Dawn News

March, 23 2015

Edgware Road: Walking in freedom

A road like no other. — Creative commons
A road like no other. — Creative commons

When I first moved to London, an Italian colleague at the American law firm where I then worked told me that “in Central London, the Americans live in Chelsea, the Italians in Knightsbridge, the French in South Kensington, the Australians in Earl’s Court, and the Arabs in Mayfair.”

“Where then do the English live?” I had asked.

“Zone 3 and beyond,” he responded, referring to the London underground tube map, where stops in zone 1 represent the most central locations, followed by zone 2, and so on.

Of course, his description of central London was a bit of an exaggeration but there is little doubt that recent immigrants make up an increasingly large proportion of London’s cosmopolitan centre.

Within this amalgam of cultural diversity, one street stands out more than any other.

Edgware Road – home to a myriad of Lebanese restaurants, doner kebab outlets, shawarma stands and halal butchers on every corner – is the focal point for much of central London’s Muslim population (which stands at 12.4 per cent as of the 2011 census).

Although Edgware Road is located in the borough of Westminster which is the only borough of London’s 33 boroughs where Arabic is the most commonly spoken language other than English; walk up and down the street and you are as likely to hear Kurdish, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto and Punjabi.

There may be nothing unusual about immigrant communities concentrating in certain areas of today’s global cities, enhancing them with diverse cuisine and culture. But what is unique about Edgware Road is that it is located so close to the heart of London, smack-dab in the centre, intersecting the iconic Marble Arch and famous Oxford Street, and simply moments away from Buckingham Palace.

 — Photos courtesy of 5pillarz.com
— Photos courtesy of 5pillarz.com

If one were to compare, perhaps, Chinatown in San Francisco may have a similarly prominent location but other ethnically-rich and diverse areas in the West often tend to be further away from city-centres.

Certainly, this takes a fair bit of tolerance from the indigenous population, permitting a cultural take-over of sorts, of prized central real estate, as it’s not just exotic food that is enriching Britain via Edgware Road, but also impromptu Quran recitations freely broadcast in some of the stores and Ashura processions mandating traffic diversions on the 10th of Muharram.

But, perhaps, such is the beauty of a liberal democracy coupled with a free-market economy.

The makeup of Edgware Road and its impact on central London could not have been feasible without the international jet-setters who were able to buy several properties in this key location and give it the cultural feel that they desired. Nor could it have been possible without the working immigrants who toil at the grocery stores, butchers, and restaurants that make this truly international experience possible.

This is not to suggest that there is no resentment on the part of the locals.

I was once told that properties adjacent to “Downtown Dubai” (as Edgware Road is derisively called sometimes) would only attract a certain kind of buyer, suggesting the well-heeled gora, or perhaps also his wannabe desi counterpart, who would never contemplate living in the vicinity.

The politically-charged religious fervour at times also leads to reactions as during Ramazan, while the Pakistani restaurants went into over-drive advertising iftaar sherbets and some Arab ones put up "Free Gaza" placards, a group of locals regularly lined the street to distribute free Bibles in Arabic. Nevertheless, this freedom of expression has not as yet resulted in any significant clash.

To the contrary, Edgware Road delights tourists and locals of all colours, particularly on summer nights, when the street truly comes alive.

Unlike Paris, Rome, Madrid, New York or Los Angeles, London, apart from its busy clubbing scene and the drunks loitering about in Leicester Square, tends to shut down early. Except Edgware Road, where even the pharmacies are open till midnight.

 — Photos courtesy of Lowcashtravel.com
— Photos courtesy of Lowcashtravel.com

The overwhelming Muslim population that frequents Edgware Road ironically likes to party as much as it likes to pray.

And thus a post-dinner walk down Edgware Road provides good entertainment for those of us who grew up in warmer climates and feel more alive once the sun sets.

With Arabic music blaring from an assortment of over-priced pedicabs, fully hijabed passengers dancing to disco-like beats, roadside cafes and sheesha bars full of people-watchers and families out and about well past midnight, comfortable in the knowledge that they are more or less secure on this street.

It is a nostalgic, if unfortunate, scene that depicts what tourists from Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Algeria love about Edgware Road. It provides them with a cultural ease, coupled with the freedom to exercise simple pleasures which, for different reasons, have become unthinkable in their home countries.

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The writer is a lawyer based in London.

She tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (68) Closed

Nov 22, 2014 07:21pm

Not really sure what the article is about.

Nov 22, 2014 07:26pm

They will demand sharia law sooner or later mark my word.

