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Reflections on being awarded an MBE

The background to my receiving an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List and my reactions.

Posted 13 June 2016 Updated 10 November 2016.

At the beginning of May, included in my regular daily post was an envelope marked “Cabinet Office.” For the reasons given below, I guessed immediately what it might contain.

In the envelope was a letter from the Ceremonial Officer. It read:

“IN CONFIDENCE

Dear Sir,

The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that having accepted the advice of the Head of the Civil Service and the Main Honours Committee, he proposes to submit your name to the Queen. He is recommending that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Birthday 2016 Honours List.

Before doing so, the Prime Minister would be glad to know that this would be agreeable to you. I should therefore be grateful if you would complete the enclosed form and diversity survey, and return it to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat as soon as possible.

If you accept, there will not be any further communication from us and your name will be included in the List published in the London Gazette and some national newspapers on 11 June 2016. More information about publication of the List can be found in the enclosed information sheet.

All honours recipients are invited to an Investiture. These are organised by the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood in St James’s Palace. They will invite you to attend an Investiture within seven months of the publication of the List; you will receive the invitation about five weeks before the event. If you have any queries about the Investiture, you may contact Central Chancery on xxx xxxx xxxx (Buckingham Palace switchboard) or xxxx@xxx.gsi.gov.uk, but please do not get in touch with them until after publication of the List.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss the proposed award, my team would be happy to help. Please contact the Honours and Appointments Secretariat on xxx xxxx xxxx.

I am, Sir

Your obedient Servant

Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx”

I have reproduced the letter in full as it answers a number of questions friends and relatives have been asking me.

Obviously, I completed the form to accept the MBE immediately and sent it back. The response form also asked whether I would be prepared to feature in wider publicity to promote and increase awareness in the honours system, and I responded to confirm that I would.

Perhaps because of that, a couple of weeks ago while on a bus I received a call on my mobile phone from the Cabinet Office seeking confirmation of some biographical details. I managed to have the conversation in such a way that the stranger beside me would not be aware of the subject matter!

How this award came about

My wife Tahara and I have always shared everything since we got married. A couple of years ago she said to me that there was something that she did not wish to keep secret from me.

One of our colleagues on the Executive of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester wanted to nominate me for an honour and had asked Tahara for some additional information about me. Tahara felt unhappy doing something behind my back and so shared it with me. However neither of us ever revealed to our colleague that I knew.

The honours system works very slowly, and of course many nominations are unsuccessful. Accordingly, I never fretted about what was happening. However this is the reason why, when I saw the envelope from the Cabinet Office, I had a strong suspicion regarding the contents.

Keeping it secret

With news such as this, there is a strong temptation to share it. However, there is only one way to keep a secret, and that is to not tell people!

I did tell my wife immediately because, as explained above, we do not keep secrets from each other. Also, I am aware that bottling something up entirely within yourself is very hard and can become a source of stress.

However, we told nobody else, not even our children.

Despite this, our eldest son Ibrahim found out shortly before the award was published. The Manchester Evening News telephoned our house on the Wednesday afternoon before publication of the list to talk to me. We were out and the journalist explained to my son why he was phoning, and left a message asking me to phone back, which my son immediately conveyed by calling my mobile.

Somewhat amusingly, given the citation in the MBE award, our reason for being out of the house was more interaith activity! Tahara and I were being interviewed by some Mormon academics from Brigham Young University's campus in Idaho about the importance of religious faith in our family life.

I rang the journalist immediately, and saved him the effort of organising a photograph which the Manchester Evening News wanted to do, by directing him to the existing standard photographs on my website’s About Me page. I also undertook to send him a 100 word response on how I felt about receiving the honour.

Publication of the award

The entry about me in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List published at 22:30 on Friday 10 June read as follows:

“Member of the Order of the British Empire MBE

Mr Mohammed AMIN

Founder Member and Co-Chair, Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. For services to Community Cohesion and Inter-faith Relations in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester”

My personal reaction to the award

I am delighted to receive the MBE. There is of course a hierarchy of awards and I suspect that almost everybody who receives an award would secretly prefer to have one higher up the hierarchy.

