First Hijab-Wearing Mayor in UK Quits Labour Party Alleging Islamophobia

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 11: Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (C) stands with Islington Mayor Rakhia Ismail (L) as they attend the Armistice Day Commemoration at Islington Town Hall to mark Armistice Day on November 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Leon Neal/Getty Images

The first woman in the UK to serve as a mayor while wearing a hijab has resigned from the left-wing Labour Party, alleging that there are Islamophobic and racist elements embedded within the ranks of the party.

Rakhia Ismail, a Somali-born refugee who came to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, resigned from her ceremonial role as the mayor of the London district of Islington last month. The former mayor has now announced that she is leaving the Labour Party altogether, saying that she experienced Islamophobia and that she felt marginalised as a woman of colour by her male 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,” Ismail told left-wing British paper The Guardian.

“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,” she added.

In one example of perceived racism, the former Islington mayor said she received an invitation letter to Labour’s first national women’s conference in February of 2019, which featured the word “Somalia” under her address.

“What has my birthplace got to do with this invite? I was shocked,” she said.

She also went on to cite the decision of the Labour Party not to hold an event celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid in 2019 as an example of Islamophobia within the party. The local Islington Council claimed, however, that the scheduled event was cancelled due to inability to obtain public liability insurance and other organisational struggles.

Ismail went on to claim that she was shouted at by a Labour colleague for speaking to the media about knife crime in her area and that she was told to keep quiet about the issue at a group meeting so as not to damage the reputation of the council.

“It felt like me as a BME woman that I had no voice. In the end, I thought what’s the point?” she said.

In response to the allegations, a Labour spokesman said: “Cllr 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.

“Islington Labour has a diverse and talented group of councillors serving their community. The Labour Party takes any allegations of discrimination received extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.”

Apart from accusations of Islamophobia, the Labour Party has long been embroiled in scandals concerning antisemitism, particularly during the tenure of former Labour leader and avowed socialist Jeremy Corbyn.

In July, the party agreed to pay “substantial damages” to seven whistleblowers over defamation during the antisemitism row.

A leaked internal report in April found that Labour is “host to a small number of members holding views which were unarguably hostile to Jewish people and in some cases frankly neo-Nazi in their nature”.

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