Kirsty Young's castaway is Sara Khan. A British Muslim human rights activist, she's the director of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women's rights organisation which she co-founded in 2009. Born in Bradford in 1980 to Pakistani parents, she decided to wear the veil when she was thirteen changing her mind eighteen years later. She studied Pharmacy at the University of Manchester but never felt she was fulfilling her potential, and set up Inspire in her home. She has been at the heart of various campaigns to raise awareness of her cause from Jihad Against Violence to #MakingAStand which encouraged women in particular to stand up against extremism. In 2009 she was listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Muslim Women's Power List and in 2015 was included in BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour Power List. She is currently sitting on the Department for Education's Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group and on the Government's Community Engagement Forum. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, on Kirsty young. Thank you for downloading this podcast of desert island discs from BBC radio for for rights reasons, the music choices are shorter than in the radio broadcasts. From information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont, uk slash radio for. My castaway this week is the human rights activist Sana com, a british muslim she's. The director and co founder of an organization called inspire
focus is pretty ambitious: countering extremism in the name of Islam and promoting muslim women's rights, surely, among the most complex, contentious and incendiary areas of british contemporary culture, although her work is driven by frontline public concerns, her approach seems in part at least informed by her own private progression. At thirteen and against her immigrant mothers wishes. She began waiting the veil only taking it off in her seti's, because she says by then she was older, wiser and more well read. She is part of the governments, extremism taskforce set up in twenty forty
after the murder of Lee Rigby and also currently sits on the government's community engagement forum? Her prime concern is empowering muslim women and girls to challenge radicalisation. So how did a one time pharmacist from bradford end up as a powerfully influential figure unafraid to raise her voice in the corridors of power? She says my religion has been tarnished and it pains me greatly to see us, but at the same time I feel, spurred on in my duty as a muslim, to reclaim my faith back from the grasp of extremism and terrorists sonic unwelcome to desert. In the discs. I quoted you there as saying that you wanted to reclaim your face from extremists, and you said it was your duty as a muslim, so there's a powerful phrases. I wonder if you can tell me what your faith means to you,
Today my faith has always been a central part of my identity. It very much frames my human, dick outlook in my life throughout the way I live, my life Why? I view the world the way I view my contribution in society and today, when I see the form that contemporary islam takes in today, I see a faith are struggling to escape from the clutches of extremists where every day hear islamist terrorists in the name of my religion, committing acts of terror, whether blowing up children in a park in lahore or killing civilians at a concert hall in paris, people in the name of my faith, committing these acts of terror, and it's for a lot of muslims and for me personally, it's highly distressing to see that my faith is being used to justify these atrocities and the core of islam really. Is this idea that you have to stand out and speak for justice? And if your faith is
been hijacked. It's an obligation and muslims to effect reclaim their faith back from the extremists. But let's just look for a moment, then february last year there were these three teenage girls, I'm from bethnal green academy. In london. They fled the uk to join circled islamic states. They went the first, it sets an estimate around, but fifty six young, women and girls may have fled in the same year. At that point, you wrote an open letter to young. slim women, it was very widely circulated on social media and it was read in very many schools. What was the core of your message in that open letter? Very simply, sts young girls don't fall for the lies of isis propaganda, don't and but buy into their version of Islam. They, these people have totally distorted amp the faith, but also what life is really like in isis territory. These people have no respect for women's rights. They have no interest in your
only that today there are asking you to break relationship with your own parents who have raised you and given you, life and many of these countries have moved the uk precisely to give the very opportunities they have not had a nice. italy using you as fodder. The reason why I wrote it was simply because seeing the parents that he is seeing sisters cry, it's absolutely heartbreaking. As a parent myself- and I felt at that point that there was no direct voice to saint young muslim women, this is the reality. Let's be very clear about what isis is saying. I think that's why it just had a lot of res it's both online and in schools and communities? This is a very, very varied surprising resting list of music, you have given us today. Let's go to our first disk. Tell me why you ve chosen this, so this is Dinah ross and the supreme you keep me. Hanging on and the reason why I chose this was a really reminds me of my father. My father came to the UK nineteen sixty three
