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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK

Parties target Muslim voters

There are an estimated 50,000 Muslims living in Scotland

BBC Radio 5 Live's Roger Hardy reports on how Glasgow's Muslim community is viewing the Scottish parliamentary elections.

The Muslim community in Glasgow forms a distinct constituency for the parties competing in the elections on 6 May.

While the 50,000 Muslims in Scotland may seem like a small percentage of Scotland's population, most of the country's Muslims live in Glasgow and surrounding Strathclyde.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Roger Hardy reports:
Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is now a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, reflected in the efforts of the political parties to target voters from ethnic minority communities.

Glasgow's central mosque in the south of the city is a symbol of how far Scotland's Muslim community has prospered.

Built in the 1980s, the mosque is now one of the city's landmarks, and the community has expressed pride that it raised most of the money for the 2.75m building costs itself.

Local councillor, Bashir Mann, who came to Glasgow as a young student from Pakistan, said he has seen the community grow since his arrival in 1953.

[ image: Mohammed Sarwar is convinced Labour will prevail]
Mohammed Sarwar is convinced Labour will prevail
He said: "When I came here, there were 400 or 500 Asians, most of them illiterate - only two or three of them could read Urdu.

"Life was hard and you had to be very cautious, very circumspect because at that time there was a lot of discrimination and prejudice against coloured people."

While Mr Mann said there is still discrimination against ethnic minorities, these days it tends to be more covert.

The Muslim community has traditionally voted Labour but the issue of how far it has been caught up in questions about the future of Scotland and influenced by the Scottish National Party's message have still to be answered.

Govan Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar said he is convinced the community is still behind Labour.

He said: "Govan is the constituency with the highest number of people from the Asian community and that is why all of the parties are targeting the Asian vote.

"We have two Asian candidates in Govan, one from the Liberal Democrats and one from the Conservatives.

"The SNP is targeting Asian votes, Labour is targeting Asian votes, but I'm confident the majority of the Asian community in Govan will stand by Labour."

Recent controversy

Mr Sarwar and Labour will be hoping, however, that recent controversy surrounding the Govan MP will not influence the voters.

He was elected to the Westminster Parliament in 1997 as Britain's first Muslim MP but the elation of his supporters quickly turned to anguish when he was accused of corruption and fraud.

Mr Sarwar was later acquitted but now faces the task of restoring his credibility.

Zara, a young Muslim student in Glasgow, did not share Mr Sarwar's confidence that Labour will prevail.

She said: "I think I will vote SNP because Tony Blair has not fulfilled all his promises. Muslims in Scotland are disillusioned with his promises."

Whatever the outcome, it is clear Muslims are taking part in the political life of the country.

Mr Mann said important change is under way as his generation gives way to a younger generation, born in Scotland and with a different sense of identity.

He said: "The second generation call themselves Scottish Muslims, they are totally different. This is their home, they belong to Scotland, they feel Scottish and express themselves as Scottish Muslims."

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