Md Imran
Nov 22, 2014 07:42pm

Muslim communities take prosperity whereever they go. England and London in particular is a proof of that. Until 1970s, the story of England was grim and grey post-colonialism and 2 great wars. Then the muslim immigration started in late 70s and roared until early 2000s. It is now brimming with entrepreneurship and hardworking people. Same with France, Germany, Sweden and Netherlands.

Johan Malik
Nov 22, 2014 08:15pm

Any muslims charged with blasphemy law in London?

Nov 22, 2014 08:27pm

Very informative writing. Thanks.

Nov 22, 2014 08:36pm

Not a completely safe environment - after all, one of the 7/7 bombs was detonated by Mohammad Sidique Khan at the Edgware Road underground railway station.

Nov 22, 2014 08:45pm

you tried very hard to couple pak with other rich muslim countries.. you want to try to distance yourself to south asia.. but you seem to left / got lost in this process..

Nov 22, 2014 10:01pm

Al- balad is one of my favorite restaurants on Edgware road. I am originally from lahore and very time I go to Edgware road which is mostly on Saturday nights im reminded of our food street in gawalmandi. Infact whenever I miss pakistan I go to Edgware road. No doubt the tolerance this country has towards different cultures is commendable. I wish we could learn a thing or two from them as well. Having said that there is no other restaurant in the world serving food like lakshmi chowk's cholay and there is no square in the world like liberty chowk. No matter where we go our heart belongs to our country regardless of the law and order situation there.

Nov 22, 2014 10:02pm

You should also mention the prostitutes who cater to big spending Arabs who come here for their recreation.

Nov 22, 2014 11:32pm

This is very true haha :)

Nov 22, 2014 11:38pm

Just for people like Imran, who makes statements about Muslims communities being well off He should check the statistics . Muslims are the poorest people in the UK, AND OVERALL the least educated

Dr Carla
Nov 22, 2014 11:56pm

@ramesh They have been demanding for Sharia for last 15 years. they often quote Indian example for Sharia.

Rashid Sultan
Nov 23, 2014 12:05am

The locals would be glad to see the back of these migrants including the author. But freedom is another name for nothing left to lose. Desis, Arabs, Nigerians, Algerians, Syrians, Libyans, etc enjoy the freedom, liberty & reluctant tolerance of European culture and are from a background with nothing to lose and all to gain by emigrating from their native lands. So they party.

Nov 23, 2014 12:33am

@ramesh - you seem more eager to get Sharia law than Muslims.

Nov 23, 2014 01:57am

Ah, so you are the one who provides "advice" how to get British Passport?

Nov 23, 2014 01:59am

@Md Imran acha ? I dont see Muslims in the top industrialist or businessmen of any of these countries

Nov 23, 2014 03:03am

@Zafar you are right people come in london for recreation

Nov 23, 2014 03:56am

@Tom :: You have a fantastic memory. Yes, all bombers were Muslims and three of them were of Pakistani descent and the fourth one was a young Muslim convert of Jamaican descent.

Nov 23, 2014 04:33am

Too many foreigners in london. Almost 1 in 2. There are parts of London where an English face is a novelty. Its disgusting.

Nov 23, 2014 04:38am

Would Pakistan allow this freedom n security? Would they tolerate non Muslims enjoying like this?

Nov 23, 2014 04:59am

The pedestrians and the motorists ( shown in the picture ) not following the traffic signals can tell the whole story as of what kind of creature live , work or generally visits Edgware street . plus : Muslims are exploiting freedom ( of expression ) in the west while killing those who belief differently in their own countries . when in west , their slogan is " coexist " and the other way round at home . good effort though . it opens a window into a great debate .

Nov 23, 2014 05:17am

Rehman malik owns a very popular Subway sandwich place on this road... good place for our politicians to invest the loot.

Warrior Bin Qasim
Nov 23, 2014 05:32am

Indians still managed to find negatives in this article. Kudos!!

Nov 23, 2014 06:04am

You got one thing quite correct: "... London, apart from its busy clubbing scene and the drunks loitering about in Leicester Square, tends to shut down early. Except Edgware Road,..." Made me laugh! Tomorrow night's dinner in Edgware Road (Al Maroush); decided!

Nov 23, 2014 07:08am

Ayesha, does one find any Indians around this street too??

Mohammed Abbasi
Nov 23, 2014 07:11am

Mayfair is good but Edgware Rd is where the best restaurants are - save a particular one I like in Knightsbridge anyway great article :)

Manoj Kumar
Nov 23, 2014 07:19am

@ramesh : They are already doing so. You will find lot of documentary in youtube on this.

