His Story: inspiring others to reach their full potential, overcoming barriers to become a leading Muslim.
‘It is not what you do in your lifetime that really matters, it is the legacy you leave behind for the next generations to follow that makes a difference.’
Naz Bokhari was a senior educationalist, the first British Muslim to run a UK secondary school and leading volunteer in the public service sector. He received a number of awards including OBE for services to education, Fellowship of Education (Royal Charter), Life Time Achievement Awards and was nominated to receive an evaluation to Knighthood. He inspired generations of children to reach their potential by promoting excellence in education and the importance of minority communities to positively integrate into British Society.
It’s 1985, in a boy’s school where 95% of the pupils are Black or Asian and all the teaching staff are white. A new head is appointed. He is Asian. The impact is great, inspirational and to many – life changing.
Syed Nawazish Bokhari (Naz to his friends), was the first Muslim Asian head of a secondary school, Ernest Bevin Secondary school for Boys. To many young teenage boys in South London, he became a role model, and later went on to become one of the most well respected members of the British Muslim community. Described as a leading light in multi faith organisations and an esteemed educationalist.
At first, he thought the word Paki was used as a term of endearment; he soon realized that was not the case.
Nawazish was born in Sialkot, Pakistan, 1937. His father was a head teacher and a respected member of the small, steel industry based town. His father would often tell his son, that in their culture, a teacher was equal to a parent. Later, Naz was able to get that respect and high regard from a modern inner London community too; this respect did not come easily. Naz had to struggle from an early age. His father died when he was twelve and he had to support his three younger brothers and mother at an early age. By the time he was sixteen, he had completed his degree and began lecturing to earn money.
When Naz came to Britain in the 1960s, it felt like a homecoming. His British education and British teachers had filled him with devotion to Queen and country. He was proud to be arriving on British soil and looked forward to meeting fellow Londoners. He was shocked by the treatment he received. At first, he thought the word Paki was used as a term of endearment; he soon realized that was not the case.
By the 70s, racism was commonplace at work for Naz. He was a successful and hardworking manager in a well known fabric company in London, but was overlooked for promotion several times in favour of less experienced white colleagues. He soon tired of this and started teaching. The prejudice continued in this profession too, with parents and pupils openly using racist slurs and taunts. However, he was not deterred and remembered what his father taught him – patience and perseverance. It was these qualities and his charm and wit that quickly won him so many fans and supporters.
Naz was a community leader, who was a Muslim rather than a ‘Muslim community leader.’
His personality and leadership enabled him to become an inspiration to the Bevin Boys once he became head. To see an ethnic minority head leading an all white staff in a large institution, proved to these boys that it could be done and that glass ceilings could be broken. Hard work, dedication and dignity would mean they too could achieve their potential. The MP for Tooting, formerly the first Muslim cabinet minister, Rt Hon Sadiq Khan states that Mr Bokhari is partly the reason he achieved so much. Sadiq was thirteen when he met his new headmaster. Naz later became his mentor and friend, an inspirational role model. Naz continued to inspire the new generations of British born Muslims by demonstrating how someone from an immigrant background can fully integrate into society and with deep intellectual humility he encouraged, mentored, counseled and advised young individuals to become the first Muslim council member to be appointed on the General Dental Council and the first Muslim NUS Vice President.
Despite winning over many, he still openly faced verbal abuse from some at parents’ evenings, but this never deterred him. Soon families were being won over in Tooting. Naz became a governor of primary schools and networked with other heads, and he was able to change the ethnic mix of the school. Soon white parents were no longer reluctant for their children to come to Ernest Bevin. The school became truly multi-cultural and his ability to inspire his pupils and staff resulted in it becoming one of the most improved schools in the UK. A significant achievement for a school once described as ‘under-subscribed and under-achieving.’
Naz’s role as the wise elder in the Muslim community was first challenged when he disagreed with the reaction following the publication of the Satanic Verses. He disagreed with the demonstrations and book burnings, and instead kept steadfast highlighting the importance of integrating into mainstream British society. The first British Muslim Judge recalls that he played a leading and most constructive role in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair. He was at that time and till the day he died, the calming voice in the Muslim community, espousing dialogue and bridge building.
He inspired a generation of Muslims and ethnic monitories to enter the teaching profession and provided free training ranging from basic teaching skills to promotion interviews skills.
This was vital after September 11th and the London Bombings. Naz’s voice of balance and moderation helped build strong relationships with communities of other faiths. His tireless work commitment to social cohesion was the right way for the community to develop. It gave them strength when they were targetted by far right extremists. Naz was a community leader, who was a Muslim rather than a ‘Muslim community leader.’ This was demonstrated by his body of voluntary work in mainstream society which was just not within the Muslim community. His best friends were white and non Muslim and he was considered the pillar of the whole community.
As chair of Wandsworth Police Independent Advisory Group, his reputation for honesty and fairness made it possible for him to help maintain community confidence with the police. This was especially important in times of adversity and community tension within the Black and Asian community. His scrutiny of stop and search complaints and the use of powers in relations to terrorism particularly targeting Black and Asian youth led to the police changing their approach locally. This eventually led them to adopt a more community based approach.
Naz’s determination to encourage and support other Muslims and ethnic minorities to enter and excel in the teaching profession and by showing them how to overcome challenges led him to co-found the first Muslim professionals national body, Muslim Teachers’ Association. He inspired a generation of Muslims and ethnic monitories to enter the teaching profession and provided free training ranging from basic teaching skills to promotion interviews skills. The Muslim community now boasts headmasters and headmistresses across the country.
Naz was known as the ‘gentlemanly head’ by his colleagues, ‘Mr Tooting’ by locals, a best friend to many, but most importantly an amazing father and husband.
His expertise and advice was vital for the success of many projects run by UK One World Linking Association (UKOWLA). His wisdom and contacts helped steer UKOWLA from 120 community partnerships to 350 in the space of five years. His drive and determination helped establish mutual learning partnerships, linking 3,500 schools in the UK with counterparts in the developing world.
As a trustee of Building Understanding through International Links for Development, his persuasiveness and resourcefulness resulted in Government commitment of £10m towards school partnerships between schools in the UK and in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean; £7m towards international health links between hospitals and medical schools; and £3.5m towards community links.
Naz was known as the ‘gentlemanly head’ by his colleagues, ‘Mr Tooting’ by locals, a best friend to many, but most importantly an amazing father and husband. This foundation has been set up by his family who wish to honour his life and good work. It hopes that like him, by promoting excellence in education and positively integrating in British society, we can all make an impact