Birmingham is famous for its ‘Curry Mile’ but cosmopolitan as that city is, Bradford continues to be synonymous with extensive immigrant population.
The reasons go back to the 1960s, when Bradford’s mills needed staff for night-shift work. Looked down on as ‘lasses' work’, few men and fewer women came forward, but for those seeking a better life outside Pakistan and other parts of the sub-continent, the work became a means to bring up families, and to offer them better chances in life. So Zabia Malik’s parents came to Bradford, along with many others.
Malik’s memoir of her childhood in Bradford, We are a Muslim, Please is almost as much a record of a passing way of life as a personal history. Although Zabia Malik is well-known as a journalist and broadcaster of accomplishment and achievement, she remains strongly connected to her Muslim roots as well as to Bradford and its Asian communities.
While Malik writes warmly about both her parents, ‘We Are A Muslim, Please’ does, as she admits, owe much to the character of her mother, whose idiosyncratic grammar gives the book its title. Malik takes us from her earliest childhood through growing up Asian in England by way of several delightful vignettes, including a sea-side incident in which a posse of middle-aged ‘aunties’ find their own way of dealing with racism.
Malik is not only concerned with her own or her communities’ past, however, bringing the story up-to-date by way of her own reaction to 7/7 in London. That her religion is debased by deluded extremists is obviously a cause of distress to Malik, and her confession to being no longer a fully practicing Muslim is probably shared by many second and third generation British Asians.
What Malik didn’t manage to fully address, certainly in the context of this event, is the problem of unemployment and custodial sentences for young Asian men (three times higher than their white counterparts) and increasing drug addiction among this group. Neither Pakistani nor British, at least in their own eyes, their alienation remains unaddressed by government and the population at large. Finding ways of promoting a sense of dual identity, mutually owned and compatible identity requires more subtle thinking that Lord Tebbitt’s much-vaunted ‘cricket test’.
The last glimpse Malik offered us of her clearly much-loved mother was of her exercising her unusual English on a stranger at a bus stop. Its small steps like these the indigenous population still seems reluctant to take.
Event: Sunday 22 August, 4.30pm