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Voices: Our Untold Stories »Asian Stories
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

Born in India, Ebrahim Mohammed Surty spent many years working with the Commission for Racial Equality and helped establish Gloucester's first mosque.

Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

I was born under the British rule over India on 19th March 1929 in a small town called Rander, near the city of Surat in the state of Gujarat.

Many of our Muslim community members went to Burma, Bangkok, Singapore and Mauritius well before I was born.

As a result, our community was very wealthy and it was a golden period of my life. Money was coming from abroad, so my early life was very enjoyable.

quote
There was no mosque in Gloucester. We collected half a crown from every working Muslim and hired a hall in Ryecroft Street which we used as a praying hall. quote
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

Rander was a very small town but we had our own cricket ground - there was no ground even in Surat, which is a very big city.

There were beautiful mosques plus two Islamic religious universities and we played many sports such as football, cricket, table tennis and snooker. Our people were specialists in various kinds of cuisine.

After 1950, Burma completed the path to independence and its government took over all our businesses and properties. Many people of our community were forced to return to Rander without any money.

At that time I was a young kid. My family also lost our property and I married a local girl the same year. I studied up to Matriculation (equivalent to GCSE) in Rander High School and got a job as a bank clerk in Bombay.

I could not afford to live in Bombay with my wife and two children, as it was a very expensive city. I had to pay for a rented flat there, so I came back to Rander at the end of 1953 and got a job as a traffic inspector in Surat.

I worked there until I came to England in 1961. It was a very sad day for my wife and I, as I had to leave her and all of my family behind. Poverty, corruption and insecurity has forced many of us to come to Britain.

India was in the Commonwealth, so at that time there was no need for a visa.

Dirty job

Living in Britain has provided our community with a better standard of living to that back home. When I first came to England, I went to Dewsbury in Yorkshire.

I was working in a woollen factory, three miles outside the town. It was a very dirty job. My wage was £5 a week and I had to work 42 hours.

From that income, I had to send money to my wife and five children and to my parents as well. It was very difficult to fulfil this obligation but I did it by cutting all my basic needs.

At that time, to transfer money to India cost 11 rupees, which was about £1 in British money.

In 1961 and 1962 we had very harsh winters and I had no woollen clothes or even a kerosene heater. The landlord didn't provide me with any kind of heater in the bedroom.

quote
Mr Suleman Kholwadia opened the first Asian grocery shop in Gloucester in 1963. He was the first Muslim to come to Gloucester in 1956.
quote
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

There was no halal meat or spices over here and I had never cooked in my life back in India. I only learnt how to fry eggs and cook one kind of curry over here.

I was alone and had no friends. I wanted to go back to India but that was not possible.

It was very difficult for me to cook during factory work and because I was tired, to cook after finishing my shift.

Luckily I found one Muslim family who would cook for me, so I went to live with them. The family bought live chickens from the farm and butchered them at home. That was the first time I ate halal meat in England.

Due to the hard winters, I left Dewsbury in 1963 and I came to live in Gloucester where my friend and his family lived - again I did not have to cook any more.

I got a job in an engineering factory. At that time the Muslim community was bringing live chickens from the cattle market and the spices were coming from Birmingham.

Ryecroft Street mosque
Two houses were converted to form Gloucester's first mosque in Ryecroft Street was

A Mr Suleman Kholwadia opened the first Asian grocery shop in Gloucester in 1963. He was the first Muslim to come to Gloucester in 1956.

There was no mosque in Gloucester at this time. We collected half a crown from every working Muslim and hired a hall in Ryecroft Street which we used as a praying hall.

At that time there were only a few Muslims living in the city. On our Eid festival we prayed the first year in Gloucester Park, then the Labour Party hall, the Conservative Party hall and then the City Hall.

Vacant houses

In 1966 the City Council gave us two vacant houses for £1,000 in Ryecroft Street. Mr Kholwadia went to South Africa to collect money to repair these two properties and we started to pray there in 1967.

About 100 Muslims, including some families, then lived in Gloucester. We joined the International Friendship League (I.F.L) Club to pass the time during weekends and a cricket team was established and played against some of the local teams.

In 1967 the Muslims established the Muslim Welfare Association and prepared a constitution and registered it as a charity.

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We started negotiations with the cemetery superintendent to address the Muslim needs of burial - the Islamic law states that the body should be buried within 24 hours. quote
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

We called a religious minister, Molvi Lulat Sahib, to conduct the five prayers and to teach the Koran to young children.

That year I was elected as the executive committee member of the local Council for Racial Equality (CRE) and I worked there for 20 years.

In 1982, the company where I worked as a semi-skilled capstan operator failed to get enough orders. I, along with about 30 per cent of the workforce, was made redundant.

After that I could not get another job as I was over 50 and many younger people were also unemployed.

I was elected as a committee member for the Muslim Welfare Association in 1982. We started to bury our Muslim deceased ourselves, instead of going to the funeral director. That way we saved a lot of money for our community.

