Haji Shabaan





Shahbahan arrived on the shores of the UK and like countless others encountered an instant cultural change as the official responsible for registering individuals mistakenly split his name into two and so he became known as Shah Bahan.

Shah did not bother to correct the mistake as the name was shorter and everybody gotten use to calling him Shah. Before coming to the UK Shah finished his matriculation and spent time travelling as he did not need to work as his father (already working in England from 1953) supporting the family by sending money back for him and his siblings.

However Shah decided to come to the UK to join his father and in March 1965 with his auntie and another female companion made the transition from Karachi to London. On arrival at London Heathrow, immigration detained him saying he was too old to enter the UK as child, so his father hired a family friend who was a lawyer to advocate on his behalf eventually granting him permission on the proviso he remained at his father’s house in Nechells. Three months later the laws were changed stating children could only come to the UK with their mothers.

Having cleared immigration he went to live at his father’s house in Nechells. In 1971 he moved to Alum Rock where there were lots of shops and Halal butchers, Muslims from all over Birmingham used to come to buy their meat from the area. He also remembers that there were lots of poverty at the time, people having to use the public baths once a week although he was lucky as his father had a bathroom in his house as he had been in Birmingham since the late 50s. He also commented on the number of people who were sharing a house as many as 28 in some cases; and how difficult it was for Muslims to find places to pray as there were no local mosques and so they prayed in parks and  at a local Roman Catholic school

Shah’s father wanted him to continue with his education particularly English at night school, but he was embarrassed as he was much older than his fellow students and he felt they knew more than him. He told his father that it would take a long time for him to learn at night school but he could educate himself and improve his English by getting a job.

Shah’s father used his contacts within the local community to find work for new arrivals to the UK.  He used one such contact to find a seat on a training course for Shah set up by a group of local employers who wanted to help mainly overseas young people gain the relevant skills  to find work in light engineering industry.

Having completed 6 months training he was offered a job at a local company as an interpreter and machine setter receiving a weekly wage of £3, he worked there for a year before leaving, due to a dispute over salary. With help from a friend he got a job as a Floor Manager at a local company getting £6 per week. He was given responsibility for hiring; he used this to employ friends, family and members of the community and at one stage there were only 4 non Asians working in the factory. However he came to regret this practice as sometimes the people he employed would mess around at work and also come around to his house to complain about work making his life quite difficult.

Everybody young and old used to go to the Cinema, as in those days not many people had televisions; there were many dotted throughout the city of Birmingham. Bingley Hall on a Monday night was very popular with the Asian community. Wrestling was also very popular but apart from these activities there was very little other entertainment available for the community.

Shah had an arranged married in Pakistan when he was about 13 or 14, marrying his cousin, but on arrival to the UK he decided to marry again this time opting for a love marriage.  All of his children were born and educated in the UK. They all attended a local catholic primary school, even though he had a problem with the headmaster who said that his son could not attend as it was a Roman Catholic school and did not take Muslims pupils. He challenged the decision and threatened to take legal action against the school and the headmaster.  The priest responsible for the school intervened and as a result Shah not only got a written apology but also school admission for his son.

From first coming to the UK Shah has always volunteered to work within his community He currently helps run the death committee which has over 800 members as well as being secretary for various committees and organisations. He is a very proud man that uses traditional books and record keeping methods, much to the dismay of the younger members of his family who say he should use computers. This desire to help the community is something that all his family members get involved in, his brother in Pakistan runs the mosque and sorts out disputes in families. Shah was also involved in building Zia Ul Quran mosque and played a full part in the running of the mosque as a trustee before retiring.

Shah believes that his community has been lucky to come and live in the UK and many are experiencing a better lifestyle and greater wealth than if they had ever remained in their home country. He also believes that his people need to be less narrow minded needing to forget what village and what part of Pakistan they come from and become more integrated within the host community and other nationalities as we are all British. He suggests that if an Asian was to stand against an Afro Caribbean candidate in an election the Asian community would vote for the Asian candidate merely because he was Asian and not necessarily due to the strength of the candidate.