as a young twenty year old, handsome man and he still listens to pakistan in use on a daily basis, but he's always loved britain. And if you go back to my parents home in bradford, they have this amazing pristine, vinyl play really old and he has a whole collection of Tom Jones. Out is rusty, Diana Ross and the supremes, and it's some really just reminds me of him that was dying. And new freedoms, and you keep me hanging on I'm one,
the aims of your organization inspire, who is to foster muslim women's rights, and you said that despite britain having some of the best gender equality legislation in the world. It doesn't touch a lot of muslim women. Why does it not as a very interesting question- and you know, I've spent my life working in engaging within muslim communities particular with muslim women And some of the stories in some of the women, the I've engaged with really gave me sleepless nights. Women I know who are living in east london and live there. Their whole lives and I've never sat on a cheap women who told me that they not allowed to attend the son or daughters pair see evening when allowed do the school pick up in eaten. It reminds memo must have slavery and it it's it's. It's about combating that culture. You can implement legislation quite easily easily and create legislation trying to change attitudes and trying to change. Cultures is something far far more different,
women want to hear this. They want to hear about gender equality they want. To hear about how islam is compatible with women's rights, because often that's not what they are hearing from religious clerics, they're hearing a very opposite idea, and so if you go in and say well, actually this is their patriarchal interpretation of islam, but there are much more diverse and progressive interpretations which absolutely embraces feminism and women's rights This is what women up absolutely want to hear. Do you often feel I mean your voice is load, and do you often like a loon voice off. Sometimes I felt like that, but I am starting to see change now. I'm seeing more women and speak out more men speak out and I think that's fantastic and other increasing number of male muslim feminists I am aware of which again is fantastic to see, and we need more of that, and I encourage more muslims to speak out and to champion equality issues and, of course, a lot of non muslims to champion the same people as well. Let's have some more music. Sarah can tell me about your second disc. Why have you chosen this one,
This is a song from the film shola. Shola is a classic one thousand nine hundred and seventy five at bollywood film is considered to be one of the most successful indian films of all time, starring, the god almost In the form of a meat abduction and the reason why pick this song is because when I was too three years old and my mother was telling me this recent and she says I used to literally as a toddler go to the vcr play and put this film on and repeatedly it again and again and again and for anyone who's watched this movie. It's it's quiet, dark film, at least it's full of tragedy and loss and injustice, and I actually think that film must have had an impact on me as a child watching it, but it it's a great movie and again it's also just part of my identity. Growing up listening to yes
diner, often the supreme, but also absolutely being exposed to bollywood classics. Maggie was he a dosti hum nahin the friendship we won't break nineteen. Seventy five film, surely sunday, bike ashore, coma and mandate. With lyrics by an embassy and music by rd burman
I reckon your father. Then you are talking about him, the first piece of music today and in his embracing his open embracing a british music and british culture. He he came from pakistan when he was just twenty at tell me about how he generally took two not as cultural life, but working life in britain. I did he spent his time. Did he come with friends, him with his brother and a for him. He just saw Britain as an a great country to fulfill your dreams. He he was very much of the idea and this is something he always taught us when we were children that you work hard and you will have opportunities and doors opening up to you that perhaps he would not have had back in the village in pakistan and he's always instilled in us that britain is your home. Now, Pakistan isn't your home. Yes, you have origins, then your roots are from there, but it is britain that is your and you ve always got to contribute to this country in a positive way. So remember, even when I was on maternity leave and with my second daughter, I think my daughter was about
six weeks old. He rang me saying: oh, you know you hope you're going to go back to work soon. I said: look I'm still on maternity leave dad. You know just give me a bit of time you its head and arranged marriage. Tell me about you mother as a young woman, but what were her aspirations? Will she she came to this country when she was about twenty one she'd got married when she was nineteen, so she was quite young, and my mom has always been a feminist is quite funny, because I remember growing up when my mum used to drive pasta, a wedding procession.
