Special Report: CAIR-Chicago in Scotland

Last week, CAIR-Chicago Board Member Yaser Tabbara and I travelled to Glasgow to speak at the Scottish Islamic Foundation’s (SIF) annual national conference, entitled “Scottish Muslim Futures.” The conference was held on St. Andrew’s day (Scotland’s patron Saint) at Hampden Park (Scotland’s national soccer stadium) signifying SIF’s pride in their Scottish identity.

Noman Tahir, a co-founder of the newly formed national organization and I had met in Chicago late last fall and agreed on the benefits of forging a special transatlantic partnership between our two offices rooted in the great cities of Glasgow and Chicago. (see: SIF and CAIR agree partnership)

In advance of the conference, SIF organized a week-long speaking tour of Scotland for Yaser and me where we engaged mostly Muslim audiences on some of the pressing issues facing their communities.

Throughout our stay in Glasgow and tour of Scotland, we got to know key members of the Scottish Islamic Foundation including the indomitable Scottish Nationalist, SIF’s Chief Executive Osama Saeed; Board Chairman, Ken Imrie; Youth Director, Faisal Hussein; and Public Affairs Director, Humza Yousaf among others – a truly professional team of committed visionaries.

Scotland Speaking Tour

While we set up camp in Glasgow throughout our stay in Scotland, we travelled to other parts of the country on a daily basis, speaking up north in Aberdeen to students at the University of Aberdeen, in Dundee to a community gathering at a youth center; in Kirkcaldy Fife at the Adam Smith Theatre, as well as in Glasgow.

We spoke about the need for the new generation of Scottish Muslims to embrace both their Scottish national identity and Muslim religious identity as two non-competing tracks that complement each other rather than undermine each other: that Scotland, like America, embraces pluralism, while Islam enjoins loyalty and service to one’s nation.

We spoke about the importance of “professional pro-activism” as a community organizing model that can most effectively and efficiently overcome challenges and build on opportunities. We spoke about theScottish Policeman, Muslim“politics of relevance” and warned audiences against cozying up to self-ghettoization in terms of their social activism as is the case with many communities in Europe and the United States. Instead, we urged them to find inspiration in the values of Islam that rekindle commitment to social services, justice and the common good for the benefit of all of Scotland’s communities.

Everywhere we went, we enjoyed lively question and answer sessions from audience members who raised excellent points and helped generate engaging discussions and debates.

We also visited Edinburgh where we attended the Scottish First Minister’s – Alec Salmond – “Question and Answer session” in the beautifully renovated Scottish Parliament. It was a special experience that exposed us to the skillful – and oft humorous – oratory of Scottish politics. We later had lunch and met with some Members of the Scottish Parliament (SMP’s). We visited Edinburgh’s Central Mosque and were impressed with how well its architectural style melded with Edinburgh’s unique architectural landscape.

In our down time we managed to visit Loch Lomond.

Football Match

Back in Glasgow, we played in annual soccer match between Members of the Scottish Parliament and members of Scotland’s faith communities. We wore yellow jerseys, shorts, and socks, while they wore blue and white. They won 4-3 but Noman Tahir, who scored a brace for us, had a third goal unfairly disallowed for offside. Neither Yaser nor I scored but we held our own, Yaser playing center back, and myself playing right midfield. There was plenty of media there, and a lot of cameras that hopefully did not catch our slip ups, though I do hope that they managed to document the fact that some of those SMP’s sure have a gob (mouth) on them.

The Glasgow Conference: “Scottish Muslim Futures”

SIF’s “Scottish Muslim Futures” conference was held on November 30th at Glasgow’s Hampden Park and drew in audiences from all over Scotland as well as speakers from various walks of life including the Financial, Political, Academic, Activist, Law Enforcement, and Media sectors.

Yaser presented in a mid-day general session panel that included Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Professor Alan Miller, head of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Reverend Ian Galloway of the Church of Scotland, and Glasgow’s Sheikh Amer Jamil.

I presented in a late general session panel that included Professor Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, Grahame Smith, general Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, and Osama Saeed, SIF’s Chief Executive. I also presented in an earlier session panel on media with BBC Scotland Journalist, Arifa Farooq, and Professor Tariq Ramadan.

Yaser and I also enjoyed the benefit of attending other panels and asking questions as members of those audiences. I especially enjoyed a presentation by the Strathclyde Police who showed tremendous sophistication and nuance in their understanding of the illicit manipulation of Islam by violent extremists.

After all was said and done in Scotland, Yaser and I enjoyed a day off in London catching up with old friends before flying back to Chicago to resume our work commitments.

Memorable Experience

Our time in Scotland was highly educational for us as well as highly inspirational. We strongly believe in the promise of SIF which has gotten off to an excellent start, and in the talent and commitment of the SIF team. We believe that SIF can help transform the Scottish Muslim community to become a model of healthy integration and civic and cultural relevance in Europe. (See: My Interview in the Sunday Herald

Scotland itself is a beautiful country with very friendly and welcoming people.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that we also enjoyed some Haggis and Irn Bru, but missed out on the fried Mars bars.

Perhaps, next time.