Those unwilling to accept difference don’t define who gets to be Scottish
There’s no other feeling like it: as far as my travels take me, when I land at Glasgow Airport, I know I am home.
Being Scottish is such a strong part of my identity, it’s about the big things and the small. It is the accent that is so recognisable; the friendly nature, making it so we talk to anyone and everyone irrespective of time and place. It’s the gentle humility, knowing that arrogance and boastfulness are not well received. It’s about offering to carry someone’s bags up the road or needing a cup of tea at the end of the day.
My parents always taught me that it didn’t matter what people looked like, we should always offer a helping hand. I feel that is fundamental to what it means to be a Scot.
In my current role as the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, I represent and engage with communities across the UK. My work has meant I have an even greater appreciation of the importance of including others, no matter the distance and differences between. In doing so, we only strengthen society.
Growing up in Scotland, I feel things have changed greatly over time, and society has become more welcoming of said differences. I have many facets to my identity and I remember how there was a point where being Asian, Muslim and Scottish felt like having two mutually exclusive identities – it was either the former, or the latter.
I also remember the challenges I faced when I put my headscarf on and when trying to get a job; the difficulty taking public transport and getting strange looks; people expecting broken English or being racist simply because I looked different, the pervasiveness of what is now recognised as Islamophobia. At the time, I struggled to reconcile my lived experience with the perceived friendliness and warmth of Scottish communities.
Over time, as attitudes have evolved, my experience as a visibly Muslim Scottish woman of South Asian extraction has changed for the better. Although challenges pertaining to racism and Islamophobia still exist, we don’t have to accept them as the norm – we can be part of the voices that call it out. I feel confident that just as we recognise that there is no place for racism or discrimination, we should also recognise that our differences enrich society and should be celebrated.
Looking ahead, I think we still have much work to do in creating a Scotland that can offer young and diverse communities the best opportunities. History has seen Scots pioneering in all spaces and our present sees some of the best talent continuing to benefit others. Our future should be a Scotland that leads by example in this vein.
People still sometimes look bewildered when I start speaking, unable to identify my accent or that I define myself as Scottish. These are now teachable moments, offering the beauty of opportunity. Ultimately, those unwilling to accept difference don’t define who gets to be Scottish; they don’t get to define me, I do. Scotland will always be a part of my story. Scotland is home.
Zara Mohammed is the general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. This article appears in Holyrood's Caledonian Companion
For a 2022 Holyrood interview with Mohammed, click here: Zara Mohammed: The change-maker
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