Inspirational headteacher and campaigner who was the first British Muslim to run a UK secondary school
Nawazish Bokhari was the first British Muslim to become the headmaster of a secondary school in the UK, the culmination of a career devoted to improving educational standards. He was the head of Ernest Bevin College in Tooting, South London and under his guidance the school’s results improved dramatically. More than that, he worked tirelessly in the cause of British Muslims and greater integration.
His energy, drive and commitment inspired generations of his pupils to continue on to higher education and become high achievers in their own right, many following him into the teaching profession.
Syed Nawazish Tanweer Bokhari, often known simply as Naz, was born in Sialkot, Pakistan in 1937. His father was a head teacher. Naz’s first job was lecturing in history at a college in Gujranwala — he had assumed responsibility for his mother and three younger brothers when his father died when Naz was only 12.
Naz Bokhari came to England in the 1960s and was shocked by the casual racism he encountered in the textiles industry in which he first worked. Finding his career ambitions thwarted, he took his first teaching job in England with the Inner London Education Authority in 1966.
The racism did not disappear from his working life but he made progress and by 1969 he was head of department at Brooke House school in East London, moving to Haggerston School, also in East London, where he was deputy head. It was at Ernest Bevin School, later college, that he made a lasting impact, as head from April 1985 until his retirement in December 2002.
The school’s results improved and, moreover, Muslim pupils were given a daily demonstration that their culture and religion did not prevent them from aspiring to successful careers. Sadiq Khan, a former Ernest Bevin pupil and now the Labour MP for Tooting, said: “For me and other boys of my background it is difficult to explain the impact his appointment had on us. To see the most senior job in the school being done by an excellent professional who also happened to be British, Asian, male and Muslim was a real source of inspiration to many of us.”
Unsurprisingly Bokhari was courted by the media for comment on stories relating to the Muslim community. When a fatwa was issued on Salman Rushdie after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, Bokhari spoke as the voice of calm and reason. He condemned the demonstrations and book burnings and instead highlighted the importance of Muslims integrating into British society.
Likewise, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001 and London in 2005, he continued to preach the virtues of balance and moderation and building bridges with other faiths. As one tribute remarked: “He was a community leader who was a Muslim rather than a ‘Muslim community leader’. ”
He also became involved in a number of educational bodies and founded the Muslim Teachers’ Association, the UK’s first professional body for Muslim teachers. He chaired the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain and was a senior judge of the Teaching Awards. He was also deeply involved with the UK One World Linking Association which establishes links between UK schools and the developing world.
He was appointed OBE in 2001.
He is survived by his wife, Rizwana, and two children.
Nawazish Bokhari, OBE, head teacher and campaigner for racial integration, was born on August 8, 1937. He died on March 1, 2011, aged 73