Nadiya Hussain: a Muslim role-model?

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At a time when young British Muslim role-models are badly needed, Nadiya Hussain has single-handedly done more than most to foster social cohesion in Britain. While many “respect” Pakistani Malala Yousafzai for her heroic stance against the Taliban, what is it about Nadiya that provokes the nation to “love” her?

Nadiya came to fame eight months ago, when she won the TV show – The Great British Bake-off. She grew up in Luton where she went to an all girl’s school that was 85% Muslim and had not a single white friend.

A capable girl, she won a place at King’s College London but her traditional parents refused to let her go; choosing instead to find a husband for her instead (as many self-respecting Victorian Anglo-Saxon parents might have done).

So at the age of 19 Nadiya had an arranged marriage to Abdal, an IT consultant, who she met just three weeks before. She was a mother within the year but it was not long before Abdal – who was not the norm either – recognised that Nadiya had gifts and was unfulfilled. He frequently told her:    ‘I feel like your wings have been clipped and I’m not comfortable with that.’   

Abdal stumbled across the 11-page application form for the Bake-off programme and stood with Nadiya all the way through to her stunning triumph.

In spite of the fact that Nadiya and Abdal’s marriage has been successful (like so many arranged marriages) Nadiya insists that her own children will choose their own marriage partners.

Nadiya hopes her story will inspire other Muslim girls to follow their dreams. But what is it about her that has won the nation’s heart? I think it’s the fact that, although she has a south Asian heritage, she is by demeanour and values, quintessentially “British”.

By that I mean she is a blend of the unassuming and the determined; she is at once modest and considerate of others while taking opportunities; she and Abdal are ambitious and prepared to buck the time-honoured cultural trend of their Bangladeshi family and community, while putting their own family responsibilities first.

In a nutshell – Nadiya faced and overcame the pull of being a female in a protective south Asian family, as well as the strict expectations of a traditional Bangladeshi community, as well as her own personal lack of confidence. But she did it with the help of an understanding husband who, like the father of Malala Yousafzai, acted as a male sponsor to help her become what she could and should be. Nadiya is like the proverbial butterfly who has emerged from its chrysalis. She says: ‘I wasn’t strong then but I’m a different person now’.

If such a universal aspiration doesn’t resonate with the British psyche, I wonder what will.

May many more Nadiya’s emerge in British society.

Source: The Week, 11 June, 2016

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