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Young Muslims in Scotland seek a voice - and rights

In the second part of a series on the conflicts facing Muslims in Europe, the BBC's Islamic affairs analyst, Roger Hardy, discovers strains between younger and older Muslims in Glasgow.

Nazia Iqbal (centre) and friends
Nazia Iqbal (centre) started a campaign for voting rights at her mosque

They are young, Muslim and Scottish - and will not take no for an answer.

I met Nazia Iqbal and two of her friends at the student union of Glasgow's Strathclyde University.

Ms Iqbal, who is the equal opportunities officer, has been making waves ever since she went to the city's Central Mosque and asked to become a voting member.

According to the mosque's constitution, Muslim men and women not only have the right to pray at the mosque - if they are over 18, they are entitled to become voting members and have a say in its running.

But Ms Iqbal, who is 20, was turned down, on the grounds that she is female.

Her response was to start a campaign on Facebook, and complain to the body that regulates Scottish charities.

Pioneers

To find out what was going on, I went to Friday prayers at the Central Mosque to meet one of the community's first-generation pioneers, Bashir Maan.

Now 83, Mr Maan came to Glasgow as a young Pakistani student in the early 1950s.

Bashir Maan
Bashir Maan is one of his community's first-generation pioneers

He became one of the best-known figures in the community and, after joining the Labour Party, the first Muslim councillor in Britain.

The mosque is an impressive structure, occupying a large site beside the River Clyde. It opened its doors in 1984 and can hold more than 2,000 worshippers.

Mr Maan agrees that the constitution opens up membership to both males and females - but criticises Ms Iqbal and her friends for being confrontational.

Some of the younger generation do not want to work with the "oldies", he told me - they think they know best.

For now, it is stalemate. Ms Iqbal has not become a member, the campaign goes on - and the regulatory body has yet to reach a decision.

Is haggis halal?

What is so striking about Glasgow's Muslims is their attachment to a Scottish identity.

A young Islamic scholar, Sheikh Rizwan Mohammed, debates with his students whether Muslims can eat haggis - the Scottish national dish - or wear a kilt.

(His answer is yes to both - provided the kilt is below the knee.)

Another example is Muslim involvement in politics.

My visit coincided with the British election campaign. In the constituency of Glasgow Central, two young Muslims, both in their 20s, were competing for the same seat.

Anas Sarwar was standing as a Labour candidate for the seat previously held by his father, Mohammed.

One of his challengers, Osama Saeed, left the Labour Party in protest at the Iraq war and was the candidate for the Scottish National Party.

The SNP wants independence for Scotland.

In the event, Anas Sarwar retained the seat for Labour. But his party can no longer rely, as it could in the past, on unquestioning Muslim support.


The Muslim community is stagnant
Javed Ali

Among the younger generation, it is not just students like Ms Iqbal who think it is time for change.

At the Andalus Centre, in a former office block in a Glasgow suburb, I met an energetic husband-and-wife team - Kishwar Sultana and Javed Ali.

They not only teach young Muslims the Koran, they take youngsters - girls as well as boys - kayaking and rock climbing.

The parents trust them, says Kishwar Sultana, because they are sensitive to the families' religion and culture.

I asked some of the mothers why they had chosen the centre rather than one of the mosques. They liked its approach to learning, they told me, and its welcoming atmosphere.

The implication is that the more traditional mosques - patriarchal and conservative - are less family-friendly.

"The Muslim community is stagnant," says Javed Ali. It needs new ideas and new leadership to move forward.

Roger Hardy's programme about Glasgow's Muslims, in the Heart and Soul series on the BBC World Service, is broadcast on Wednesday 12 May at 1232 and 1632, with repeats. Or you can listen online .



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