How the Shia Muslim community became visible through humanitarian work and education - Azhar Hussanain
My father, Mohammad Hussnain, came to the UK in 1962; among the first Shia Muslims to settle here. He was born in Ludhiana, India and lived out his youth in a village in Pakistan following the partition. He came to this country – like countless others – in search of opportunity and a good life for his future family. In 1968, he married my mother in Pakistan; she migrated to Scotland in 1970. Unlike some others from the Subcontinent, my father chose to settle in Scotland. Whilst deeply appreciating his traditions, he was intrigued by the ways of the new country he called home. His outlook was good-natured; from early on he recognised the need to transcend the artificial boundaries of race, creed and nationality. My father worked in construction, then as a bus driver, and then moved on to open his own business in partnership with his Hindu best friend of 25 years.
During the 70’s the Edinburgh Shia community was in its nascence. It predominantly comprised migrants from the Subcontinent and was closely linked to the Sunni community; united along ethnic and cultural lines. As the Indo-Pakistani Muslim community grew, its constituent religious denominations gained autonomy from one another. In the 80’s the Shia community established an Islamic Centre in Leith: to use as a place of worship and a cultural centre. The Centre meant that its members had a place in the city to belong; where people of the same faith could share in worship, lessons, community gatherings, and religious occasions. My father became the chairman of this Centre, and even after continued to advise and guide the community. At the turn of the century, the Shia community had matured, but its members – particularly of the second and third generations – were encouraged to contribute more significantly to wider society. In a post-9/11 world, my father and other key figures determined that to educate the public on authentic Islamic teachings was an ever more pressing need. Until then the community was insular and self-contained; it lacked in educational outreach and united public service. Despite being some several hundred members strong, the community lived under the radar. Many Shias had important parts to play in the nation and contributed significantly to it, but as a collective whole the Shias shared no concerted expression of its faith through service, and to realise the social tenets of Islam: to value and uphold justice, charity and humanitarian work, and to teach of Islam’s message of peace, goodness and mercy. This was an incredible shame in a city and indeed a country that prided itself on its diversity–and rightly so!
This inspired the work of the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society; a new chapter in the decades-long story of the Shias of Edinburgh. The Society operates in a twofold manner: through education and humanitarian works. I recall my father being of the view that in volatile times where polarisation and media-bias colours public perception, the most important mechanism of societal healing is education, education, and education. He thus pushed for this city’s first established Shia Islamic school for children. Through this we can instil in our youth the will to make changes for the better, and to continue our legacy. The community’s ethos today reflects Imam Ali’s words: “Man is either your Brother in Faith, or your Equal in Humanity.”