When Glasgow Central Mosque was commissioned in the early 1980s, the architect received an important instruction: “Make it Scottish”. It ended up sharing a feature of many Glaswegian public buildings (but not many mosques): large panels of glass, creating long shafts of natural light inside. Now, facing renovation, it will get more Scottish still: there are plans to remodel it in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow’s favourite architect. Inside, people marry in kilts (the hem let down an inch, in keeping with the dress code for Muslim men) to the sound of bagpipes. Halal haggis is sold nearby, and across the River Clyde is the council office where in 2012 a new tartan was launched: blue for the Saltire, green for Islam.
The relationship between Scottish nationalism and the Muslim community seems unusually harmonious. Six out of ten Scots believe Muslims are integrated into everyday Scottish life, according to a poll in 2010 by Ipsos Mori. A survey in 2011 by the Scottish government found Muslims in Scotland felt that being Scottish was an important part of their identity, and that for them “community” tended to mean the shop down the road, rather than a local or global network of other Muslims.
Scottish Muslims have greater economic power than their English counterparts: many are involved in business, and arrived with the means to set themselves up (a large proportion are from Punjab, a relatively rich Indian state). Most English Muslims hail from poorer bits of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and often went into industries that have since faltered.
Theories abound: Scots regard themselves as a minority, persecuted by the English; left-leaning Scottish nationalism is friendlier to minorities than English Conservatism. And Scottish Muslims are few—they make up just 1.5% of the population, compared with 4.5% across Britain—giving them a greater incentive to integrate.
So far, so historical, but recent policy may have something to do with it too. Whereas the government in Westminster makes sweeping criticisms of Muslim extremism (see previous article), its counterpart in Holyrood does not dwell on the subject and therefore, says Mr Kahn, does not wind up local Muslims. Only a tiny minority of the 700 people reported to have left Britain for Syria appear to have come from Scotland. The happy relationship may not be the result of luck alone.
Just weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum, the country joins the rest of the UK with the growing crisis of disenfranchised, and subsequently radicalized, Muslim youth. After disappearing from her Glasgow home in November 2013, 20 year-old schoolgirl Aqsa Mahmood, now known as “Umm Layth,” resurfaced in Syria apparently married to an ISIS fighter and living with other British Nationals. During a press conference on Tuesday, Mahmood’s father Muzaffar said, “[Aqsa] may believe that the jihadists of Isis are her new family, but they are not, they are simply using her.” He called her change the result of “bedroom radicalization,” referring to the influence of internet forums, blogs, and even Facebook as the source of his daughter’s metamorphosis from schoolgirl at the private Craigholme School to ISIS bride. Friends describe her as an average, fun-loving girl who enjoyed clothes, make-up and gossip. This description of a fully Western adolescent is now a common refrain among Muslim families and communities left stunned by the radicalization and subsequent departure of their youth to join ISIS.
Until this last week, Mahmood frequently communicated with other Muslims and potential converts to ISIS’s cause through social media, especially through Twitter. Her tweets include references to life as an ISIS bride, but also references to recent terror attacks: “Follow the example of your Brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston etc. Have no fear as Allah swt is always with the Believers.” (@ummLayth), June 27th, 2014. Her chilling 140 character call to arms was deleted with her account around September 3rd when her name and story gained national attention.
Mahmood represents a growing number of young British nationals leaving their homes to join ISIS, with an estimated 500 British-born Muslims now active in Iraq and Syria. Concerns over UK Muslims joining ISIS escalated after the murderer of James Foley in August appeared to be British.
November 15, 2013
A BBC investigation has revealed concerns that young girls are being brought to Scotland to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) because the country is seen as a “soft touch”. Agencies claim that families from England and Europe have travelled to Scotland to have their daughters cut. They also said girls living in Glasgow and Edinburgh have undergone FGM in Scotland and the problem is increasing.
UK legislation to criminalise FGM was introduced in 1985 but since then there has not been a single prosecution. Scottish legislation in 2005 made it illegal to take girls abroad to conduct the practice. New Scottish government figures, seen by the BBC, revealed that between 1997 and 2011, 2,403 girls were born in Scotland to a mother from an FGM-practicing country.
The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests about FGM to each of Scotland’s 32 local councils and 14 health boards. The majority of health boards were unable to say how many cases they had encountered. Less than a third of the 32 councils had specific local guidelines on FGM and less than 10 cases had been referred to social work.
Anela Anwar, of Scottish charity Roshni, said: “Because Scotland has been lacking somewhat in a prosecutions, families are coming up from England and Wales into Scotland to have the practice carried out and that is certainly concerning if Scotland is now being viewed as a place that doesn’t take the issue of female genital mutilation seriously.”
Fatou Baldeh, of the Dignity Alert and Research Forum (DARF) in Edinburgh said: “The UK is behind and among the UK, Scotland is very poor in tackling FGM and supporting victims.”
She added: “Because it’s getting expensive to take a daughter back home and circumcise or mutilate them, women are putting together money and bringing over someone who can cut the girls and it’s cheaper.”
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) set up a national FGM helpline this year, and over the course of the first three months, there were 102 calls relating to girls at risk of FGM.
