My mother, Zahra Jama, who has died aged 80, was one of the first Somali women to come to Britain in the late 1950s, at a time when London’s Somali community was almost exclusively male.
She has warmly acknowledged as a mother figure and her home was always a welcoming place for newly arrived Somalis.
In many ways a trailblazer for Muslim women in 1960s London, she was determined to integrate and to build a better life for her family in the East End. Her seven children were often the only people of color in their class, and she made sure they were impeccably dressed and had a strong sense of self.
Zahra Jama was born in Hargeisa, the capital of the British Somaliland Protectorate, to Jama Deria, a nurse, and his wife, Khadija Farah.
At the age of 17, Zahra Jama made the courageous decision to leave her homeland and immigrate to London with her husband, Omar Musa, and their first child. They boarded the SS Orsova in Aden, arriving in Britain in 1959.
She initially struggled to find housing and work in a racially hostile environment, but she met the challenge head-on, quickly enrolling in English lessons and landing her first job working as a seamstress in an East End factory, eventually setting up sewing classes and Somali dance groups that toured schools in east London.
Over time Zahra Jama’s charm and wit allowed her to get along famously with people of all backgrounds. As more Somali families began to settle in London, her home became a focal point for immigrants over six decades. She was always open to providing guidance and was a great confidante to all.
Zahra Jama’s home was full of friends from all ethnicities and walks of life. From shopkeepers to neighbors alike, people always looked forward to meeting her. In addition, she always gave generously to family and friends back home in Hargeisa.
Omar Musa died in 2020. She is survived by her seven children and 16 grandchildren.
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