I spoke in today’s Westminster Hall debate on the contribution of the Muslim community in Wales which was led by my constituency neighbour Ruth Jones MP. In my speech, I highlighted some of the important and valued work Muslims in Newport East are undertaking in a range of different fields: from business and sport to advocacy and charity work.
You can read my speech in full below:
Thank you chair and I’d like to begin by congratulating my friend and neighbour the hon. member for Newport West for securing this debate, and an opportunity to highlight the contribution of the Muslim community to Welsh society.
As my hon. friend has mentioned, there are nearly 7,000 Muslims in Newport, including a significant populations of Welsh Bengalis, Pakistani, Kurds and other ethnicities in and around Maindee in my constituency. The Harrow Road and Hereford Street mosques in Maindee – and the nearby Iqra Community Centre on Corporation Road – are important hubs for a community which is proud of its faith and heritage, and equally proud to be Welsh and Newportonian.
I want to highlight just a few examples today of individuals and groups that exemplify the values of a community that continues to play such a vital role the social, economic and cultural life of the city of Newport and the wider area.
Those like my constituent Dr Kasim (CASIM) Ramzan and his colleagues at Muslim Doctors Cymru who have helped lead the drive to ensure that local ethnic minority communities – which was especially hard hit by Covid-19 – take up the vaccine. Dr Ramzan and his colleagues’ efforts were instrumental in ensuring that the Jamia Mosque in my hon. friend the member for Newport West’s constituency opened its doors as a community vaccination centre – the first mosque in Wales to be used to administer the vaccine.
Those like my constituent Fatma Nur Aksoy, a pupil at St Julians High School was recently elected as Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament for Newport East. Fatma, whose family are Kurdish is a great advocate on issues around environmental protection, young people’s mental health and the rights of the Kurdish community around the world. She is proudly learning Welsh on top of the four other languages she speaks fluently – and is undoubtedly someone to watch for the future. In fact, the Muslim community in Newport East is one of the hotbeds for up-and-coming Welsh political talent. I’d urge politics-watchers to keep an eye out for the likes of Farzina Hussain, Shah Alom, Ruqia Hayat, Abul (ABUL) Chowdhury and Asum Mahmood, all of whom are standing for election to Newport City Council in May in Newport East.
In the world of business, Muslim-owned businesses like Eurofoods – which has a branch in Newport as well as a national HQ in nearby Cwmbran – are vital cogs in the local economy. Indeed, Eurofoods is now the UK’s largest food supplier to the restaurant and takeaway sector. Whose owner lives in my hon friends constituency.
Newport East is also home to many small businesses owned by the Muslim community and I mention one the Mango House in Magor, as it has previously been nominated for an award in this place but there are too many to mention today who have put in the long hours and served the community during the pandamic. On that theme, I also want to pay tribute to the UK Islamic Mission’s team in Newport who run a monthly food distribution programme helping vulnerable residents from all backgrounds and faiths with food packages delivered from the Iqra Community Centre. And Rusna Begum who runs Kid Care for You a charity based in Newport that helps families develop through education health and integration.
In the world of sport, great strides are being made by Exiles Together – a Newport County AFC supporters group founded by Jalal Goni – which aims to engage members of the BAME community in sport (and in particular Newport County AFC) through the promotion of equality and cohesion. It’s a great initiative, and I know the group continues to go from strength to strength.
On the theme of community cohesion, I also want to put on my record my thanks to staff and volunteers at organisations like BAWSO, GAVO, the Welsh Refugee Council, the Sanctuary Project and the Red Cross in Newport who undertake great work with the Muslim community in Newport to provide support and advice services – services which have been more valued than ever during the last two years. These organisations work closely with my office and my caseworker Sarah Banwell who is well known in the community. The same is true for Community House on Eton Road, a multi-faith, multi-cultural hub where the Muslim community work hand in hand with the Presbyterian Church – an example of Newport at its best.
It’s important to note Muslim community in Wales and across the UK do still experience hostility and discrimination from an intolerant minority. Indeed, nearly half of all religious hate crimes in England and Wales target Muslims. But good work is being done to tackle the scourge of Islamophobia which sadly still exists. I want to thank Gwent Police, Welsh Government, our local authorities, schools, and third sector organisations like Show Racism the Red Card for their active work in countering the problem where it persists and providing the education and resources needed to stamp out bigotry.
The Muslim community continue to make an important contribution to the rich cultural life of Newport, and exemplify the city’s proud history of diversity – which remains one of our defining characteristics and our greatest strengths. We’ve seen this into action with the warm welcome that has been given to refugees over recent years – most recently those fleeing Afghanistan. Long may that continue.