We did try to buy land for our own cemetery, which was put on sale by the city council. Other Muslim associations opposed it so it was very easy for the council to say no to our request.

We failed to acquire that land, so we started negotiations with the cemetery superintendent to address the Muslim needs of burial - the Islamic law states that the body should be buried within 24 hours.

This and some other minor problems were solved by the cemetery superintendent Mr Worrall. Mr Tony Aland and Mrs Iris Fowler helped us whenever we requested them.

Ebrahim Mohammed Surty
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty made the long voyage from India to the UK in 1961

I later became the president of the Muslim Welfare Association and minister Sally Oppenheim officially opened a new mosque in 1983.

Sadly one racist person threw paint on the mosque the night before the opening day but it didn't stop it becoming a red-letter day for the Muslims in Gloucester.

We invited our MP, councillors, police officers, the chairman of the Council for Racial Equality and representatives from Saudi Arabia, including Yusuf Islam for a dinner party. We also invited all of our new Ryecroft Street neighbours for a dinner party.

This was the first purpose-built mosque in the south-west. After building the mosque we started to try to tackle some of the religious and cultural needs, especially in relation to education.

Strictly prohibited

After various meetings we solved most of the problems but we differed on sex education, music and dance. In sex education others are teaching sex instead of the morality of sex. In Islam it is strictly prohibited.

It is natural at a certain age anybody can learn about sex. Many others and I never learned about sex in school. But you can learn about what is right and wrong and what is safe sex from religious books. It is wrong to force all boys and girls to learn about sex.

God gave brains to human beings to use them properly. Nowadays everybody is using his or her brains for mainly material things.

In school they are teaching what is their rights and not their responsibility. Music and dancing is strictly prohibited in Islam. Anybody can see the result since 1960 due to the music and dancing all over the world.

quote
In Gloucester, the emergence of religious zeal has principally been led by the need to maintain an identity that is in line with common religious principles.
quote
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

We hope, one day, that the government will declare holidays for the two Eids, Eid-ul-fitr and Eid-ul-adha.

I became disabled in 1993. I am suffering from arthritis and I get cramps in my foot. I have no control in my legs and can only walk a few yards, suffering shortness of breath.

Here in this country it is a more secure place to live. We see Britain as our permanent home now.

Furthermore, we find that this country has provided the community with many facilities. Even though we live far away from home, we lead a very comfortable life.

Mosques are found in Gloucester with excellent praying facilities. Local shops provide us with everything that we need - halal meat, fish, or male and female clothes.

We feel happy living in Britain due to the health care, which is the best in the world, the education, the social security, availability of council houses, sewing class for ladies and language teaching.

I was fortunate to shake hands and talk with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth on the opening of Widden County Primary School on Monday 14th April 1986.

Serious effects

But the environment around us encourages a mindless mentality of doing whatever one desires. Alcohol, drugs, night clubs, pornography, internet porn and homosexuality are all promoted and considered as normal and that these are the part of British culture.

One glance at our community shows the serious effects of the British way of life on our youth.

Today some youth are disobedient to their parents, forgetting what Islam says about the relationship that they should have.

Some Muslims are seen roaming the streets aimlessly, taking drugs, alcohol and getting involved in sex, adultery and crime. Some marriages are ending in divorce.

quote
In Gloucester, the emergence of religious zeal has principally been led by the need to maintain an identity that is in line with common religious principles.
quote
Ebrahim Mohammed Surty

We as Muslims living in this country now feel that these issues should be raised in every household.

There is also a need for active participation in the political and social processes in this country by the young Muslims in Gloucester.

The main focus of attention has been on establishing community structures that would safeguard the social well-being of the city's Muslim community.

The primary concern for the first generation migrants into the town was on social sustainability.

It is now commonly recognised, that community consensus will enable future growth and development of challenges that face emerging Asian heritage communities.

In Gloucester, the emergence of religious zeal has principally been led by the need to maintain an identity that is in line with common religious principles.

This has been the common uniting factor that brings the community together.

The agenda that is led by the second and third generation of the town's youth will require mainstream participation and support, and this will be engendered by social stability.

» See 'The Gujarati Muslim Community'

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
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MORE ASIAN STORIES
Asian colour montage
Introduction
An historical perspective
Gloucester's Islamic roots
Gujarati Muslim community
» Mahmood Patel
» Ebrahim Surty
» Mahmood Moolla
» Salim Kholwadia
Shia Muslim community
» Gulam Musa
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» Maniben Patel
» Nandiben Patel
» Lalubhai Patel
» Gulabbhai Patel
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» Badsha Meah
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» Haris Ali
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» Ehsan-Ul-Haq
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» Babar Vaqas
Sikh Punjabi community
» Avatar Duggal
» Harjit Singh Gill
Christian community
» Manny Masih
Roshni Women's Centre
Gymnation
Parmjit Dhanda MP
The first Asian doctors
Islamic Girls' School
Harry Worrall
About the Authors
» Umara Hussain
» Lalit Dandiker
» Mohammed Hansdat
» Sakina Choudhury
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