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Made in England: A Choudry For All Seasons 1975 to 86 - Chapter 9 - Made in England - The Memoirs of Dr Choudry Mohammed Walayat MBE

Whilst I was keen to play my part in Sheffield’s political and trade union life and encourage other Pakistanis to join me in getting involved in English society and institutions, I was always very much aware that I must help my own Asian community living in the city. It was my basic duty to support and represent those who could not easily understand the British system of government or the welfare state, or who had suffered a bad, or unfair, deal from employers, workmates or officials.

It is inevitable that when people go to another country to live, permanently or temporarily, especially if they are relatively poor, do not speak the language and are just bewildered by the pace and complexity of life there, that they seek out their own people to guide them through the first difficult years. That is what I had done when I first came to Britain and it is what British people did themselves in the old Empire. In fact, it is what they still do today if they go and live in Spain or even Canada and the USA.

One can be part of British society and still play a full part in your own community, all the while consciously helping both of them to understand one another. That is what I have always tried to do, and along the way I have been keen to sort out misunderstandings and injustices. So I continued my work with the Pakistan Muslim Welfare Association, and in the Seventies it became my full time job, so I had to resign as Vice-President because I could not hold that position as well. The Treasurer at this time was my namesake, but no relation, Rajah Walayat Khan, who had succeeded Mohammed Ramzan, the first Treasurer of the PMWA. Now, as we grew, we moved our office from Karam Dad’s shop in Attercliffe into the Star Works on Darnall Road, where a former elementary school had been converted into community facilities. The issues we dealt with were much the same as before, but they had now increased in volume because the Asian population in the city’s east end had grown. Apart from Social Security issues, making sure people got their full entitlement, complaints about the Police and getting people registered with doctors, I was often called out to talk to headteachers when pupils had behavioural problems or were in danger of being expelled. The vast majority of schools wanted to do the right thing and treat their Asian children properly. However, they were acutely aware that all the teachers in their schools were white and so welcomed the opportunity to talk to someone like myself, who could advise them on practical solutions to problems that had arisen. I would like to think that they came to trust me to support their legitimate position, whilst at the same time obtaining a fair deal for Asian pupils.

When I was still earning my living as a bus conductor working for Sheffield Transport Department. I was often asked at very short notice to act as an interpreter in the Crown Courts in Castlegate. So, when my bus pulled into the High Street I would find an inspector waiting with a message telling me to go immediately to the court, while a relief conductor would take over on my bus.

Other problems arose around Pakistanis who wanted to acquire the right to a permanent stay in Britain. Many of these were older people who just wanted to be with their families in their closing years, but were viewed unsympathetically by the Home Office because they were too old to work. Several cases involved Imams who had come to Britain initially as visitors and had no rights to stay in Britain. They were in a different position from Imams who had been invited over specifically to lead worshippers at a local mosque: these had no problems over immigration. However, if one of these visiting Imams were later asked to be the Imam of a mosque in this country, the British immigration authorities saw this quite differently and therefore were likely to ask the visiting Imam to leave the country. There were quite a few cases like this as the number of mosques in Britain increased. There are about 1400 mosques in this country now and 20 of them are in Sheffield, including the magnificent new mosque on Wolseley Road in Sharrow.


It seemed to me that while we were making considerable progress representing the Pakistani community, there were other ethnic groups in Sheffield who were not that well represented. In 1978 I set up the Sheffield Ethnic Minority Advice Project (SEMAP), along with Haji Mehbat Ali, a businessman who was the Chairman of the Plantation Road Mosque, to give a proper structure to support for other immigrant groups, some of whom were quite small. SEMAP was the first organisation of its kind in South Yorkshire, and through my connections we got funding from the Community Relations Commission that allowed us to appoint some full time staff. We eventually had five advice workers, although two were YTS trainees, and they were chosen to represent the Somali, Bengali, Indian and West Indian communities as well as the Pakistanis. One of the full time advice workers was Mohammed Nazir, originally from Rawalpindi, who was well known in Nether Edge and Sharrow and, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, later became a City Councillor and was awarded the OBE. Over the years we also had some very able volunteers to help us, including Abdul Saif, a Yemeni, who is now one of his country’s ambassadors, and Ghulam Mohammed Bora who came from Leicester to join SEMAP. He was a very well-educated Imam who was fluent in many of the sub-continent’s languages and this of course was a major benefit for our advice work.

