Clash of the (Scottish Islamic) Tartans

As a Scot, the summer of 2009 was quite hectic for me. I had just passed my Viva [oral exam] at the University of Glasgow and had been informed of my impending summer PhD graduation. I was also an umpire at the Wimbledon Tennis championships where I began to realize the significance of the appropriate outfit for a given occasion, so I spent considerable time thinking about what to wear for graduation.

I decided years ago that I would only don a tartan kilt if I ever got that PhD, but little did I know that the quandary of which tartan to choose would give me sleepless nights. I was told I had a few choices: I could wear the official Glasgow tartan (having been born and raised in the city), the University of Glasgow tartan (as a graduand), or I could just wear any Scottish tartan without reflecting upon detail. In the end I chose the Hebridean Heather for purely aesthetic reasons—it matched the color of my hood. (Officially it’s a heather color but some say it’s pink.)

Tartans continue to fascinate me. The many colors that are woven into intricate clan styles are proudly worn at weddings and cèilidhs (social gatherings with traditional Scottish folk music and dancing). As a Scottish-born Muslim of Pakistani origin I enjoy blending my different identities together, and recently a new ‘Scottish Islamic tartan’ was launched by Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, Humza Yousaf (SNP MSP), Anas Sarwar (Labour MP), and Shaikh Amir Jamil at Glasgow City Chambers, key political figures in Scotland. Ibrahim stated that he had consulted Islamic scholars to bring together the ‘civilizations’ of Islam and Scotland. The Scottish Islamic tartan has also been endorsed by the Sunni-oriented Muslim Council of Scotland.

I have been left scratching my head. Which Islam does this tartan represent? Is it a Sunni Islamic tartan? Does it represent other denominations, such as the Ahmadiyyas or the variety of Shi’ia colors? If this tartan is to strengthen diaspora Muslim identity then which Islamic civilization does it represent? It is wonderful to see Scottish Muslims being proud of their Scottish identity, but let’s not take steps backward to strengthen those age-old generalizations. Islam and Muslims are not a monolith and so weaving everything ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim’ into one tartan may ultimately cause more harm than good.

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