British Bangladeshi businessman Siraj Ali receives honourary doctorate
Ansar Ahmed Ullah
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 work within Essex and British Bangladeshi communities.
Siraj Ali has had an illustrious career since he first arrived from Bangladesh as an 11-year-old boy, with limited English and only a few pounds in his pocket. New 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 expanding 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.
Running a restaurant business wasn’t just about being successful in trade, it was also about community. His passion to build bridges between cultures and communities saw him become an ambassador for multi-cultural integration and charity work, introducing the notion that a successful restaurant business should also pay something back to its local community, Siraj Ali was keen to demonstrate corporate social responsibility; as well as providing delicious food and a good night out.
Since 1995, Siraj Ali has helped to raise over £3 million for charity through special charity fundraising nights – managing as many as 200 events per year – and leading the way for other local restaurants to follow suit, his charitable efforts have even seen his dishes flown to 150 UN troops in the Congo!
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 Siraj Ali during the University’s graduation ceremony at the Colchester Campus on 17 July 2018.
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.
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.”
Dr Svetlana Warhurst, from Essex Business School, gave the oration in honouring Siraj Ali. 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.”