One of the UK’s leading Muslim voices on countering extremism and promoting human rights, Sara Khan (MPharm Pharmacy 2002) is Lead Commissioner for the Commission for Countering Extremism, which is a non-statutory expert committee of the Home Office. It was established by the UK government in January 2018 to challenge people who promote hatred.
In her acceptance speech for her award, Sara describes the moment that she decided to focus her energies on fighting extremism: “On 7 July 2005, 52 people were killed by four young, homegrown suicide bombers. I was shocked, appalled and worst of all heartbroken. I believed then – as I do now – that people’s journey into extremism and violence can be prevented.”
She also acknowledges the influence of her time at the University, where she was a President of Young Muslims UK. “Outside of lectures, I acquired an understanding of the art of activism and why during student elections, chalking your name a thousand times across the pavement outside the Students’ Union, telling people that I was the only possible candidate they could vote for, was in fact a rite of passage,” she remembers.
She co-founded Inspire, the counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation, in 2008. “No such organisation existed,” she says. “I was starting from point zero. My co-founder and I had no resources, no funding, no offices, no staff. But I did it and I never looked back. Running the organisation for ten years was some of the best and worse years of my life. The achievements we made, the marginalised and voiceless women we helped, the thousands of teachers we delivered training to, the extremists we exposed, the campaigns we ran. But the good times ran alongside the worst times – the regular abuse, vilification and threats I received as I countered extremists and championed human rights.”
Sara was a member of the Home Office’s Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Working Group and the Department for International Development’s External Expert Advisory Group on Girls and Women. She also served on the Department for Education’s Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group. Her activism has received national and international recognition, including her inclusion on the BBC Woman’s Hour Power List 2015. She is a co-author of the book The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism.
Reflecting on her role as Counter Extremism Commissioner, she says: “I see how diverse dialogue, robust debate and counter speech are vital in preventing conditions that allow extremism to breed.
But I also see by encouraging robust debate, new boundaries are broken and new heights in human thinking are achieved. The University of Manchester gave me the best gift of all: it helped me discover who I am, what my passions are and what I, Sarah Khan, stand for as a human being.”
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