Many immigrants do impressive class journeys in the West, including Pakistanis. But it was a very a special occasion when the Norwegian coalition cabinet of Prime Minister Erna Solberg was reshuffled last Friday, and the new and old ministers came out from their curtsy cabinet meeting in the Royal Palace, being introduced to King Harald V of Norway, who is the ceremonial head of state. The PM and her 20 ministers were greeted by friends, family and members of the public and given more flowers than they could carry in the bright winter sunshine. Abid Qayyum Raja (44) was hugged by his wife Nadia, a senior psychologist, and their three children.

Later, when he received the keys to his new office as Minister for Culture and Equality, from Trine Schei Grande, chair of the Liberal Party, where he is deputy chair, it was an emotional moment for Abid Qayyum Raja who could not hold back his tears, and Grande, too, had to pull out her handkerchief. She will now be Minister of Education and Integration and thus continue to cooperate closely with Raja.

In one of his first statements after his appointment, Raja said that he felt that now maybe he had become good enough for Norway (‘god nok for Norge’). He said that there is not ‘one culture’ in his new homeland, but many, and it is important to give room to all, and also let everyone have ‘a minimum of common cultural and social experiences’ in an all-inclusive society, yet, with a diverse population of four million indigenous Norwegians, who are also diverse, and almost one million immigrants and refugees from all over the world.

To have been given a seat at the King’s table (‘en plass rundt kongens bord’), as the Norwegians say, is quite surreal for anyone, certainly so for a second generation citizen of Pakistani immigrant background. He thanked the Norwegians who had given him a chance to take part in society in this way. It should be added that Raja is a popular politician by all, and he is quite flamboyant and outspoken. He is also not afraid of changing opinion; as a young man he was traditional in his political and social attitudes, and also a quite conservative Muslim; he is still a Muslim but not very active in his faith.

As minister, Raja will be responsible for a range of cultural issues, and for human rights and freedom of speech issues, and also, sports, and a myriad of activist and civil society organizations receiving government support. When introducing her new cabinet, PM Solberg said on a lighter note that Raja should encourage and oversee things in his ministry; he didn’t have to participate in all disciplines, as she knew would be his inclination. But to take up all kinds of issues confidently, is also a gift, and without being so certain that only his opinions are right. For a minister in charge of freedom of speech, he seems to be the right man, yes, both a politician and leader, and a public teacher and listener, not taking himself more important than necessary, and thus having a style of a politician for the future, where many have expertise and opinions.

Abid Raja is a lawyer by training, born in Norway, educated at universities in Oslo, Southampton and Oxford. He has written two highly rated books about culture and immigration. After having been a substitute MP since 2009, he is since 2017 a regular member of parliament from Akershus County, neighbouring Oslo. Raja’s parents immigrated to Norway from Gujrat in the early 1970s. His father became a factory worker and his mother, who had not attended school at all, a housewife. He has said about his background, that it was almost a coincidence that he found the right path in life; several of his friends ended up in drug abuse, dropping out of school and becoming unemployed. His family also had issues with the government social services since Raja’s father used corporal punishment, something which had become illegal in Norway in 1972 (although it still happens secretly in some twenty-five percent of the homes). Today, Raja has good relationship with both his parents.

But then, Raja is not the first Pakistani-Norwegian to become a cabinet minister in Norway. Hadia Tajik (36) was appointed to the same ministry as Raja in 2012, when she was only 29 years of age, and had been a member of parliament for the Labour Party since 2009. She is one of two deputy chairs of the Labour Party, which is Norway’s largest, currently in opposition. Many predict that Labour with two or three other centre-left parties will win the next parliamentary election in the autumn of 2021, and certainly, she is going to be given a ministerial post by the PM candidate, Jonas Gahr Støre, who is now chair of the party.

When appointed, Tajik was the youngest minister ever in Norway. She was the first Mulsim, and the first Pakistani Norwegian and Asian, and she is a woman. Her class journey is impressive, and many mainstream politicians must have seen her as a particularly talented politician.

Her parents immigrated to Norway in the early 1970s, and settled at Strand Municipality, outside Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital. Her parents ran the only village shop in Bjørklandsbygd in Strand. Growing up in a tiny community, Tajik’s family was the only (Shia) Muslim family, and integration in the local community was not an issues. Hence, she speaks the beautiful local dialect like any other person from the village, although now she lives in Oslo, and may have modified her dialect a bit, also as other citizens would have done. She went to secondary school in her small home municipality and continued her studies in Stavanger, Oslo and London. She is a qualified lawyer and journalist, and she has authored two books and many articles in books and other publications. She is married to an indigenous Norwegian.

Except for both being second generation Pakistani-Norwegians, Raja and Tajik have different social backgrounds. Tajik comes from a well-established, rural community in a relatively remote part of Norway. She seems to have done all things right in life, well, except for divorcing her first husband, an ethnic Norwegian and MP for the Conservative Party, while she is Labour. Raja comes from downtown Oslo and had a challenging childhood and youth, as is more common in a big city than a small community.

Abid Raja and Hadia Tajik are impressive politicians, who will continue to serve Norway and the international community well. I expect them to be in top posts in politics and elsewhere in society for another generation. What an asset such immigrants are to their new homeland! Tomorrow, Raja will attend his first regular Cabinet Meeting at the Royal Palace. According to lighter media stories, PM Erne Solberg has instructed all men to dress in a dark suit for the event and the official photo; the women (40 percent of the ministers) usually know better than men how to dress, at least, nothing has been leaked about what the PM may have told them!