London, May 2016. The spirit of change is in the air as the British capital has become the first major western city to elect a Muslim mayor. Labour MP (Member of Parliament) Sadiq Khan has defeated his ring-wing opponent, the wealthy Zac Goldsmith, winning the biggest personal mandate in British electoral history. “Growing up in a council flat in south London, I never imagined that one day I’d be Mayor of London — but this city made it possible,” Khan reflects.
Khan’s story is perfect political myth fodder. One of eight siblings and the son of a bus driver, a fact he was mocked for oversharing during the campaign, this first generation Brit is the son of Pakistani immigrants. His brothers run a boxing gym in his old neighborhood, where Khan is occasionally spotted handing out trophies and posing for magazine photo shoots that reflect his “local boy made good” status.
The symbolism of his victory has resonated globally, partly because his story is so relatable. He’s the trainee solicitor sleeping in a bunk bed at his parents’ house to save for a house deposit. The human rights lawyer fighting injustice. The aspiring politician sacrificing his career to serve his community. He’s the proud Londoner, who when asked if visiting Pakistan felt “like coming home” replied, “Home is south London, mate.”
It has even been suggested that Khan could be “London’s Obama.” The parallels are clear: like Obama, Khan offers hope to those feeling excluded as a result of ethnicity and/or religion.
“London is full of people of different faiths and backgrounds, and that is one of our greatest strengths,” he says.
In a city where Muslim terrorists have killed 69 and injured hundreds since 2005, Khan’s election is proof that Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive.