Leading Bangladeshi restaurateur and charity fundraiser Siraj Ali has received an honorary degree from the University of Essex.
Siraj, who lives in south Essex, was a pioneering force in introducing Indian cuisine to the county. Through his hospitality and business activities, he has raised £3 million for charities and has become a role model to the British Bangladeshi community.
For eight years he was General Secretary of the Essex Jamme Masjid mosque and cultural centre in Southend-on-Sea, and he is the founding Chairman of the Thurrock Bangladesh Welfare Association.
Siraj told graduating students at the University of Essex he was proud to be recognised for doing “the work I love”. He said: “It’s a great honour to receive this honorary degree from the University of Essex. I am honoured the University has recognised me and my hard work.”
He added: “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.”
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.”
In 2015, Siraj was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by Curry Life magazine, in 2011 he was awarded the British Bangladeshi Who’s Who Outstanding Contribution Award for his long standing contribution to the hospitality and catering industry and in 2009, he was the joint winner of the Bangladesh Caterers Association ‘Caterer of the Year’ for the South East.