Naz Shah | From Poverty to British Parliament

Naz Shah’s Story

The streets of the UK buzz with cars, laughter and excitement. From the outset, life goes on and everything seems normal. In a small household in Bradford West, however, things are far from normal. A confused 6-year-old Naz Shah sits contemplating the events that had just unfolded. Events which she would only later fathom the full extent of – Naz’s father had abandoned her family.

Living with a pregnant mother who could barely speak English and a younger brother less than 3 years old, Naz’s family found itself in an impossible situation. In pursuit of stability, her mother commissioned a neighbour, Azam, to secure a mortgage with the jewellery she had sold. Although supposedly religious-conservative, Azam raped her. And the abuse went on and on, taking many forms and wrapped in much manipulation, until a tipping point. Naz’s mother killed her abuser.

At this point, Naz went from being a teenage daughter to acting as a mother not only to her siblings, but in her words, a mother to her imprisoned mother. Her time was stretched between working odd jobs like packing crisps, campaigning with activist groups about her mother’s unjust sentence, visiting her mother in prison and dealing with her own abusive husband.

Whilst initially these circumstances brewed anger, hatred and an attempted suicide, eventually Naz steered her life elsewhere. Harnessing a deep strength, perhaps drawn from her mother, Naz said she had learnt to feel gratitude. So much was wrong in her life, but “there were others who had it much worse”. Of course, there was still a burning fire for justice which drove Naz to advocate for many oppressed minorities – but this now sprung from a philosophy of niyyah (intention) which we only discover later.

Her journey to politics was an unlikely but fascinating one. Bradford West faced many problems – a corrupt Baradari politics system, a harmfully patriarchal community, rampant Islamophobia and much more. The story of how Naz Shah went from the woman jumping from squalor to squalor, to the woman who would defeat George Galloway in Bradford West’s election, involves a great many fascinating details. It includes her losing a job over whistleblowing, self-representing an impossible legal case (and winning) and eventually crossing paths with an unlikely advisor. Join us on episode 5 of the Transit Lounge – as we unpack the incredible set of events that has made Naz the woman she is now.

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