I left Pakistan in early 1953, to come to Britain and settled in Glasgow, Scotland. As a university student and as a member of the All India Muslim Students Federation, from 1944 to 1947, I played an active part in the campaign for the creation of Pakistan. Then during 1947 and 1948, I worked for the rehabilitation of Muslim refugees from India. Thus, I witnessed the sacrifices made by the Muslims of both sides to make Pakistan a reality.
Although I have now lived outside Pakistan for sixty years, my heart is still in Pakistan. Hence, the present state of corruption and lawlessness in Pakistan and especially the frequent bomb blasts in the Mosques, roads and streets all over Pakistan hurt me and cause me much grief. However, the recent atrocity committed against the Christian worshippers during their prayers in a Church at Peshawar, made me and many other Muslims living in this country not only hurt but also deeply embarrassed and indeed ashamed. It is also disturbing to notice some occasions when Christians in Pakistan are subjected to harassment, discrimination and even violence. This is because during my long residence in this Christian country I have always found Christians in general and their Church leaders in particular very tolerant and sympathetic towards Muslims living in this country.
We Muslims living in this part of Britain enjoy equal rights with the Christians. We enjoy religious freedom and respect in this country. All the facilities and concessions available to the Christian Churches are equally available to Mosques. For example when in 1976 the Muslim community in Glasgow purchased a two-acre plot of land from Glasgow City Council to build a Mosque, the Council charged half the market price of the land. The Council explained that, as according to their policy 50 percent discount was allowed on the price of land sold for the building of Churches, the Council would apply the same rule for land sold for the building of the Mosques.
Recently, for a plot of land to build a Mosque in Cumbernauld, a town about 15 miles from Glasgow, the local Council charged the same concessionary price it had charged 10 years earlier for land sold for the building of a neighbouring Church. This was in spite of the fact that the price of land had doubled during those 10 years These are just two examples of the equality for all policies of the local governments.
In Scotland, Christian people and their Church leaders have been very helpful and accommodating towards Muslims especially in regard to the performance of their prayers. In 1985, Mr. Jalal Chaudry a member of the Tablighi Jamaat got a job in a region of Scotland where recently a number of Muslim families had settled. When Mr. Chaudry realized that there was no Mosque and no place for the Juma prayers in that area, he reluctantly went to a Church in Dunfermline (a town about 60 miles from Glasgow) and asked the Minister of that Church if he would kindly allow the Muslims to perform their congregational Friday prayers in his Church. The Minister readily agreed and the Juma prayers were performed in that Church for over a year until Muslim community bought a house and converted it into a Mosque.
In 2010, a Christian Minister became very concerned, when he noticed that, in inclement Scottish weather, some Muslims were praying on the pavement outside the Mosque adjoining his Church. After the prayers were over, he went into the Mosque and told the Imam that he would be glad to allow the overflow of Muslim worshippers in his Church where they could pray in comfort. The Imam thanked the Minister for his consideration and generosity and from then, until an extension was added to the Mosque two years later, Muslim worshippers, who could not be accommodated in the Mosque, prayed in that Church.
Another example of partnership between the Christian Churches in Scotland and the Muslim Community was in the run-up to the 1990 Iraq War. The Scottish Churches and most of the Scottish people expressed their opposition to that war. Scottish Muslims were also against the war. So when Church leaders called a meeting of all the Christian leaders to express their concerns to the British Government against attacking Iraq, they also invited Muslim representatives to attend. One of our Imams and I attended the meeting.
Following that meeting, the representatives of the Christian Churches and Muslims set up the Gulf Reconciliation Committee to make the British Government aware of the anti-war feelings of the Scottish people and other religious communities in Scotland and to urge the Government to solve that problem through dialogue. Despite this weighty opposition, Iraq was invaded. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in May 1991, the British Government decided to hold the National Gulf War Memorial Service in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh. The Gulf Reconciliation Committee opposed and boycotted this Service and instead resolved to hold two Repentance Services. One of these Repentance Services was held in the Glasgow Central Mosque and was attended by Muslims and Christians from all over Scotland.
The second Service was to be held on 19 October 1991, at 6pm, in St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh. However, the Muslims’ evening prayer that day was at 6.15pm. The Minister of the Cathedral was told about that beforehand, hoping that he would provide a separate room for us to go there while the Service was in progress, perform our prayers and return to the Service. However, when we went to attend the Service the Minister of the Church showed us carpets spread on the floor next to the pulpit in the middle of the Church and told us that that was the space for our prayers. He added that the Service would stop at 6.12pm to allow us to perform our prayers and continue after we finish. We were amazed at that empathetic attitude of the Minister. One of us said the Azan in the loud speaker of the Church. After the Azan, our Imam led the prayers next to the pulpit of Scotland’s most important Church. All this happened amidst over one thousand Christian worshippers. This was perhaps the first occasion ever when a Service in a Christian Church was stopped temporarily to allow Muslims to perform their prayers.
The attitudes of Scottish people in general have also been very tolerant and accommodating towards Muslims living in this country. For example when in 1970, I was nominated as a candidate in the Glasgow City Council elections nobody expected me to win. The media pundits and everyone else was predicting my embarrassing defeat. However, against all the odds, the Christian people of that district elected me, a Muslim, to represent them as their Councillor. In fact, I received 56% of the total votes cast against 44% of the votes shared by the other three Scottish Christian candidates. It was an amazing and totally unexpected result. In that district of over 12,000 electors, only about 30 electors were Pakistanis or Muslims. So it was the Christian people who made this miracle of electing the first- ever Muslim City Councillor in Britain. They looked beyond the differences between us and instead focused on the similarities.
Further, in 1997, Mr. Muhammad Sarwar, who incidentally is now the Governor of Punjab, was elected the first Muslim Member of Parliament in Britain. In his constituency, also the great majority of the electors were Christians, local Scots. At present we have nine Muslim Members of Parliament, about a dozen Muslim members of the House of Lords, one member of European Parliament, 2 members of the Scottish Parliament, one member of the Welsh Parliament and over 200 Muslim Councillors in Britain, all elected with the support of mainly Christians electors. These numbers certainly would, at least, double within the next ten years. I do not think that in Pakistan, or in any Muslim country, any Christian has ever been elected by the Muslims to represent them. They only get into the Parliaments and local Councils through minority seats.
In Britain and especially in Scotland Muslims and Christians have come together positively for the greater good of the wider community – their Mosques and Churches are equally respected and treated similarly as places of worship. What has happened in Britain over the last fifty years should set an example and I hope provide a better model of partnership and respect between the Muslim and Christian and indeed all communities in Pakistan – the country of my birth – the country where my hearts lies.