OBV Profile: Ziauddin Sardar

Sardar is presently working on the completion of his second autobiography entitled Balti Britain, set to be released in August 2008, which looks at Asian identity in Britain.

For more than 30 years he has been one of the most profound academic and cultural writers in Britain delving into science, Islam and cultural analysis.

The self professed polymath says: “I believe in cultural pluralism and in doing different things. I think my background in research and journalism enables me to work in different fields and acquire expertise with little hard work.”

Much of his work is dedicated to the progressive future of Islam. To add to his literary credits he has also written books on postmodernism and has published a biography called Desperately Seeking Paradise, recalling the period when he lived in Saudi Arabia.

In 2006 Sardar was appointed as a Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), where he is largely responsible for developing good relations between communities of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

Of the role he says: “I’m finding it very challenging and exciting. It’s a whole new horizon for me. I am very passionate about social justice and most of my endeavours are directed to promoting social justice of which a strong strand of that is diversity.”

Sardar says he is not a political campaigner but regards himself as a social campaigner. He has highlighted the need for reform in Islam and says it is important to appreciate the differences that are in Britain, “considering how much minorities have contributed to this country”.

He is presently a visiting professor at City University School of Arts, conducting a research seminar on research methodology.

Sardar has made numerous television and radio appearances; he is a columnist for the left wing political magazine New Statesman; and is editor for Futures, a monthly journal about policy and future studies. He is also co-editor of Third Text, a publication looking at visual art and culture.

Sardar, who is in his mid fifties, was born in Pakistan but grew up in Hackney. He came to England about the age of nine and was only able to speak a few words of English. Although within a year or two he was able to speak English fluently.

He believes his career to date was built on the foundations from his supportive parents. He says: “My parents were my driving force. Many Asian parents really value education and push their children in education so I had the innate want to succeed in life.”

In the early 1970s he attended City University where he attained a degree in Applied Physics and later a master’s in Information Science.

After university he lived in Saudi Arabia for four and a half years and worked in the city of Mecca. He conducted research on the problems of pilgrimage and the ecology of the city.

He says: “That was culture shock, very different from England. Mecca was a very male dominated society, very strict, almost a police state”. His experiences are written in his detailed biography, Desperately Seeking Paradise, which focused on Muslim identity.

On his return to England he joined the field of journalism becoming a science journalist for leading science magazine Nature, and then the publication New Scientist in the late 1970s.

In the early 1980s he became a television reporter for London Weekend Television on the programme Eastern Eye in which he reported stories from the Asian Community.

It was following his time as news broadcaster that he became a full time writer in 1984 and has since published numerous academic and text books.

Sardar explains that his career as a writer stems from his motivation for ideas, which led him into writing books that explore these ideas.

He has travelled world wide, having lived in Malaysia for seven years working as an adviser to the deputy prime minister in 1989 and also working on television there.

Sardar says that for the future he intends to be heavily involved in the work of the EHRC and sees himself “promoting, enhancing and giving appreciation to diversity”.

His final words of encouragement: “Believe in yourself, self belief is very important. Black and Asian people really need to believe in themselves – to believe that they are capable of achieving greatness and Britain does provide you the opportunity to do that and that key is education.”