On the 30th November 2018, Forward Thinking facilitated its third ‘Pathways into Politics’ discussion in Manchester. There are a lack of opportunities to increase the representation of minority ethnic political leaders, this discussion was facilitated to respond to that need, serving to provide a space for participants to hear about the diverse challenges and opportunities a career in politics can take.

Kindly hosted at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, the meeting brought together a cross-party group of political leaders from a national and local level with young Muslim leaders, aged 18-30. Speakers and panellists included: Rt Hon. Mohammed Afzal Khan MP CBE (Labour), Councillor Hashim Bhatti (Conservative), Amna Abdul (Labour), Councillor Tamoor Tariq (Labour) and Sumayah Saadi.  Participants included those at different stages of their professional careers, representatives from civil society organisations, community activists and students aspiring to a career in politics.

From a youth perspective, there are numerous barriers which restrict the pursuit of a political career. In Manchester, both physical and verbal threats to Islamic identity, negative media portrayals and far right-wing rhetoric, with a specific anti-Muslim agenda, create local divisions and polarisation within communities. Some feel scared to make their voices heard and fear negative reprisals. It was said, that the perceived  barriers facing Muslim women are higher and political apathy is particularly acute. Therefore, without visible Muslim leadership and greater support from within Muslim communities to ‘shape the debate’, rather than ‘be shaped by the debate’, a deeper political apathy among young Muslims will remain.

There was consensus that one of the biggest obstacles for participants is the expectation that aspiring politicians must compromise aspects of Islamic faith to ‘fit in’. It was agreed by participants that reconciling the perceived  tension between the religious and the secular is a key challenge that stands in the way of a deeper and more meaningful participation of young Muslims in British politics. Moving forward, young participants highlighted that there must be conversations on how this tension can be resolved.