Nov 23, 2014 07:30am

amazing that you would write this considering how much worse life has gotten for non-Muslims in Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

Nov 23, 2014 07:31am

As Aiyman al-Zawahiri once said... Even England is not Great Britain any more. Emphasis on Great.

Nov 23, 2014 09:30am

@skash there is no need, pak has its own Islamic identity, but being Muslim everyone comes down to pray at same place so the affinity stands natural with other races of Muslims. Please don't feel ignored as indian in this article or in Edgware st. As a Hindu, it's hard to understand

Gawal Mandi ya in Texas
Nov 23, 2014 10:33am

@ramesh lol probably.

Gawal Mandi ya in Texas
Nov 23, 2014 10:36am

@BM Couldn't have said it better myself brother.Lahore Lahore a

Dr.Salim Haidrani
Nov 23, 2014 10:41am

The writer is an immigrant Lawyer and I expect from highly educated immigrant writers (follow the example of Karl Marx from Germony) that it is a tradition when you write about other people, cultures and their customs you must not forget to Explain the sociology of the people you write about them. For example, Tony Blair just live around the corner of the Edgware Road and our ex- Army Dictator Musaraff owns a house where the write stood and watched the rich Arabs. Local people or you can say The Indegnious population of London do not live in Zone 3 - they live in London where house prices are about one and half million but off course rich immigrants, corrupt military dictators from all over the world come and enjoy the kindness of their Colonial Masters just a walking distance from Edgware Road which is called the Mother of All Parliaments and 10 Downing Street.

Nov 23, 2014 10:44am

@ramesh They already have.

Nov 23, 2014 01:10pm

Many thanks for bringing this news to us. There is also an area a few miles North of this area in London, where the bus driver approaching a well known bus stop will shout out "Anyone for Tel Aviv". Also there is an area in South London, which although losing its credibility every day because the affluent people moving into the area, still deserves to be called Brixton, Jamaica. Not to forget that a township a few miles North of the Heathrow Airport has since long known as "Little India". It is called Southall.

Nov 23, 2014 02:27pm

@shah - Just Google 'prominent Muslims' in Europe. Ignorance is bliss!

Nov 23, 2014 02:34pm

@Reason - You must have eyes on the back of your head to be able to see "traffic signals" in this picture. When traffic is static, people cross.

Dr Carla
Nov 23, 2014 02:40pm

Even though Edgware Road has many Lebanese and Middle Eastern returnees, London is a cosmopolitan city, you always see distinct ethnic cultures, mixed cultures and British culture arias all over the london not just in edgware road. This article is in wrong place, I guess it originally meant for local borough or council magazines not for popular Pakistani paper like Dawn.

Nov 23, 2014 02:43pm

@Dr.Salim Haidrani - What a rant!!!

Nov 23, 2014 03:15pm

@SRK yes they would ...ex-pats and foreigners enjoy both respect and privilege overall and they enjoy their own little enclaves called Gulberg - no poverty for them to gaze upon

Dr Mohsin Kazmi
Nov 23, 2014 04:00pm

Good observation.

Ek Lahori
Nov 23, 2014 04:13pm

@AYESHA IJAZ KHAN your last sentence "It is a nostalgic, if unfortunate, scene that depicts what tourists from Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Algeria love about Edgware Road. It provides them with a cultural ease, coupled with the freedom to exercise simple pleasures which, for different reasons, have become unthinkable in their home countries" sounds ridiculous you can come to our Lahore, Riyadh, Algiers City and you will find them all but than you have to pay a price for it. Yeh duniya sirf paisewalon ki hai garibon ko yeh sab nahim milata. aap kyo kya chahiye Lahore main - Ladkiyan (fulwali gali) Sharab (badami baag) aur uska gosht (hakeem bazaar) near qilla gujjar. So please don't misguide other people

Amir Khan
Nov 23, 2014 06:30pm

@ramesh lol....Ramesh babu worry about your own muslims first.

Amir Khan
Nov 23, 2014 06:31pm

@shah Sir Feroze Khan Noon ? Lord Nazir Ahmed ? Baroness Wasti ? Just to name a few.

Nov 23, 2014 10:38pm

@Johan Malik "Any muslims charged with blasphemy law in London?" Why would they? Blasphemy law is not an English law.

Nov 23, 2014 11:06pm

England allows all types of freedom.......Muslims especially Pakistani's should not abuse this freedom.

Nov 24, 2014 02:45am

This is absolutely beautiful, people of all faiths and walk of life gelling together in harmony. An awesome article.

