How a Muslim woman became the nation’s sweetheart

Soumaya Hamdi Culture and Arts, UK

Mary wipes a tear after Nadiya is overwhelmed at being chosen as this year's Bake Off Champion.

Mary wipes a tear after Nadiya is overwhelmed at being chosen as this year’s Bake Off Champion.

This year’s series of the Great British Bake Off has been the most watched since the show’s inception in 2010. Maybe it’s because the show has built up a reputation, starting out with a humble viewing audience of 2 million and ending the latest series with a record-breaking 13 million. Maybe it’s because of the particularly entertaining group of competitors chosen to this year to bake it out in the Great White Tent. Or maybe it’s because for the first time, the show has given the nation an unconventional sweetheart.

Last in the first technical, first in the last.

Nadiya Jamir Hussain, this year’s Bake Off winner, has captured the nation’s hearts with her acrobatic eyebrows, killer one-liners and stunning original bakes.

She isn’t your average nation’s sweetheart.

For starters, she’s Muslim. She’s also Asian, and wears the hijab.

Nadiya has demonstrated, in a climate becoming increasingly tense for British Muslims, that it is actually possible to be a practising Muslim and British. She’s done more for the image of the British Muslim community than any religious speaker in the fight against rising Islamophobia, that has seen women in the very same dress as Nadiya attacked for their religious beliefs.

Having been an avid Bake-Off fan since the show’s inception, I have rarely (if ever) missed a show. There is something deliciously enjoyable about watching everyday Brits compete to produce the most attractive (or in the case of technical challenges, the one that most resembles what was asked to be made) bake. There was always something different about this series however. There was a powerful chemistry between the contestants that allowed them to compete but grow to become friends that applauded each other for their successes, and commiserated together for their failures.

The girl who grew up in Luton

I’ll be completely honest and admit that on many an occasion, I have been reluctant to admit that I grew up in Luton. I say this with a tinge of sadness- the media has been vigilant in airing the town’s dirty laundry. Granted, the town has been the fertile soil from which the EDL was born and where protests against the British army’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan turned ugly in 2009. One does wonder sometimes if there is something toxic in the air that has fed hate in the town, but this does not do justice to its inhabitants’ many good qualities.

The town has a community atmosphere not found in many towns where the population is around half a million. The community most recently rallied together to aid the refugees entering Europe, both through fundraising activities and residents taking the initiative to take their own vehicles packed with necessities for those stuck in Calais.

We have however long lacked a role model the ever-growing young population could look up to, with the likes of Tommy Robinson vying for this position instead.

Finally, my hometown has something and someone to be proud of

cake

In the words of Paul Hollywood, Nadiya brought something special to the Bake Off. Granted, he may well be referring to her beautiful bakes; from the peacock showstopper to a candy-flavoured cheesecake decorated with a floating soda can, she married skill with flair and, if Paul and Mary’s reactions are anything to go by, delicious flavours. But Nadiya is so much more than her baking skills. She brought wit and humour to our Wednesday evenings, and showed that it is possible to have a husband and children, and still pursue your dreams. If the Home Economics teacher at Challney Girls has been following Nadiya’s blossoming in the Bake Off challenges, thank you for inspiring the high school girl to bake. While she lacked confidence at the beginning and was often her worst critic, she courageously persevered in putting her all into her experience on the Bake Off, even when that meant practising until two or three in the morning. Her most poignant bake was her last; the wedding cake she never had, decorated in a sari coloured in red, white and blue.

“I’m never ever going to put boundaries on myself again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say, ‘I don’t think I can’. I’m never going to say maybe. I can, and I will.”

Never have I felt so proud to be a Lutonian, Challney Girl, Hijabi Muslim and of course, British.

Nadiya, I guess you won’t be needing that folder called ‘never bake again’.

 

 

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Soumaya is one of our halal travel experts, having explored across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She transformed her maternity leave into a gap year, visiting Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan across three months – all with a teething baby in tow!