A revert’s story: finding a Scottish Muslim identity…
I’ve been a Muslim coming on 10 years this September. Was brought up Catholic, in a small mining village outside Edinburgh, predominantly white, predominantly Christian. Really didn’t know anything about Islam, or anything about Muslims, at all. I went to University, started to study Anthropology, studied religion. So part of that meant that I was introduced to Islam on an academic level, to the script, not the cultural stuff…I was like “oh wow, they believe in Jesus! Cool! They believe in one God”- but I has this vision that it was something very Eastern, and possibly was nae for me, but… it answered a lot of my questions. [Mary’s a strong feminist, and found the Islamic Adam and Eve story fitted with her better than the Christian version]. I was like “wow! But I cannae be a Muslim. I like my drink and and I cannae wear a hijab, and I cannae and I cannae”
At the same time, my dad was pretty sick - he got a cancer diagnosis and died within 6 months. So I had the emotional stuff, and then I had this academic [interest]. And they just jelled at the same time… [after some time] I took my Shahada, which means I took my declaration [of faith]. I slowly integrated: and that’s where this whole thing about culture [comes in]. So I’m Scottish and my culture is Scottish. I was trying to find myself, if that’s the right cliche. So I went to the Mela, I describe it as an Asian Gala day: they have food, and things for the kids to do, stalls selling clothes, music [etc]. I did nae know what this was, but I [knew there would be Muslims], and I might get a scarf there. And when I did go, I thought this was how I have to behave. I chose to wear a predominantly South Asian style tunic suit, called something chemise, I can’t even pronounce it. It was nae my thing. I was battling with my identity becoming this new Muslim - who am I now? So I’m not Asian, that does nae work… Not really feeling it when I’m with my Scottish friends now, because they wanna got to Teviot, and get a drink. I even changed my name, to Maryam, which is similar to Mary, because I thought it would be easier. I’ve now reverted back to Mary because I realise there’s absolutely nothing wrong wi’ it.
A year after I took my shahada I was blessed enough to go on Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca]. By this point I knew how to pray, and I was trying to find my style of modesty that suited me. [In Mecca] I fell in love with what they call the Abaya, the long black dress. Realised that that was me, in the respect that I could be whoever I wanted to be underneath. It covered, it was modest, it was comfortable. You could get away with wearing your pyjamas [underneath]… I started running this [food poverty] charity and doing meal vouchers, and found the impact of my Scottish ethnicity along with my visually different look. Today I’m wearing a wee grey hoodie, and I normally wear a black scarf, and even previous to this I wore a niqab, so I covered my face. [People would hear my voice on the phone] and I turn up, looking maybe not what they expected. I’ve had: “actually it’s Mary we’re looking for”, I’m like “yeah I’m Mary”, and they’re [shocked]. And there’s this, what they call, paradigm shift, [they] reassess who you are. Then instead of saying tell me about your [charity], they’ll say “so you’re Muslim?”.If you wanna know the colourful part of who I am, look at my character. Do nae look at what I’m wearing!… So I’ve not got an identity crisis by any means! I choose to dress the way I do, it might seem that it’s ‘non-western’ but ultimately if you look back centuries ago, I went to a Catholic church, and all the grannies wore a scarf on their head. So I’m just wearing what my granny wore!