In November 2005 I was asked to speak about the West End on Radio Ramadhan in Glasgow and went along to Woodlands early one Saturday morning to be interviewed by two highly professional young volunteers. Following on from this I was invited to meet the Imam at the Masjid Al-Furqan Mosque in Carrington Street, Mustaqeem Shah, who had been described to me as a charismatic character.
Equipped with this information I set off prepared to meet someone impresssive but also thought that this religious leader would be scholarly, serious and much, much older than Mustaqeem. I was surprised to be met by a very cheerful, young man - Mustaqeem is only 32 and bursting with energy.
I was made very welcome at the Mosque and we chatted about his work in Glasgow over some tea and figs - with a short interruption when people came to the Mosque to pray. Mustaqeem is a very lively conversationalist with lots to say about many topics, he is a family man, and a scholar with umpteen degrees, he can speak six languages (the language of the Mosque is Urdu and Punjabi) and he is absolutely passionate about his role as Imam.
Like many residents of Woodlands, Mustaqeem comes from Pakistan and he was clearly very much affected by the Earthquake disaster and the loss of so many lives in his homeland. He emphasised the ongoing need for support to tackle the terrible conditions in the areas affected by the earthquake and spoke about how fearful he was for the wellbeing of those people living in remote areas.
Despite his anxiety and sadness he retains his commitment to his work within the West End Community. As Imam of Glasgow's Islamic Mission he has a major role to play in 'developing the bridges of understanding between Muslims and other communities'. Thus, whilst he is very committed to working with young Muslims to create social and educational opportunities; and would like to identify a space where facilities could be developed, he also takes on board the problems affecting the whole community. At a personal level he takes an interest in people and tries to help them tackle the wide range of problems they encounter. When you meet him you get the feeling that he must bring a lot of emphathy and compassion to this task.
He has many educational qualifications gained at universities in England and overseas and as well as his theological studies he has gained a degree in law. Mustaqeem is a fine example of someone commited to life long learning and as part of his more recent studies he completed a placement working with prisoners.
In Scotland Mustaqeem is recognised as a religous leader and is a member of the Scottish Interfaith Council, which aims to:
advance public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, traditions and practices of the different faith communities in Scotland including awareness of both their distinctive features and of their common ground and to promote good relations between persons of different religious faiths.
This organisation provides a neutral forum where representatives of different faith communities can meet "on a basis of equality and engage in dialogue and conversation about matters of religious and civic importance"
Back in December I went along to Glasgow Central Mosque Halls, where as part of the Inter Faith Week, people had the opportunity to come together and learn more about Islam and also enjoy a fabulous Indian style buffet. Mustaqeem invited me to come along to this evening, which provided an opportunity for people to meet their neighbous and build on friendships to "ensure a more cohesive and harmonious future for Scotland.".
He played a key role in a very informative event (I learned more about Islam in a few hours than I had in the last 20 years). Mustaqeem was part of a panel that responded to questions and tackled some of the issues that are frequently raised in relation to Islam. There was some debate, for example, with regard to the role of women, and what I particularly found interesting was the informative contribution Islamic women made to this discussion.
As an awareness raising exercise it was a huge success and it was also a very enjoyable evening.
Glasgow has much to tackle with regard to promoting friendship and respect between religions but with people addressing problems like Mustaqeem, with his energy, intelligence and unquenchable good humour, maybe barriers can be broken down.