I was the Chair of the Management Committee and Mehbat Ali was the Treasurer, and one of our best decisions was to appoint Anne Rosewarne, then in her twenties, to become the project’s first Co-ordinator. She had been working in Birmingham when she applied for the job and she turned out to be a first class administrator, pulling all the different ethnic groups together and giving us a professional edge.

SEMAP continued its useful work for two decades and was eventually wound up in the mid-Nineties, but in its time it helped many individuals but it also helped to bring together the disparate ethnic communities of Sheffield. All this has played a part in making Sheffield a city with a greater degree of racial harmony than most British cities and towns.


It was about this time that people in the community started to call me Choudry. It started with people whom I had helped and then carried over into the organisations where I was fortunate to be able to play a leading role. Choudry is an ancient title bestowed by the community on someone whom they look to as their leader. Translated into English that is what it means; the Leader. Perhaps it is a position a little like the squires in an English village in the past, but much more something bestowed by the ordinary people than imposed from above. You will not find the Choudries being listed in any gazette after a formal appointment by government officials, and it is therefore a much greater honour because of that. If you call yourself a Choudry and people do not recognise you as such, you will become a laughing stock and treated with derision. Over the years I have found that most English people do not understand its significance: they tend to think it is another given name like Charles. However, I am intensely proud and honoured that my community in Sheffield thinks of me as their Choudry; it inspires me to do my best for them as well as play a full and useful part in British life and society.

The Network

My position in the community did not entirely happen by chance. I realised early on that we needed to strengthen our voice within Sheffield, and to achieve that we had to do a certain amount of organising. I quite deliberately sought out friends and supporters in the areas of the city where there were sizeable Pakistani communities. I looked for trusted, respected and able men in Tinsley, Firth Park, Burngreave, Sharrow and Nether Edge who already had a position in their community. Men like Mohammed Suliman in Firth Park, who was the Chairman of the Mosque Committee, Sabir Hussein in Burngreave, who was the Chairman of the Kashmir Welfare Association, a large imposing figure whom I half-jokingly refer to as “the Lion of Kashmir”. Abdul Aziz was another key supporter in Burngreave and Chacha Mohammed Saddique was another loyal friend who would drop everything at a moment’s notice and come and give me help if I needed him. In Darnall my most trusted lieutenants were Mohammed Younis and Mohammed Altaf, who like me had worked on the buses and now drove a taxi. Later on he would become a City Councillor for Darnall after the 2002 elections, when Labour regained control of the City. Another key colleague was Nisar Qureshi, a chartered accountant whose office was in Herries Road and who advised many Pakistani small businessmen with their problems and their accounts. Because of this he was an influential man in the Fir Vale community and I found his support invaluable, especially as he could bring an accountant’s perspective to our financial decision making.

My old friend Mohammed Rafique, whose help had been so vital when I first came to Sheffield, had moved to Nether Edge and was our contact there, although the Asian Welfare Association was stronger on that side of the town because that is where Akthar Kayani and Mohammed Nazir lived. In Tinsley, we had support from the late Mohammed Ramzan, who was the founder and Chairman of the Tinsley Mosque and we spread the network into nearby Rotherham where Karam Ellhi Haji, the Chairman of the Rotherham Mosque Committee, was one of our close friends. There were other close confidants in Rotherham, including Nazir Ahmed, now Lord Ahmed, Abdul Razaq (who became the co-ordinator of SEMAP after Emma Rosewarne moved on) and Maroof Rashid, who later became a Rotherham councillor.

Long before I became a councillormyself, I encouraged all thesemen to join the Labour Party. This would enable them to become engaged with the British political process by taking out membership of a party who were the establishment in Sheffield, appeared to be in power forever, and who had a good record of supporting new Commonwealth communities. Through this group of key men we had created a new political network of our own, and I was considered by them to be the leader. We could whip up support in hours for an issue that we believed was important and, if necessary, organise a demonstration of two hundred people outside the Town Hall, or any other institution, at a moment’s notice. We could get our supporters to fill any meeting we called and then help us defray the costs of our expenses. People in positions of importance had to take us seriously. They knew that when I spoke on an issue it was not just my view I was putting forward, rather that I had the force of the genuine support of large numbers of the Asian population behind me. This also helped strengthen my position when I eventually became a councillor, because my Labour colleagues knew that I spoke for the community, not just a small sectional view, as some other so-called Asian spokesmen did, and that they could trust my comments to be truly representative.

