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.