However, to receive any award is extremely rare. The Queen’s Birthday Honours list had just over 1,000 people, and there is a similar though slightly smaller Honours list on New Year’s Day. However, at the rate of say 2,000 people per year, after half a century only 100,000 people would have been given an honour and not all of them would be alive. Taking into account our country’s population of about 64 million, that means at most approximate only one person in every 640 holds an honour.

The purpose of the Honours system is of course to thank recipients for their services to the community and also to encourage others to serve our country. I hope this award has that effect on my family, friends and others who know me.

At times like this, one’s parents come to mind. Sadly they died many years ago but I know they would have been immensely proud.

I have reproduced below some of the responses I have composed over the last few days.

My response for the Manchester Evening News

They requested about 100 words, and I sent them the following:

“Today’s Mancunians have many different ethnic and religious backgrounds, making it vital to focus on what unites us. Helping to start and run the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester has taken me to places I would never otherwise have gone, and brought me many new friends. Accordingly, I was delighted to learn that I was going to be awarded an MBE for my community service.”

The Manchester Evening News gave me significant coverage both in the printed newspaper on 11 June 2016 and in their online story. They picked up their comments about the Union Jack lapel pin from the photograph, the telephone interview and my website page "Why I wear a Union Jack lapel pin."

My response for Jewish News

I sent them the following:

“Muslims and Jews in Britain have so much in common as minorities for whom religion is an important part of their lives, and with shared religious practices such as circumcision and religious slaughter that are often misunderstood by the majority population. We have so much to share, and so much to learn from each other. Bringing us together has been my passion for the last decade, and I am delighted it has been recognised.”

The Jewish News honours story can be read online.

My response for Asian Express Newspaper

Asian Express contacted me, and one of their journalists visited me from Leeds to take a picture of me outside the old South Manchester Synagogue on Wilbraham Road in Manchester.

I composed the following quote for him:

“The wonderful thing about the UK is that it doesn’t matter where you were born, what your ethnic group is, what your religious beliefs are, provided you are willing to sign up to the values that Britain stands for then you can be as British as anyone else. That is the one thing we can all agree upon.”

The Asian Express story can be read online.

My message to the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester

I am responsible for sending out update messages to the Muslim Jewish Forum's email list. Accordingly I sent them the following:

“I was delighted when I received a letter from the Cabinet Office at the beginning of May asking if I was willing to receive this award. (That is part of the process, to avoid the embarrassment of an award being announced and then declined.) I told my wife, but we managed to avoid telling anyone else, not even our children, although it was hard to resist the temptation.

Over the last 11 years in Manchester the people on the Executive and those who come to our events have together created something worthwhile and enduring with the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. While our activity is primarily in Manchester, (apart from our participant-funded foreign trips) due to our website, press releases and social media presence, we get seen not just in the UK but internationally, and from time to time are contacted by overseas journalists. This all started with the public meeting convened in 2004 by Afzal Khan, then Deputy Lord Mayor of Manchester and now CBE MEP and the late Henry Guterman MBE.

Over the following three years until he passed away I got to know Henry quite well. He was always so busy despite being retired. One of my repetitive private jokes with Henry was that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like him. (I was in my mid 50's but he was about 20 years older.) With the award of this MBE, I feel I have followed in another of his footsteps.”

How to nominate someone

The entire honours system only works because people are willing to nominate others who they believe deserves recognition. The UK Government's website has a page "The honours system" which explains how it works. You can also download the relevant nomination forms from that page.

Celebration dinner with Muslim Jewish Forum Executive

On 4 September 2016 I hosted a dinner for the Executive to celebrate the MBE award. As the page about the dinner explains, the award clearly recognises the work of the Forum. I made a short 5 ½ speech which I recorded. It can be listened to on the dinner page.

More about the Order of the British Empire

On 5 November 2016 I held a celebratory dinner for close friends and family in Manchester. Below is an extract from my speech with more information about the Order.

"The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was created by King George V on 4 June 1917. There are five grades, starting at the top and working downwards.

  1. Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. They put the letters GBE after their name.
  2. Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. They have the letters KBE or DBE.
  3. Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - CBE
  4. Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - OBE
  5. Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – MBE

Men and women in the first two grades also put Sir or Dame before their names.

The number of people in the first three grades has an absolute maximum.

In total, there are over 100,000 members of the order. However, in a country with 60 million people, that means that only one in every 600 people is a member of the order."

 

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