‘We had to break the status quo’: UK campaign seeks to mobilise Muslim vote

<span>Abubakr Nanabawa, national coordinator for the Muslim Vote campaign group, outside the Masjid-e-Noor mosque in Gloucester. </span><span>Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian</span>
Abubakr Nanabawa, national coordinator for the Muslim Vote campaign group, outside the Masjid-e-Noor mosque in Gloucester. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

A campaign group hoping to mobilise Muslim communities in the lead-up to the general election has said it wants to ensure their votes are “taken seriously” and it aims to produce a list of candidates they endorse later this year.

The Muslim Vote, a campaign group, is hoping to encourage as many of the 3.9 million Muslims in the UK to vote in the upcoming general election, focusing on constituencies where they can have the most impact.

Abubakr Nanabawa, a 24-year-old coordinator and spokesperson for the campaign, described the mobilisationof Muslim voters as “historic” and said many want to make a “real difference” at the polling booth, particularly in light of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 35,000 people.

“Active support of the Israeli response meant that we felt like we had to break the status quo of Labour winning the Muslim vote quite unanimously,” he said. “Instead the message is that if any government wants our vote, then they have to earn it.”

The campaign group, which claims to be backed by several organisations, was launched in December last year after the vote on a ceasefire in Gaza was rejected by parliament a month earlier.

Of the groups backing the campaign, two were named by the community secretary, Michael Gove, in parliament earlier this year, who said they would be assessed against a new government definition of extremism. Despite this, the coordinator said he stands with the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Engagement and Development, both of whom have strongly denied accusations of extremism and described Gove’s move as a “blatant effort to stifle dissenting voices”.

Nanabawa described the outcome of the ceasefire vote as a “moment of great disappointment and anger”.

“That vote was the confirmation to many Muslims that the Labour party in particular, who had spent years trying to claim the Muslim vote and basically take ownership of it, did not value the opinions of their Muslim constituents who, by and large, were asking for a ceasefire,” he said.

Labour’s stance on the conflict in Gaza has shifted since the Hamas attacks on 7 October last year, when about 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage. Since February, the party has been calling for an immediate ceasefire in the region and the release of all hostages.

However, some have drawn links between Labour’s initial support for the Israeli offensive and waning popularity among Muslim communities.

In 58 local council wards, where more than one in five residents identify as Muslim, Labour’s share of the vote was down 21% in this year’s local elections, according to analysis by the BBC. In the West Midlands mayoral contest, Labour’s victory was particularly tight, due in part to independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob, who came third and ran his campaign partly on a Gaza ticket.

Nanabawa, who said he has spoken to thousands of Muslim voters already, said the two main issues people are concerned about are the offensive in Gaza and the cost of living crisis.

The campaign group, which the coordinator clarifies is not a religious group and not representative of all British Muslims, will be “recommending a raft of candidates closer to the election”, across all constituencies, that align with their policy requests on foreign policy, the NHS and education.

When asked whether candidates should be elected on single issues, Nanabawa said: “It’s an honourable thing for people to use their votes in a way to call out the ongoing mass slaughter of men, women and children.

“I think what’s really clear about this campaign is that we want to reinvigorate the spirit of democracy that has been lost in this two-party system that we’ve had for a long time where people feel like they have no alternative but to vote Labour or Conservative.”

A spokesperson for the Labour party said Keir Starmer would not take a “single voter for granted” and that the party would “work hard” to secure trust within communities.

They added: “In the UK, we will continue to work with the Muslim community to show our support, recognise its contribution, and to tackle rising Islamophobia. And internationally, we will not let up on our calls for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages, and the lifting of all Israeli restrictions on the flow of aid to alleviate the humanitarian emergency in Gaza.”