We just look at the bride and just the play to herself look. Why you're doing this don't get married because she knew actually how marriage, particularly in asian culture, could be really debilitating for women and she had very high aspirations. She told me how wants she wants to become a detective? I remember once she said she wanted to become an astronauts getting quite out of the box. Culturally, anyway and aspirations, but she fulfill very much the traditional cultural role that was expected of her, which was to be a housewife in particular, to raise the children and so all of those dreams for her really were cast aside and- and I think for her- that's why she can she's always encouraged us to fulfill your dreams, because she never had the chance to
I feel her dream. Lana had lots of other asian mothers have have traveled down that path and feel very passionate about making sure their own daughters have the chance that they did not have, and what were you interested in as a as a little girl? What kind of character were you? I was quite rebellious, actually quiet, strong tomboy. I was very fortunate cause. I lived in us on a street with lots of children and we used to perform the cats musical for our parents on bonfire night after we'd done all the fire alex. We used to cake sales for our families and parents, and my parents agreed to allow me to have ice skating lessons on a sunday morning, and I remember just being one of the very few asian girls on this ice rink at the age of nine ice skating and thus not what asian girls did in bradford, and so I actually feel I had a really great childhood being out. Doors been engaging with muslims, pakistanis, english people very much,
environments and that definitely shaped. My outlook. Tell me about your third piece of music, Sarah khan. What are we going to hear now? This is Mozart's requiem. My family didn't really listen to classical music, and I was only introduced it when I was at school. And I had this wonderful music teacher who really instilled in all of us this. This love for mozart, beethoven and handlebar. All of these wonderful composers and is actually one of Mozart's final pieces that he composed it's just something that I have a great love for. The the
The the sounds like necromancer d sooner. Requiem in d minor, performed there by the london philip The court has to inquire conducted by friends pfizer most it wasn't just being. The
Little girl in bradford, taken to the ice skating on on a sunday morning that mark two. I do interesting to me that that you were the thirty four children that european sent. You send all of you to to private school, a very expensive Indeed, why was that a priority if europeans wanted they choose? Their education was always a key aspect. it's to their understanding and recognizing that, if children's have any success in life, it's got to be investing in their education and my own family's background. They grew up in in pakistan in in small villages, completely different lifestyle to what we have today and they really wanted us to have opportunities. And that was it was making sure that we fulfil our potential and the only way by doing that was by investing in education. It was very white when I remember just being, cool. The p word and x experiencing racism that for me,
yeah. I never really allowed that to make me feel that you know, or I'm not really british and I don't belong here and and- and I really resent that fact, because I you know, I come from a family which are incredibly patriotic at my own am father served for the british and he when world war, two that was my history and what would you give it back to them? The racist police? Did you at the time were, or was this an internal dialogue about I'm fine? I can cope. I think he was very much in turn arrive. But for me I I knew that I'm never going to allow bigots to tell me what I am and what I am not. I am british. I am muslim, I am pakistani. I don't see any conflicts with either of those three things and the problems with meats. them and you decided to begin wearing the veil. When you were thirteen, I said in the introduction that your mother had a problem with it. How much of a problem did she have? While she stopped talking to me when you thirteen and your mother stops talking to you and you think you're doing something for the sake of god, it's quite a struggle and she didn't.
Beats me for about a good few weeks. You say please and go, and what was it that made you put it on and in the first place I did. I believed at that time that wearing the headscarf was a compulsory active worship that you should do for the sake of god, and I was coming across lots of different preachers, and I didn't tell us at that time. Actually, I was involved in a lot of it. for groups and and in all of us, I've grown old man. I've read a lot more and I was not just being exposed to islamist or Sophia were hardly literature, but a much more wider and diverse understanding of Islam. I came to the conclusion that I dont believe the headscarf is common, three, you know I always defend the right to women wear whatever they want to wear whether they want to wear a bikini or whether they want to wear a hijab, because I passionately believe in women's choices and women's rights and. these people that were you know that you were listening to the time, how much to japan snow, but did they
what you were reading, who you were talking to who was preaching to you, not particularly, I think they just thought well, she's she's, wearing a headscarf she's praying we've got nothing to worry about, and that kind of naivety, almost as what I seen a lot of parents today who, when you have parents seeing their children, become a lot more religious, very, very quickly. That change happens quite quickly for some not all, but for some young people it's actually path towards radicalisation. So what you've got to be careful is at what kind of interpretation are they following if they follow the interpretation which endorses violence, which endorses the dehumanisation over the other human being, there is a problem there, and that is something you have to challenge your children about. Let's have some music sana. Come tell me about your next one, we're on your foot, so this is guns and roses: sweet child. A mine
As a young. Twelve year old, I was heavily into heavy metal really and when I was thirteen, I started wearing the headscarf and becoming more religiously inclined. My love for heavy metal music did not die out at all, and I became a thirteen year old who job wearing head hanging rock chick in anything with admit. I have no idea how my parents could. I think they just let me get on with it, and I think it also appeal to that rebellious side of my character, which really you have to have. You have to have rebellious on your challenging extreme
muslims championing women's rights. was guns and roses and sweet child of mine and saw the carnival think for everyone understands that song again about you in your hijab head banging that, when you were thirteen and tell me about meeting husband? I? How did you meet? I met my husband into that. And two of my friends knew him. His friends knew me just thought you two would actually be quite good together should meet up
