This post comes from our third year undergraduate student Khadija Handsot.
In May 2016 my father was inaugurated as Sheriff and Deputy Mayor for the second time, while I accepted the role of Sheriff’s Lady. My father originally became the first Muslim Sheriff and Deputy Mayor of Gloucester during 2013-14, while I was the youngest to hold the esteemed position of Sheriffs’ Lady at the age of seventeen.
The role of Sheriff was created with King John’s Charter of 1200, and is thought to be the oldest of Civic Offices. The office of the Sheriff in Gloucester is older than the City Council by nearly 500 years. The Sheriff was the agent of royal jurisdiction in Gloucester with duties such as executing Royal Writs, presiding over the local courts, holding prisoners, collecting fines and taxes.
During my time as Sheriffs’ Lady I’ve been able to take part in various political and social events around Gloucestershire and its surrounding counties; this was a valuable and unique opportunity. As a young adult I was seen to represent and give a voice to the youth of Gloucester, this gave me a unique responsibility that has shaped how I conduct myself within the community. I hope to carry on playing a part in shaping Gloucester for the better through this civic duty.
Some of these included cutting ribbons, attending balls and charity events. We received invitations to see events within the arts such as theatrical performances and concerts, among many others. With this position we are privileged to be driven to each of these events by a chauffeur. The numerous events we attended are both memorable and challenging and it is important that the way we are seen reflects our position. There are some days where we may have up to three different events to attend, each requiring a suitable dress different to the one we wore in the preceding events resulting in a blur of dress, makeup, people, and cups of tea. I attend around four hundred events in a year; it can get exhausting but I enjoy every minute.
A recent event I visited was the Chernobyl Children Project, which brings children affected by the legacy of the Chernobyl explosion of 1986 suffering from various stages of illness to live with host families in Gloucester for 3 weeks. They can benefit from fresh air and food that is radiation free. This wonderful endeavour is supported by the local community who donate money, food and clothing to go towards the stay of the children.
Being Sheriff’s Lady gave me the chance to meet people I wouldn’t have met otherwise from different vocations of life. At these events I have met members of the Royal family, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant Dame Janet Trotter and Lieutenant General Timothy Evans who is the commander of ARRC (Allied Rapid Reaction Corps) one of the nine response teams of NATO amongst other people of standing.
This position still holds many of its traditions from centuries before. When attending these events, I’m usually referred to as ‘worshipfulness’ and many people courtesy as a sign of respect. I wear an official chain, which was presented by the freemasons of the city on February 24th 1932; it is made of 18k Gold and is valued at £20,000. My fathers chain was presented in 1883 and is valued at £250,000. These traditions are akin to many others that are vital to our country’s identity.
There has been a climate of fear surrounding terrorism and Muslims; this fear has been exploited by the media and politicians for various purposes. A case in point is the rise of “Trumpism”, in which the Republican Presidential candidate has called to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, and says that Muslims need to be registered or given an identification card. Steve Emmerson, an American expert on terrorism and Islamic extremism stated that, the city of Birmingham was a Muslim only city and non- Muslims were not allowed to enter. Other examples closer to home, such as the ‘Breaking Point’ poster which played on the fear of refugees and immigrants as a reason for ‘Brexit.’ These negative views which have been cultivated due to a range of factors has resulted in the dehumanisation of refugees and the legitimisation of Islamophobia which only serves to widen the rift between Islam and the rest of the world.
As the first Muslims to hold these positions, we made it our aim to build interfaith unity with the community. In doing so we hope to create a positive image of Islam and dispel these negative assumptions. This was achieved through various means such as opening the Masjid, the Muslim place of worship to the public as well as visiting other religious places of worship ourselves. We have attended many services hosted by Gloucester Cathedral throughout the year, and were even invited to a Bishop ordination. These types of events are crucial in showing the harmony between our faiths and how the public can perceive us. Newly elected, it is too early to comment on our Aims, but there have been ideas of Gloucester hosting its own Oscars, where we can display the youth and bring light to the positive aspects we have. There is also the issue of tackling crime, collaborating with schools and working with youth workers to educate and communicate the impact of knives. Hopefully, this has a secondary effect of uniting the community as a whole.
This position is a valuable experience and has helped emphasise that not all those who affiliate with Islam want to harm others, some strive to make the city they live in a better place.