JOINS RT HON JOHN BERCOW SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS (UK PARLIAMENT) DR SHIRIN SHARMIN CHAUDHURY, SPEAKER OF JATYO SANGSHAD (BANGLADESH PARLIAMENT) IN HONOURED LISTOF RECIPIENTS
LONDON, 18 JULY 2018: British Bangladeshi Businessman and Philanthropist, Muhammad Siraj Ali, based in Essex, has been awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Essex for his distinguished career in the catering and hospitality sector and his contribution to charity and work with the Essex and British Bangladeshi communities.
Sylheti, Dr Ali (Hon) has had an illustrious career since he first arrived from Bangladesh as an 11 year old boy, with limited English speaking skills and only a few pounds in his pocket.
Fresh from Bangladesh, a country which was in the midst of war with Pakistan, he had no choice but to start his working life as a waiter at the cusp of his teenage years, with no chance of going to college or university. Today, Siraj is a very successful restaurateur and philanthropist.
In his successful 47-year career, he has not only been credited with being the man who bought Indian food to Thurrock, using his charisma and winning formula of good food and a good night out, to rapidly expand his restaurant business across the county, he has used his success and experiences to create jobs, broaden cultural understanding, and promote philanthropic activity in Essex and Bangladesh, raising millions of pounds for charitable causes in Essex at his restaurant The Maharaja in Essex, and building schools and hospitals for the needy, in Sylhet, Bangladesh.
In the restaurant sector, he has played a prominent role, acting as a national spokesperson, working with some of the UK’s most noteworthy members of Parliament and the Bangladesh High Commissioner, to help save the £4.2 billion Indian restaurant industry that employs 150,000 people nationwide. An industry that has made curry, the UK’s national dish.
The prestigious award was conferred upon Mr Ali during the University’s graduation ceremony at the Colchester Campus, yesterday.
Siraj Ali joins an illustrious list of past recipients of honorary doctrines at Essex in business, philanthropy and the arts.
In 1967 the University awarded its first honorary degrees, with recipients including, Prime Minister at the time, Harold Wilson.
Since then, the University has honoured more than 300 men and women from many walks of life, who are considered to be excellent role models for the university’s students. These individuals have held major leadership roles nationally and globally, for their varied contributions to learning, creativity, the acquisition of knowledge, human welfare and human rights, and the building and maintaining of a fairer society.
In recent years, recipients include the President of Chile at the time, Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet, the second woman to be elected to lead a South American nation. British Singer/Songwriter Ed Sheeran, Broadcast Journalists David Dimbleby and Angela Rippon CBE OBE, media personalities Griff Rhys Jones, Lloyd Grossman OBE, Writer and Feminist, Professor Germaine Greer, renowned British Actress Helen Mirren OBE, and well known British Singer Annie Lennox OBE.
Digital entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, Founder of Lastminute.com, Oscar-winning film director Dr Jan Pinkava, and historian Dr John Ashdown-Hill, who was key to the uncovering of the lost remains of King Richard III, are also amongst the people to be presented with Honorary Degrees at the University.
In the political field, Essex Alumnus, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, who was made Chancellor at the University in 2015, succeeding Shami Chakrabarti, as well as Essex Alumna and fellow Bangladeshi, Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Speaker of Jatiyo Sangshad (Bangladesh Parliament), the first woman, and youngest person, to ever hold this position, have also received honorary doctorates from the well-respected teaching facility.
In 2015, with fellow Essex Alumnus John Bercow, Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury opened a conference of Commonwealth parliamentarians looking at the practical and social understanding of rights and freedoms today.
Speaking of his award, Dr Siraj Ali (Hon) said: “It’s a great honour to receive this honorary degree from the University of Essex, one of the best universities in the UK. I am honoured the University has recognised me and my hard work. For me running a restaurant was never just about the food. It was the opportunity to break down cultural barriers, build communications and help communities. This was so important to me that over the decades I’ve been able to raise millions for charities in Essex and beyond and I have been lucky enough to work with the UK’s most high profile Members of Parliament.”
He also passed on some advice for the university’s graduates: “I hope my life’s work inspires the future generations to do good with their successes. Success is not just about being successful in business; success is also about giving back to the communities.”
Dr Svetlana Warhurst, from Essex Business School, gave the oration in honour of Siraj. She said: “As a community, we welcome, and we celebrate diversity: different people, different cultures, and different world views. We are committed to pushing boundaries, fostering cohesion, and sharing cultural richness. Siraj Ali is a shining example of how one person can start that ball rolling; in uniting others, to make lasting, positive change.”
University of Essex is ranked in the top 5 in the UK and rated Gold for social science research according to the 2014 National Research Excellence Framework, and was awarded the UK’s only Regius Professorship in Political Science by Her Majesty the Queen in 2015, reflecting the quality of the institution and its 50 years of excellence in research and education in Essex.
The prestigious university is also ranked 22nd for research quality in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and shortlisted for the University of the Year Award in the same year. It is also 25th in the QA World University Rankings 2018 for its number of international students, and is in the top 15 in England for overall student satisfaction in the National Student Survey 2017 out of all mainstream universities.