hung around in Croydon and he ­reveals, “My idea of wooing was just a Filet-O-Fish in McDonald’s and then we’d go to the cinema.” They have two teenage daughters, Anisah and Ammarah.

Khan’s career as a lawyer progressed rapidly. He chaired the civil liberties group Liberty and was a councillor in Wandsworth before entering the parliament in 2005, and becoming the first Muslim MP to att­end cabinet. He was slapped with a fatwa for voting in favour of same-sex marriage. During his mayoral campaign, he said, “There are people in Tooting who still won’t talk to me because I voted for same-sex marriage in 2013.” While critics are questioning his experience to hold the office of mayor and some in the social media are discussing whether he is a Shia or a Sunni, for Khan, the winner of Jenny Jeger award for his Fairness not Favours: How to Reconnect with Muslims, and well-known for his sharpness with his “cheeky chappy” demeanour and “impossible not to listen to”, its time to roll up his sleeves and get going as he has a lot to prove.

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