I realised that I had helped to create a personal power-base, as my leadership was usually accepted on most issues. It was Shahid Malik, later the MP for Dewsbury, who kidded me that I had become the “Political Godfather” of the Sheffield Pakistani community. I did not accept that entirely because there were other groups in existence that sometimes seemed our rivals, but also because the “Godfather” in the famous film was a criminal out for his own ends, whereas we were working for the legitimate advancement of our own people. Sometimes though, we could be rather assertive within our own community, and if people organised meetings against us, or deliberately ignored us, we would go along in numbers and take over their meeting and turn it into one of support for our own position. We gave some backbone to our community through this network. It enabled us to gain a solid foundation in Sheffield and give ourselves some political muscle when working with the largely sympathetic local political establishment.

We also made links with other key Pakistanis elsewhere in England, such as Karamat Ali in Stoke, who became their Lord Mayor in 2005, and also with important political groups within the Labour Party in Bradford, Newcastle, Luton and Nottingham. The late Mohammed Shaffi was a key man in coordinating these out-of-town connections, and I was pleased that at one difficult time in his life, when he was suffering racial victimisation in Fir Vale, I managed to get him a council house at Lodge Moor, well away from the trouble. In Haji Mohammed Bostan, of course, we had living on our own doorstep in Darnall, a man who was known throughout the Muslim world in Europe, if not further afield. When I later went on a visit to a police conference in Spain, people asked to meet me just because I was a friend of Haji Bostan, which indicates his standing among the Muslim communities on the continent.

Achieving a better understanding with the Police

One area, in the Seventies, where there was an urgent need for some better understanding was between the Police and the ethnic communities. I would describe police attitudes and operations in the early Seventies as “tough and rough”, and it was not just the immigrant communities who thought that. Sheffield had made some attempt to clean up its act after the notorious “Rhino Whip” scandal in the early Sixties, but local politicians tended to believe that policing policy was outside their remit. The result was that the Chief Constable and the old Watch Committee were in reality largely independent of the Council.

The Labour movement had always been ambivalent about the Police. Some of them had long memories going back to the General Strike and many trade unionists were wary of the Police because of experiences on picket lines and demonstrations. Pakistanis and Afro-Caribbeans also found that the police could be unsympathetic, whereas the Police, who, in the Seventies, were virtually all English, had little or no understanding of Asian cultural patterns and behaviour. Pakistanis new to Britain remembered the Police in their own country, who often could be very uncharitable and even brutal, and whose first priority was order and control not community relations.

Enter the South Yorkshire County Council in 1974, with clear ideas about what sort of copper they wanted and how the Police should serve the community, not just boss it around. To this end they appointed James Brownlow as Chief Constable in 1978 because they felt he understood the need for the Police to work with communities; that policing was a “Service” not a “Force”. While there would be no let up in pursuit of criminals of whatever race or nationality, the hope now was that ethnic communities would become partners of the Police not opponents.

I grasped this opportunity and in 1979 formed the Police Minority Liaison Panel with a membership that represented all the main immigrant groups in Sheffield and Rotherham. We worked with the new Chief Constable and his very pleasant and sympathetic Deputy, Frank Gutsell, whilst Superintendent Tony Pratt was our link officer. He had just been appointed to the newly created post of Community Liaison Officer, in itself an indication of how the Police were themselves wanting to gain the confidence and support of the ethnic communities in the city. One positive initiative I suggested was that members of the panel should be issued with official identity cards that would allow them access to any police station when people from their community had been arrested. They would then be able to see that suspects were treated correctly, knew their rights and had an interpreter if necessary. Panel members could also go unannounced and visit the cells at police stations to ensure that people held there were receiving proper treatment. This pioneering idea was later extended to include all the population of South Yorkshire, when a general Lay Visitor Scheme was introduced to cover all detainees in police cells.

We also found that Superintendent Derek Barker, who was in charge of the Division based at Attercliffe Police Station, was very fair-minded and would show common sense and treat people sympathetically whom he felt were innocent. He would often spend his dinner hour just walking round Darnall, dressed in “civvies”, to view the community issues for himself and check up on how his officers were policing the area. Over a period of time he also played a major part in diffusing the tension between the local ethnic community and the police.

The Panel continued under the new Chief Constable Peter Wright, who was appointed by the County Council in 1983. He had been the Deputy Chief Constable with the Merseyside Police and was credited with sympathetic handling of community relations after the Toxteth riots of 1981. I found him excellent to work with, genuinely wanting to build better community relations but his reputation was rather overwhelmed by the events of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 which was so bitter in South Yorkshire. The Panel though had enabled me to play a real role in Police-Community relations, and I welcomed the opportunity, when I became a city councillor in 1986, to become a member of the South Yorkshire Police Authority.