and I approached marriage in a very businesslike manner. It was very much head over heart, so I remember meeting him. You know the first time, the second time literally having a list of questions and just literally having a list, a list of questions with a with it. Box exercise may lead to saying so you old romantic I know I saw it very much is right. Are you going to have a problem with me working once we ve got married didn of a problem with you having the list mary didn't at all. Actually he was quite good, nothing for both of us. new that three, what will or what was on the list goes on to say was that it was questions things like which expect me to live with your mother. Once we get married, which you have a problem with me working once you ve got married once ha ha children. Would you stop me from working what is your view about women's rights and women's equality- and I was twenty two at the time- and I look back now and thank god that was very mature of makes it, and if I do that now
and how important was his background, was his religion important to you. I was more interested in it in his outlook on his wide a vote will view, and he didn't he. He is a liberal with a small owl he's muslim. He he's from a pakistani background. You know my parents were very pleased that he was a barrister because they wanted to make sure that their daughter marries. Well, they don't need to worry financially in the future, But for me I know what I you know. I love about him ass, his belief in human rights in iran, met me I wore the headscarf and then a few years later I took off and he didn't have a problem with it because he respected my view again. That's what I love him for that he's always encouraged me to do what I do he's never stopped me. Despite all the hardship, the heartache is always encouraged. Me further me on, and I don't think I'd be- They want. I am stay out, didn't happy support. Let's have some music circa. What are we gonna? Do you know? This is your fifth. This is some cook change. Gonna come, and this represents the music that I've always had a passion for its nineteen. Fifty six, these motown
and this song of course became an anthem for the civil rights movement, and it means a lot to me because, as an activist, you have to have hope at no matter how pessimistic the outlook fields- and so you do this with with the hope that change is going to come. Some money it's common Is it weird that was
cook and the change is gonna. Come sir, a you, you, you co, funded your organization inspire two thousand eighty thousand nine on, but that time you were a mother of young kids, but we still working as a pharmacist button. Yes, I was I behind the idea come about meat sends let you sort of virtually set outlined the kitchen table, I think farm He was something that never really appeal to me when I was working, I, what used to be a hospital pharmacist, I just never felt like I was for I really wanted to do, I didn't feel like also selling might have potential, and so, while I was working as a pharmacist, I had set up inspire with with a couple of other women and the came a point when I was pregnant with my second daughter, I decided I'm just going to lead pharmacy. And go into this area of work, because I just saw the challenge of more mobile and muslims being drawn to extremist ideas, really quite shocking. I felt like I feel I've got to do something about that, we didn't have any money we set up at home, but it works
because my children were young nor safe. For me, I want to show me some women that you don't have to have a joint off. If you dont have to have bags of money to do this work, you can create change and have an impact on national debate. By working from home, I'm sure, your friends and family. When aware of what inarticulate person you were, but how did they react to you personally, as you stepped out into The scrutiny of the public debate and public forum will I never really talking about the abuse, and I still don't. Actually I can that very much to myself and to the extent of the abuse I remember when the police came to install a fireproof letterbox and mama well came around asking here was this, and I just I just didn't- have it in me to tell her what it was for clutches didn't want her to worry and that they've always been very supportive. My mother in law has, been phenomenal. I mean I would not be able to do the work that I've done as she wasn't there to help raise my children and to look after them and babysit same with mine
husband. So you know my my family have been incredibly supportive of what I do as have some more music sona can tell me about the next one, we're going to hear so. The next song I pay it is lana del Rey's, summertime sadness. During the summer of two thousand and twelve, the song was constantly being played and at the same time I was writing an op ed for the guardian about The murder of should feel element a young, british muslim ex ante woman who was murdered by her parents and in that her parents were convicted. Even now in twenty six There are women who will die because of ana based violence at the hands of credit, at the hands of their parents, and I remember listening to this song all the time or writing, because I was struggling with what I was hearing from the court hasten also. At the same time, many moment, momentum, bringing me saying her life was like mine and severely was six years young, then may so? Every time I hear the song, I just think if she feeling
the. that was not a delivery and summertime sadness suits. Khan. Inspired it's a non government organizations. A lot of the work you do is turning the country speaking
the schools, you host workshops, you contributed forums. You also worked with the government on the community and gauge meant for him you're part of an extreme ism taskforce. You ve been a supporter of the prevent strategy, and this is where the teachers and lectures and people working with students and pupils come forward to the authorities and say I believe this person from what they said in class or in lectures, may be at risk from radicalization. It has come under a lot of criticism. Do you think the prevent strategy is working? we need to have a prevent strategy where a time where the threat the ices posed to this country is incredibly high. We know that the threat level at the moment in this country's severe at the same time, we see how isis are encouraging and radicalizing young british muslims to actually commit
of terror in the uk and the idea that we need a strategy to try and prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and down that path is fundamental in what evidence is shown time and again. The most successful aspect in preventing extremists metabolism is an early intervention, but the view some people is that it may be a breach of people's human rights. You are closing down debate. You are not letting the fresh air of argument get in and actually, if you close it down that in the end is more dangerous. I think one of the biggest problems we have about the prevent strategy is the massive misinformation that exists.
