ESSEX – At a time of increasing scrutiny of the faith around the world, Hussain Manawer has become a public face of British Muslims after becoming UK’s first Muslim astronaut.
“It’s never really been an ambition of mine [to go into space], but I felt I wasn’t contributing enough to the world,” Manawer, 25, from Ilford, Essex , told The Guardian on Monday, December 26.
“I got to the point where I thought we are failing the world so much in so many different ways. When I saw the competition I thought: let me go for it, let me see what happens.
Manawer, poet, charity fundraiser and founder of his own creative agency, is due to blast off in 2018.
He was picked after seeing off thousands of other entrants from more than 90 countries in Kruger Cowne rising star competition last year.
As part of his Rising Star prize, Manawer will be launched into space in 2018 with XCOR Space Expeditions.
The contest was run in association with One Young World, a platform for 18- to 30-year-olds, supported by the likes of Kofi Annan.
“Never did I think I’m going to win it,” Manawer said.
“I just thought if I can get through a few stages I get to be associated with some good humanitarians and they will take my stuff more seriously. There was Bob Geldof and Fatima Bhutto, who has done humanitarian work in Pakistan. I want to host meetings of global influencers to effect change.”
He dedicated his victory to everyone who has suffered mental health problems, and said he had an important mission in life.
Becoming the first British Muslim into space, he will use this much anticipated trip to highlight problems of mental health amongst the young and diverse population of not only this country but the world.
“I am using it as a platform to venture into problems, which is how I think it should be. What influenced me is you have to be somebody in order for people to take you seriously, in order to have an impact,” he said.
Even before winning the space travel competition, Manawer had raised thousands of pounds for charities and given lessons on cyberbullying in 400 schools.
He has a successful YouTube channel, Hussain’s House, featuring interviews with the comedian Kevin Hart, rapper G-Eazy and radio presenter Charlamagne, and was a torchbearer in the buildup to the London Olympics.
He said he saw the competition to travel beyond the 100km mark in XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx spacecraft as a way of taking his campaigning to another level.
In his victory speech he declared: “My name is Hussain and I am not a terrorist,” an allusion to the hit 2010 Bollywood film My Name is Khan.
“Something triggered in my head and I thought: the world’s watching a Muslim person get an award, I want to say something meaningful,” said Manawer. “It’s good for people to see the positive side of a religion that gets missed a lot.”
At the same time, he does not want his religion to obscure his overriding message. “To me it’s very clear we are failing the world’s mental health,” said Manawer.
“If we can tackle that, it will solve a lot of problems.”