Trouble at Mosque

I was also called in to adjudicate in disputes at a couple of mosques. Like Methodist chapels, each Mosque has a great deal of autonomy. The Mosque committee sets the agenda for what kind of teaching and worship will be supported in their mosque and appoints its own Imam. Islam has many faces and they do not always see eye to eye. Everyone in the world is now aware of great divisions between the Sunnis and the Shias, as great a division at times as that between Catholics and Protestants in Europe in past centuries, but there are also serious divisions between Sunni sects. Pakistanis are nearly all Sunnis, but in 1982, at a mosque in the middle of Rotherham, members of the Baravelli and Deobandi sects were fighting each other to gain control over the mosque. When I say fighting, at times it was literally that, with blows being struck as arguments boiled over and the situation was getting out of control. People were being injured and the Police were alerted because this was becoming a serious breach of the peace.

Asked to find a solution by both sects, I soon decided that the only way forward was to set up a second mosque, and they both agreed to this and it was subsequently built on some land in College Road. The Baravelli worshippers moved in there, and I got an agreement that the Deobandis would pay them £5000 for the sole use of the old mosque and to help the Baravellis buy the land and build a new mosque.

Since then the two sects have co-existed harmoniously but it had been an unpleasant and unnerving incident, demonstrating the passion that Muslims feel for their religion. Britain nowadays is a very secular country. While it is still probably true that a majority of English people vaguely believe in God, only a small percentage go to church or pay very much attention to the Christian religion. For Pakistanis and other Muslims their religion is at the core of their existence and a constant guide for their behaviour, and this can produce tensions between the communities with different customs and patterns of behaviour.

Later there was a similar dispute at the Owler Lane Mosque in Sheffield. Like a lot of Mosques, it was housed in an old redundant Methodist Chapel that was no longer needed by the Christian community, but was quite satisfactory for Muslim worshippers. This time both warring groups were from the Baravelli sect but they were involved in a bitter fight to gain control of the Mosque. Although they were the same sect, the members of these two groups were from different castes and the mosque committee was divided: both sides wanted the Chairman to come from their caste. Once again the situation was getting out of hand, people were getting injured in fighting and some had to go to the hospital. The Police had been called in but were reluctant to act if a solution could be found. They had already built a wall down the middle of the mosque so that each group could use the mosque without having anything to do with the other. Superintendent Brian Mordew of Attercliffe police station got them to agree that I should come in and act as an intermediary to help them find a solution. Otherwise he was going to crack down on them, treat the whole business as a public order issue and arrest people for fighting and causing grievous bodily harm.

I persuaded him to hold back while I tried to get a compromise and tried to get some sense from the protagonists. I said to the leaders; “How much of your lives do you want to spend in hospital or the police cells?” Slowly they began to see sense, but some hotheads continued fighting until they were exhausted with violence. Because the Police stayed on the sidelines, the situation, although quite ugly at times, was contained within the community and eventually everyone came to an understanding. I got one group to knock down the wall and that seems to have been a catalyst for a compromise. They both now accepted the Iman’s leading religious role and they have got on harmoniously since.

Mosque burned down

There was a different kind of trouble at the Shirland Lane Mosque in November 1981 when a fire started in the building and did so much damage that the congregation abandoned the building, moved over to Bodmin St. Mosque and joined up with them. The fire gutted the building, causing many thousands of pounds of damage including irreplaceable holy books and religious gowns. Many of the holy books belonged to the Imam, Wazir Ahmed Noshahi; most of them could not be obtained in Britain and this was a great loss to him personally as well as to the mosque community. We were never sure whether it was an accident or whether it was arson that had caused the fire. When something like that happened, and you knew your people had enemies among the far right political parties, it was to be expected that you feared the worst. However, nothing was ever proved and the official verdict was accidental causes. Yet whoever heard of a church or a chapel burning down, but mosques do get attacked at times although the damage is usually more superficial.

Uniting for a better deal

For some time before 1982 the Asian voice in the city had been a divided one on occasions. Those of us in the Pakistan Muslim Welfare Association found that Town Hall officials sometimes played us off against the Asian Welfare Association led by Akhter Kayani. The AWA was formed later than our association, but it claimed to represent all Asians, although Akther Kayani was himself from Kashmir. The AWA had Indian and Bengali members but the main difference was geographical. They represented the Asian community, mainly Pakistanis, in Sharrow and Nether Edge on the south-west side of the city, whereas our membership was concentrated in the east end of Sheffield. Between us we represented 95% of the Asian community, so in March 1982 we formed an alliance and agreed to co-operate together in our dealings with the Town Hall and other official bodies. Basically we felt the Council was spending a lot of money on community relations projects and employing full time workers who did not belong to our community. We both believed that we were much better placed to determine our communities’ needs and priorities and were frustrated at how much money had been spent on projects that seemed of little value to us. We wanted full consultation at every stage about projects that were intended to benefit us, but really we felt that if there was money available for community relations some of it should go direct to our organisations who did the real grass-roots work.