M Khan
Nov 24, 2014 06:40am

I have noticed a lot of taunting from your Indian readers about Muslims and Pakistanis. We know we have a lot of issues in our society but do not act like you live in a perfect society or country.

Nov 24, 2014 06:53am

@Tom No environment is ever "completely safe"

Nov 24, 2014 08:23am

So what's wrong with Muslims having a nice time ? Doesn't match the stereotypical image of unruly , illiterate , backward and uncouth Muslims that the Media is working so hard to promote ?

Nov 24, 2014 10:08am

@Amir Khan : @shah Sir Feroze Khan Noon ? Lord Nazir Ahmed ? Baroness Wasti ? Just to name a few."

Not one of these is a top industrialist or business person - which is what @Shah had asked in context of claim by @md Imran that Muslims create prosperity wherever they go.

@Harmony : there are many prominent Muslims but a simple google search did not give me any top industrialist or businessman in UK who is Muslim. That was the specific question posed by @Shah. If there are some, please list them.

Nov 24, 2014 10:51am

@M Khan There is nowhere a perfect society on earth, BTW there are many Muslim Indian as well so plz don't bring religion everywhere.

Danial Kizilbash
Nov 24, 2014 12:41pm

@Md Imran

This is interesting. So what held back these engines of prosperity in the countries where they were in majority. And how these immigrants that formed 1-2% of the population at most of the country they immigrated to, and holding largely services jobs like labourers and janitors as they did in most Europenan and North American countries, could galvanise their economies much more than other more educated and enterpreneurial locals and immigrants. Just curious.

Fahim Cheema
Nov 24, 2014 01:02pm

And when are those immigrants going to demand a separate province there?

Nov 24, 2014 01:11pm

@Md Imran : So according to you, Muslims migrate to poor places and make them rich, huh? Then why is Pakistan so poor?

Nov 24, 2014 01:26pm

@Md Imran please check your facts... Muslim prosperity ??

as per a Trades Union Congress study some 69% of the muslim community live in poverty and, at 43%, they have the lowest employment rate of any ethnic group.

In comparison, 20% of white people in the UK are said to be living in poverty.

Rai M Azlan
Nov 24, 2014 01:29pm

Having worked in the marble arch area I can easily call my self a former neighbor of this area. quite a nostalgic ride it was reading this blog post. recalling London and its openness to accept diversity.

Nov 24, 2014 01:30pm

So, when is Sharia coming to Edgeware Road

Nov 24, 2014 02:22pm

I discovered Edgware Road rather late in the day. It is an area to recommend itself to everyone, because it is so close to Oxford Circus and has a wide range of reasonably priced, good quality restaurants. Unlike other ethnic areas that tend to be untidy, Edgware road is clean, middle class and safe. The Doner Kebab is authentic as is the shewarma. It also has excellent Moroccan places to eat whose food has subtle but classy flavours. The shopping is also good an because there are so many foreigners and tourists, people are generally friendly and helpful. For anyone visiting London, a trip to Edgware Road is a must.

True Fact
Nov 24, 2014 03:18pm

so what was the article really about? :s

True Fact
Nov 24, 2014 03:21pm

@SRK almost as much as inida lets kahmiris enjoy their freedom.. or let other communitites (read gujarat massacre or bombay killings) enjoy their minorities i presume.. so people who live in glass houses (in your case dirty glass houses) should really avoid throwing stones at others..

Ali Naqvi
Nov 24, 2014 03:23pm

Edgware Road is specifically for/by rich Arabs, cannot be linked with INDO-PAK people..culture or lifestyle.

Nov 24, 2014 03:33pm

What a nice article Ayesha... Imagining all those cultures and the atmosphere at night, looking forward to visiting it some day! You should write for DAWN more often.

Nov 24, 2014 04:37pm

@Gp65 : Just google " James Caan". He is a pakistani and one of the top businessmen in Uk

Nov 24, 2014 05:15pm

@Md Imran As per a report, the London Borough of Barnet is the borough where 51% of the residents live on the public funds...and you are talking about prosperity ...

Nov 24, 2014 07:46pm

@goggy - I don't know about your 51% but Westminster Boro is the richest with most expensive properties. LB Barnet also includes outer London. No comparison!

Anwar Søorty
Nov 25, 2014 11:46am

Interesting. You could have mentioned this fine Burmese/Myanmarese, restaurant on Edgware Road called Mandalay. I suggest you try the food there.

Nov 25, 2014 04:16pm

English people are now an ethnic minority in London. Can you do the same in Pakistan? No!

Still Westerners are called Racists.

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