Westminster Hall debate speech on Muslim communities in Wales

Muslim Community in Wales
23rd February 2022

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
I thank everybody for their contributions, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on securing the debate. I also congratulate colleagues who have spoken, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), as well as my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend Stephen Doughty, who has made some interventions and who I know is also very busy with the Russian question today. I am sure my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) would both want to echo lots of the remarks that have been made about the positive contribution of the Muslim community in Wales.

I will not repeat the statistics that others have quoted about the Muslim community in Wales, but suffice it to say that the Muslim community in Cardiff has a very long history going back well over a century, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned earlier. There are particularly strong links because of Cardiff’s maritime history, with sailors from Somalia and Yemen originally coming to Cardiff and settling in what was once known as the Tiger Bay area and now tends to be called Cardiff Bay, which is in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There was a huge melting pot of cultures in Cardiff over 100 years ago. If one walked the streets of Cardiff, particularly near the docks in the south part of the city, one would have seen a recognisable and unique multiracial community. It was famous across the world for its diversity, with a large number of people of the Muslim faith living there.

As hon. Members have mentioned, the exciting melting pot of Cardiff produced a unique culture, but it has also produced problems over the years. We know there is nothing new about discrimination and Islamophobia. One of the first cases that I worked on when I worked for my predecessor, the former Member of Parliament for Cardiff West, Rhodri Morgan, involved a woman called Laura Mattan, who was from Ely in my constituency and whose husband, Mahmood Mattan, was a sailor from Somalia who came to settle in Cardiff. As a result of a gross and terrible miscarriage of justice in 1952, he was the last person to be hanged in Cardiff. Through the campaigning of Laura as a widow and the work of my predecessor Rhodri Morgan, that conviction was subsequently overturned. Indeed, she was the first person ever to receive compensation from the newly created criminal review board for a miscarriage of justice. There is no question at all that prejudice played a large part in the trial. Even the defence barrister for Mahmood Mattan referred to him as a “semi-literate savage” back in 1952. That was his own lawyer, so we have to be realistic. Even though we have a wonderful and marvellous history to celebrate in Cardiff, we also have to recognise that along the route there has been terrible prejudice, that Islamophobia is not a new thing, and that it still exists to this day.

However, we should also focus on the incredibly positive contribution that the Muslim community in Wales, and especially Cardiff, has made to our capital city. As well as the original Muslim population of Cardiff, who came from Yemen and Somalia, we have had in recent decades more Muslims originating from south Asia, particularly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I was very privileged a few years ago to travel with a group of Welsh Bangladeshis to Bangladesh and to visit Chittagong, Dhaka and Sylhet, where, as I am sure hon. Members will know, most British Bangladeshis tend to come from—they have fed us in restaurants for many decades. What an incredible experience it was to travel with British Bangladeshis back to Bangladesh and see the vibrancy. It is a poor country, but it is incredibly rich in culture and activity. Anyone who says that poor people are lazy should try visiting Bangladesh, because the incredible human activity and endeavour of the people of that country was inspiring to me as someone who had never visited a south Asian country before. It was an amazing experience.

As hon. Members have said, there are several mosques in Cardiff West. The Muslim community has made an incredible contribution during the pandemic, not just through charitable acts within the Muslim community itself, but reaching out to anybody who needed assistance, particularly the elderly. It was inspiring to see the way that the community has organised itself during the pandemic to help elderly people from all backgrounds around my Cardiff West constituency. They are proud to be Welsh Muslims—I know that because they tell me—and I am proud to have the privilege of representing that community in Parliament.

Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)
I fully endorse my hon. Friend’s comments about the links with Bangladesh. I recently had the chance to have a meeting with the Wales Bangladesh chamber of commerce and heard more about those links, which are absolutely fantastic. Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of Muslim-led and Muslim-majority organisations are doing fantastic work in education with young people? Some of our sporting organisations, such as Tiger Bay boxing club and Tiger Bay football club, which are in my hon. Friend’s constituency, are not only delivering amazing sporting prowess in the community, but providing tutoring, education and inspiring mentorship for young people.

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
I endorse everything my hon. Friend said and add that my constituency is also home to Glamorgan county cricket club. There has recently been controversy regarding racism in cricket. I am a member of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the chair of Glamorgan recently appeared before us to talk about some of those issues. Glamorgan is based at Sophia Gardens and has one of the largest Muslim communities in the country—certainly in Wales—on its doorstep at Riverside.

By the way, Riverside is on the west of the river, but the Conservative party does not seem to have noticed that in its proposals on boundary changes, and they somehow want to move part of the west of Cardiff to the other side of the river. We will have to fight them tooth and nail on that, because that is where the heart of the Muslim community is in my constituency, in Riverside, on the west bank of the River Taff, which is the major geographical boundary in Cardiff and should be respected by one and all. Hopefully, the Welsh Conservatives will revisit that crazy idea as the Boundary Commission hearings go on.

Before you tell me off, Ms McVey, for straying too far from the subject of the debate, I want to say that I am proud to represent the Muslim community in Cardiff West and across Wales. As others have done, I praise the political contribution that the Muslim community make to all political parties in Wales. With the retirement of Councillor Ramesh Patel, who has made an incredible contribution, I am pleased that Welsh Labour has selected Jasmin Chowdhury as the candidate for Canton ward, where I live. I wish all candidates well, but particularly her, in the forthcoming local elections in May.

However, there is one Muslim constituent that I am missing at the moment, and he is a young man called Luke Symons. Like many people from Cardiff, he has a family background linked to the history I talked about earlier and linked to Yemen. A few years ago, Luke travelled to the middle east in search of his roots and ended up looking up his family in Yemen. He converted to Islam and married a local girl. Sadly, five years ago Luke was detained at a Houthi checkpoint, having tried to flee the country when civil war began. For the last five years he has been held by the Houthis in Sanaa, without trial and without being accused of any offence.

I appeal to everyone here to support Luke and his family. His marvellous grandfather, Bob Cummings, whose background was as a merchant navy man, has campaigned tirelessly to get Luke released. I appeal to the Minister, in particular the Wales Office Minister, to put pressure on his colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to do more about Luke’s case.

It is completely wrong that the Foreign Secretary picks and choose which families to meet of the British detainees who are held overseas without any justification. She and her predecessors have refused to meet Mr Cummings, Luke’s grandfather. He has met with other Ministers, but he wants a meeting with the Foreign Secretary; other families have been granted that privilege. I think it is outrageous that he is discriminated against in this way, and that Luke’s case is not given the priority it should be given by the Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office.

Last year in Yemen, many hostages of many nationalities were able to be released. However, somehow or other, Luke, who should be taking his place in the Welsh Muslim community with his wife and child, was not got out at that time—while other nationalities were. Why is it that we as a country seem so poor at being able to get our people home in those circumstances, when other countries succeed in doing so? What is going on at the FCDO that means we have a terrible record in looking after our own citizens? I sincerely ask the Minister to take an interest in Luke’s case, and put pressure on his colleagues in the Foreign Office to do two things. They should, first, do everything they possibly can to get him released so he can come and re-join the Welsh Muslim community in Cardiff and, secondly, put pressure on the Foreign Secretary to agree to meet with Luke’s grandfather, Bob Cummings, so that he can put to her directly the impact this case is having on their family.