Archives Hub feature for March 2018
In 1986 Ahmed Iqbal Ullah was murdered by a fellow pupil in the grounds of his high school in Manchester. Very quickly, Ahmed the boy disappeared behind the story of his tragic death. The story of his family and of his mother’s bravery and fortitude similarly became obscured. The Legacy of Ahmed Archive held in the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre at the University of Manchester Library was collected through a Heritage Lottery Fund project across 2015-16, leading up to an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of Ahmed’s death in 2016. In creating this archive and curating the exhibitions that have emerged from it, we have tried to restore Ahmed the boy and to reveal the extraordinary and positive developments led by his mother Fatima Nehar Begum. We want to share her story again for International Women’s Day.
“[Ahmed] had a strong sense of justice and a soft heart. After he died lots of people came to me – I didn’t even know them. They said ‘He was my best friend’… He gave his life for pride, honour and dignity and I would like people to remember him.”
Fatima Begum, Ahmed’s mother (GB318.104.22.168)
Ahmed was 13 years old. He was tall for his age and often defended smaller children from bullies. He enjoyed sports, particularly playing football with friends. He liked reading and regularly visited the library. His favourite author was the sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov. The summer before he died Ahmed started to write a novel about a Third World War set in Western Europe. He spent time researching the war in Vietnam and writing out the lyrics to Paul Hardcastle’s record ‘19’.
Ahmed was one of six children in a close-knit family. His parents settled in Britain during the 1960s. His mum, Fatima Nehar Begum was one of the first Bangladeshi women to live in Manchester.
Ahmed’s death and the way it was handled by the ambulance service, the police, the school, Manchester City Council and the press caused fear and outrage. The shock of the murder reverberated across Manchester and the whole of Britain. Ahmed’s family and the local community demanded an independent inquiry into the murder and the circumstances around it. Young people took to the streets to protest against racism. In 1987 Barrister Ian Macdonald conducted an Inquiry into racism and racial violence in Manchester schools. The Macdonald Inquiry report ‘Murder in the Playground’ was published in 1989 (we also hold the papers of the Macdonald Inquiry in our archive).
“I think Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’s murder was in a way a catalyst and a watershed … people woke up to the fact that this could happen and why.”
Nurjahan Ahmad, former Ethnic Minority Achievement Service teacher (GB322.214.171.124)
Fatima Nehar Begum was part of a small community of Bangladeshi women who felt impelled to become better organised. They created Ananna, the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation in 1989. For its founding members, Ahmed’s death was a catalyst that brought women together, highlighting the need for greater cooperation and an organised response to discrimination. Addressing inequalities within the education system was an initial priority.
Since 1997 Ananna has been based in the Longsight area of Manchester, welcoming women from all cultures. During weekly advice sessions staff help those in need to access practical and emotional support. Regular classes in English and information technology help women to develop new skills and improve their employment opportunities. Other courses such as childcare, yoga and dressmaking encourage women to increase their confidence and have fun. Ananna also organises lunch clubs, social events, outings and a crèche. The organisation is today a cornerstone of the local community. We hold the Papers of Annana collection in our archive, which tells the story of this remarkable organisation.
Fatima Nehar Begum was determined that something good would come out of death of her son. Through a community fundraising campaign in Manchester and with land donated by her family, she built a school named in Ahmed’s memory in her home village of Sylhet, in Bangladesh. She supervised the building work in meticulous detail, counting the bricks to ensure they were all accounted for. She interviewed and recruited all of the staff. The Ahmed Iqbal Memorial School opened in 1996 with just four classrooms and a head teacher’s office.
By 2016 the building had 14 classrooms and provided secondary education for nearly 1000 young people. Fatima is President of the school and continues to be intimately involved with its development, still supporting it with her own money. Literacy rates in the school catchment area have risen to around 98% and graduates now work in a wide range of professions including banking, the police service, medicine and education. Fatima’s efforts and commitment are an inspiration.
“We may have lost Ahmed but we feel that Ahmed is with us all the time, because of the school. We can never forget him. He will always be remembered as our son, brother, grandson…and we believe the benefit is enormous.”
Committee member, Ahmed Iqbal Memorial High School (GB3126.96.36.199)
Jackie Ould , Co-Director
Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and Education Trust
Legacy of Ahmed Project Archive, 1984 – 2016
All Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre collections on the Archives Hub.
All images copyright Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.