Their prevent does not seek to close down discussion or debate in school. If you speak to ofsted, they make it very clear that for them, good practices ensuring that discussion and debate takes place in class. You know I went to one school recently where the head teacher was saying he was dealing with a case where he had one set of parents. The father was a member of the bnp and he was making his five year old son watch incredibly distressing videos, encouraging acts of violence against muslims, and then the same head teacher was dealing with. Another set of parents am a muslim father who was making his six year old, daughter watching beheading videos, so some of that radicalisation was actually coming from the parents and again what we were saying to schools was. This is why it's important for you to encourage debate and discussion, because perhaps these children are never going to hear another point of view and is only going to come from schools. So the idea that
It's about encouraging the closing down of of discussion school is the complete opposite to actually what the prevent strategy is encouraging and one of the less colorful nonetheless, insulting accusations that's thrown at you is that you are at the tory government's house muslim. People say you know and the implication there's a europe idiot to your well behaved and you're compliant. I you react to that. I think that if you are an independent and opinionated muslim woman who has set up an organization from scratch, You know you will be accused of being a government stooge. I've been called a native informant, I'm in house muslim is incredibly races term actually and mean. I have very much worked with the labour government. Underprivileged prevent, as I have with the glue, did the conservative government, and I am absolutely made clear my views and disagreements, for example, with the
new counter extremism bill, that's coming out on how I believe, actually sections of that will violate human rights. So I've got no qualms about speaking my views plainly to the government: let's have some music, Sarah khan. What are we going to hear? No, this is christine aguilera fighter and if you're going to stand for something you are going to face incredible amounts of abuse and you have to be determined enough. As christina sings know. All of this does make you strong An absolutely makes you a fight and say I want to thank all those people who have made me while I am today because of the abuse
That was Christine angola and fighter sue sarka, your mother to two daughters and and your life has been very different from your mothers, and doubtless their life will be different from from there. Others am what're you aspirations for then I just want them to be happy like most parents. I want them to
follow their dreams. I really from from day one I've always instilled in this idea that you are a citizen of the world. you have to contribute to the well being of our society, whether its issues around climate change or discrimination against algae bt people. The so many problems and the world needs bright. Caring, committed individuals and that's why I want to see my young children grow up to that. They recognise that they have a valuable patients making out in our world today and you clearly, they determined woman you're very articulates a mainstream politics. Does that beckon? No? Not for me because the idea of a whip telling me how I should prefer to go against every Fiber in my body no saw the life of the castaways about as far away from the life of a campaigner is it's possible to be, as is gonna be just do that on your lonesome on the island. I won't complain, but I do feel I probably get bored after about ten minutes. Being an activist tell me about your tell me about your rights too. I said.
so. This is Samuel barbers a dodgy for strings, a beautiful piece of music of chosen, the song in particular, because my own children, that the state were they constantly bickering and I remember once picking them up from school and it hadn't been melba two minutes and they were starting to fight. We got into the car put on the radio, and this song came on a major, stable silence, because they will send thralled by this piece of music. The
so no barber's adagio for strings played by the new york philharmonic and conducted there by leonard Bernstein. So, as our account all castaways receive, some books are the complete works of shakespeare and the bible. Of course, the koran, if you would, you prefer state the basket and another book to what's your other book going to be. My book is called the great theft wrestling islam from the extreme estimates by an academic and theologian harlot. The poor father is an american professor.
he wrote this book after nine eleven and he takes the red in a very easy digestible manner. The idea of in theology and muslim theology does embrace democracy, human rights and equality, morality and- idea that Islam Ashley's, fundamentally always basin, compassion and justice? Ok, it's going to be yours and you're also allowed a luxury. What's your luxury can be. I think you'd have to be yorkshire tea, because the idea of sitting on her on a beach just drinking tea all day and listening to wonderful pieces of music as the sunsets would probably be my idea. It's yours if you had to save one of these eight discs from the waves which one would it be, I wonder he would probably be some cooked change is gonna come and just clinging onto that hope really and just making sure I'm always optimistic about the future. It's yours
Thank you very much for letting us here. Desert island discs, kinky, the You ve been there. into a download from the bbc you'll find morning Nation on the radio for website BBC dakota uk, slash radio for
Transcript generated on 2022-06-19.