London Asharq Al-Awsat- The British Royal Navy made history last month when it appointed its first ever Muslim Rear Admiral, Pakistan-born Amjad Hussain. Rear Admiral is the fourth-highest rank in the Royal Navy, equivalent to a major-general in the Army or an Air Vice-Marshal in the Royal Air Force.
In an interview with Asharq al Awsat on Sunday, the former Navy Commodore rejected the term British Muslim because he did not feel “any different from other British citizens.” Life in London, where he moved to with his family aged five, proved that “If someone wants to better themselves and they work [to do so], they can succeed.” He summed up his views by saying, “The United Kingdom is a flourishing market and there is a demand for skilled laborers. There is enough demand for those wishing to work and excel. It is a question of supply and demand.”
Speaking from the Royal College for Defense Studies in Central London, Hussain said, “I received a letter informing me of the promotion a while ago, but I waited until Queen Elizabeth II approved, according to British traditions. Given the competitive atmosphere in the Navy, one waits for the right opportunity to take the right job.”
On being the first Muslim to fill a senior rank in the British Royal Navy, Hussain said, “I never defined myself according to these terms. I joined an establishment, worked hard and therefore progressed. Being a Muslim is one of the [attributes] that define me but it’s not the only trait.”
Denying his appointment was based on his religion or ethnic origin, Hussain said, “Anyone who thinks I got this job because of who I am is mistaken”, but noted, “I understand why my being Muslim caught the media’s attention.” He expressed hope that “my promotion would prove the doors are open to other [Muslims].”
In his new role as Rear Admiral, Hussain will become member of the “British Navy Board which runs the entire Navy” and looks forward to “a mixture of responsibility and adventure”. “The title carries a certain grandeur, and this is great, but working under the title poses significant challenges.”
Commanders of the British Navy, like other branches of the armed forces, undergo compulsory courses to familiarize them with different cultures and faiths in order to “teach them about social diversity and the need to accept others in order to ensure the success of the team, the British armed forces.”
The Rear Admiral reiterated his belief that British society “accepts everyone and is, and will remain, tolerant,” adding that he “personally” was never harassed for being Muslim following the September 11 attacks or the 7 July London bombings. “London maintains a global perspective because of its history- Indians settled here more than 100 years ago.” However, he said, “Perceptions and personal views on these issues have a great effect on the person and we must keep in mind the effect world events have on each one of us.”
International developments “might not have a direct impact on [people’s] lives directly, but their perceptions of the way their lives have been affected are just as important. Even if an individual is not personally harassed, they might hear stories of other people being mistreated and link it to their own lives.” Last year’s attacks on the transport system in the British capital “left many worried about the phenomenon of terrorists from within Britain and from those who were born here”, he added.
The father of three offered his advice to the young sons and daughters of immigrants in Britain and said, “If you want to be incorporated in society and not outside it or lagging behind it, nothing stands in your way.” The problem, he added, was that some people allowed “their minority status to dominate their career choices because this limits their ambitions and their ability to deliver.”
However, the newly – appointed Rear Admiral admitted that personal circumstances and the environment Muslims in Britain live in would expose them to different situations. “Perhaps, if I were a taxi driver in London after the September 11 attacks or the 7 July bombings, I would not be surprised to hear a few bad words because I am Muslim.” But, he added, “These matters never progress beyond a couple of words here and there. They never spill over into institutions and prevent Muslims from applying for jobs or living in peace.” After pausing for a few seconds, he added, “Maybe my world is more shielded than others.”
Hussain, who joined the Navy in 1977, expressed his amazement at having spent 30 years in service, “I never thought I would. When I was 18, I never thought I would spend all these years in the Navy.” He was motivated to join by “the thrill of adventure and [dislike] for a desk job with specific hours. My high school teacher played a key role in helping me chose the proper career.”
Asked whether he had visited the Middle East, the Rear Admiral said his work had taken him to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. “It is difficult to be in the British Navy these days not visit” the region.