Using the AirWaves

In the middle Sixties the BBC decided that it needed to widen its appeal to local audiences and they set up a number of regional stations, all under the umbrella title of BBC Local Radio. Northern counties were one of their prime targets and so Radio Sheffield was born, serving North Derbyshire as well as South Yorkshire. At first all the programme content was aimed at English audiences and our community complained that they were being ignored, despite the fact that we were also license holders and were therefore contributing to the financing of the programmes.

Then in 1974 I was invited to join the Radio Sheffield Advisory Committee, along with Dr. Abdul Karim Admani, a well-known Sheffield consultant, originally from Karachi. Our inclusion was an attempt to rectify the imbalance of the programming as far as the Pakistani community was concerned. We had a real need to hear news about our own people in the region, but also to have informed in-depth discussions about vital issues back home in Pakistan and in the Asian and Muslim world. Although the BBC would cover major news stories from Pakistan, they never rated a high priority unless it was a major national crisis with an international dimension, and even then the coverage was limited.

Thanks to our representations we managed to get an Asian magazine programme, called Majlis. It went out at the weekend but it only ran for an hour once a week. It is still running and is currently called “Asian Network” and is much appreciated by the community. These days it is hosted by Waheed Akthar and Iffat Hamid, a JP and teacher at King Edward VII School. We continued to press for more programme time and eventually the BBC raised the number of ethnic programmes to one a day, the coverage thereby becoming more balanced in terms of air-time.

You must vote for Javaid!!!

One project BBC Radio Sheffield organised was an Asian Talent Contest that was broadcast from the Crucible Theatre. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the Asian community and the theatre was packed. Most of the audience had already made up their minds before the contest had really got started, that they were supporting a popular local Kashmiri singer called Javaid. The BBC had arranged for a number of independent judges from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and Dr. Admani and myself were among them. The Indian judge was Mr. Malhotra from the Indian High Commission and I advised him that for his own health and safety he would be well advised to vote for Javaid. When he queried this, I told him a large number of the audience were so keen on Javaid winning that they had brought eggs to throw at any judge who voted against him. As an Indian government official sitting among so many Kashmiris, he was nervous enough already, so, when the voting finally took place, he cast his vote for Javaid. Javaid came out on top, Malhotra avoided being covered in broken eggs and inter-community relations triumphed. I never told him that I had made the whole egg story up and had no evidence for it at all.

My Father, in the centre right of the picture in cap and white beard, withmembers of our “network” of friends and colleagues. This is the only photograph that I have that includesmy Father andmyself. (I amsecond fromright).

Unfortunately the story does not have a happy ending, because some time later Mr. Malhotra was kidnapped in Birmingham and subsequently assassinated by a Kashmiri “freedom” group. My joke on him seemed a bit thin after that, yet it was all proof, if any were needed, that the Kashmir issue was very much alive, very divisive and bitter between Pakistanis and Indians, and could even reach into Britain in such a dramatic and horrifying way.


A group ofmy closest friends and colleaguesmeet up at StarWorks in the late 1980s. Left to right: Mohammed Ramzan,myself, Sabir Hussein, Mohammed Rafique, Mohammed (Bostan) Rafique, Mohammed Shaffi, Mohammed Sharif, Mohammed Younis and Abdul Aziz.

A photograph taken recently when we received civic visitors fromAzad Kashmir in Sheffield. Left to right: Abdul Majid (Rotherham), KaramEllhi (Rotherham), a Sheffield colleague, Choudry Mohammed Ashraf (Chairman of the Mirpur Municipal Council), Mohammed Altaf, Sabir Hussein, GhulamNabi,myself, Mehbat Ali, Mohammed Bashir (a visiting councillor fromAzad Kashmir).

By Dr. Choudry M. Walayat MBE

Copyright 2009 - Dr. Choudry M. Walayat MBE

You May contact Choudry Walayat on his Mobile - 07941016417 (UK)


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All facts and opinions in this book are the sole responsibility of Dr. Choudry M. Walayat. The book has been written in co-operation with John Cornwell, who produced the final texts of the chapters of the book.