Scotland Yard is closely watching radical cleric Anjem Choudary to see if his proclamations break the law, one of the force’s most senior officers told MPs today. The former spokesman for the now-banned Islamist group Islam4UK, who admitted knowing one of the men charged with the soldier’s murder, is also understood to be receiving police protection outside his east London home.
1 April 2013
The Glasgow Community Education Association (GCEA) is a step closer to establishing Scotland’s first Islamic secondary school after it completed the £400,000 purchase of Abbotsford House, a B-listed Victorian building in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. If the project is successful, the building will be renamed The Islamic Institute and will offer secondary education to boys and girls in addition to housing a nursery. The GCEA currently has no plans to pursue public funding for the project.
This is not the GCEA’s first attempt to found an Islamic secondary school in Glasgow. Last year, the group failed to complete the purchase of the abandoned Holmlea Primary School in Cathcart for the same purpose. The successful purchase of Abbotsford House has prompted some to question the need for an Islamic school and to warn of the possible community divisions such a project might engender.
8 January 2013
Muslim women’s charity Amina, based in Scotland is to launch a campaign to tackle domestic violence in the Muslim community. There has been a widespread misconception among the certain sections of the Muslim community that Islam warrants husbands to beat up their wives. The group however, is planning to use Islamic teachings and clerics to challenge the misconception. Smina Akhtar, from the group stated that: “We have women coming in, phoning our helpline, time and time again and saying: ‘My husband said it’s okay, he told me the Koran says it’s okay’. We’re quite surprised that Muslim women are often not educated, even in Islam, because Islam does not condone violence.”
Organizers are asking people to promise to oppose all sorts of violence against women and girls and, crucially, to talk about the problem so that it cannot remain hidden.
20 October 2012
The English Defence League (EDL) is set to march in Walthamstow, east London, on Saturday. The move is thought to be very provocative since the area is densely populated with Muslims. In addition, Leader Tommy Robinson vowed to show the inflammatory film Innocence of Muslims in the suburb. However, he was arrested in the US and remains in custody. Also, according to the reports, the co-founder of the EDL will not be attending the march as he was arrested by Scotland Yard on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance in east London.
17 October 2012
On Tuesday British police charged a man for abducting two western journalists working in Syria. Photo journalists John Cantlie from Britain, and Jeroen Oerlemans from the Netherlands, were abducted in Syria between July 17 and 26. On his return to Britain Cantlie first told the media about so-called ‘jihadist’ Britons who fight against the Syrian government. Later on he said that one of his captors was a British doctor who was on sabbatical. At the time the incident sparked a debate about the involvement of the British ‘jihadists’ in the Syrian conflict.
British police detained the doctor, Shajul Islam, last week as he flew into Heathrow from Egypt “on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” According to media reports Cantlie has been helping MI6 to identify the man.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, on BBC radio said:
“We would strongly advise them not to do so, and while I can’t comment at the moment in further detail on these cases, on the general subject, we are clearly very vigilant about this, about people either passing through the UK or British nationals who want to commit acts of violence anywhere.”
In another development British security services have identified 50 Britons who are fighting against the Syrian government. The ringleader of the groups is thought to be British/Bangladeshi.
According to the reports Scotland Yard have seized computers and mobile phones from addresses in Britain linked to the men.
Scotland Yard has not commented on the issue.
Last week, various posters appeared in London and other British cities, declaring some areas “Sharia Law Zones”. Distributed by members of the Muslims against Crusades group, the posters inform “You are entering a Sharia-controlled zone – Islamic rules enforced”. Alongside this slogan, pictograms warn there should be no alcohol, no drugs or smoking, no porn or prostitution, no music concerts and no gambling in these zones. As the Daily Mail reports, hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who runs the militant Islam4UK group, has already claimed responsibility for the campaign. As reported earlier, the posters are part of the plan to establish an Islamic Emirate in the long term. According to the Daily Mail, Scotland Yard is working on removing the posters and identifying those responsible for putting them up.
24 October 2010
With its frosted windows, CCTV cameras, and tightly monitored security entrance, it is going to be one of Aberdeen’s most secretive business enterprises. So, you could be forgiven for wondering if the shop has something to hide. Well, it does — its customers. Or rather it is the customers who want to remain hidden. For this is Scotland’s first ‘halal hairdressers’ — a beauty salon which conforms to the strict rules of Islam; a place were Muslim women who wear the veil or headscarf can be seen uncovered without the risk of the gaze of men.
Discreet Creative Hairdressing, scheduled to open in three weeks, is the brainchild of 21-year-old Mahida Iqbal and her husband of nine months, Fueb Mieh. The salon will be a ‘man-free zone’. The frosted windows will stop any inquisitive men passing by from gawping at the clients. No-one can get in without passing through a secure buzzer entry system with CCTV. All this means that the Muslim ladies who have come for a new hair-do can remove their headscarves safe in the knowledge that only other women can see them.
“It is somewhere where customers can feel comfortable, feel pampered and relaxed, knowing that no-one is going to come in and disturb them,” Iqbal added. “Muslim husbands can feel relaxed knowing that their wife is safe, where no man is going to be able to see them, and then they can come home and show their beauty. Muslim clients have never experienced this ever. It’s a great feeling”, Mahida Iqbal says.