I arrived in the UK on June 2, 2015, and had the pleasure of being met at the airport by my brother in Islam, Rashid Ali. From Heathrow Airport I was taken to the British Parliament for a meeting with one of the UK's respected political leaders, "Lord Ahmed of Rotherham," the first Muslim appointed to Britain's House of Lords. The British Parliament, like the U.S. Congress, is comprised of two chambers; the "House of Lords" (the upper house) and the
"House of Commons" (the lower legislative chamber).
Our meeting and discussion, over lunch, revolved around Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and some of the challenges confronting Muslims in the West. Lord Ahmed shared the outline of a debate that he was preparing to engage in later in the day (on the floor of the British Parliament) on the growing trend of Islamophobia in the UK. I was also gratified to learn that he has publicly raised his concerns regarding Aafia in the past, and assured me that he will continue to do so in the future.
The very next morning Lord Ahmed sent me the draft of a letter that he was planning to send to the newly installed attorney general of the United States, Ms. Loretta Lynch. (After reading the letter I thought to myself, 'If only Muslim elected and/or appointed officials in America had the courage and presence of mind to do likewise.')
From the Parliament Br. Rashid and I checked into our hotel, freshened up, and then headed out to the impressive studio offices of the UK's "Islam Channel." I was invited to participate in one of network's most popular talk show programs ("Living The Life"). Interaction with the high octane hosts of this informative program was a real pleasure.
The following day witnessed the most important initiative of my five day visit. It was this initiative, spearheaded by a group of committed Muslim women, that brought me to the UK: The Walk For Freedom for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The initiative began with an assembly outside the Pakistani High Commission in London. It was accented by a meeting comprised of a representative delegation from our assembly, with one of the counselor officials, Zahid Ahmed Khan Jatoi (First Secretary of the political wing of the High Commission for Pakistan).
The meeting went well, and was followed by a briefing to those gathered outside (by Sr. Yvonne Ridley and this writer); then prayer, which was followed by a mile long walk through Hyde Park that ended with a rally at the U.S. Embassy - a large, gated, imposing looking compound, with heavily armed security personnel (located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London).
The rest of my UK itinerary consisted of a number of talks at different venues in Manchester and Bradford. Each presentation touched upon a different aspect of a central theme - i.e. The Challenges Confronting Muslims in the West. The itinerary included khutbahs at two different masajid (about a 30 minute drive apart) on Friday, June 5th; a presentation to a sisters group; and an interactive discussion with an assembly of youth (of different age groups) at a large Muslim weekend school. (This was my most challenging audience, by far, but it went well, Alhamdullilah!)
On the day before I flew out of the country, we had a press conference at the law office of Shazia Anjum (Director/Principle Solicitor of Premium Law Solicitors LTD), where to my surprise, on a Sunday, a number of other Muslim public officials and activists came to meet me, and to receive a detailed briefing on my visit. Among those present were Afzal Khan (Member of the European Parliament for the North West); Councillor Shaukat Ali (Manchester City Council); and Raja Najabat Hussain (Chairman, Jammu & Kashmir Self-Determination Movement).
The meeting/press conference, followed by lunch and off-camera discussion, went exceptionally well. Overall, I found the Muslims of the UK to be far more confident and assertive (generally speaking) than my Muslim brethren in the US.
Needless to say, my first ever trip to the UK was an amazing visit that received considerable international attention. The June 3rd Aafia mobilization that took place in London received coverage in Pakistan, and shortly after my return to the states, I received a request for an interview from the South African-based, Muslim operated communications network, CII.
The struggle continues...
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan serves as Director of Operations for The Peace Thru Justice Foundation, and leads the U.S. branch of the international ìFree Aafiaî Movement. He can be reached at: