- Special issue: Mosques, Manses, Muirs, and 'Moors':Representations of Muslims and Islam in Scottish Culture
This special issue of Scottish Literary Review charts diverse perspectives on inter-faith and intercultural encounters, and increasingly transcultural realities, through a range of case studies, literary and otherwise, from the sixteenth century to the present. At first mainly perceived as pertaining to an 'exotic' or 'outside' world, Muslims and Islam have increasingly come to be seen as an integral element of Scotland's internal reality as a socially and culturally diverse nation.
Connections between Scotland and the Muslim world probably go back as far as the early Middle Ages, for instance through trade connections with Moorish Spain and North Africa and through Scottish Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.1 Contact and exchange have been complemented by Christian Europe's constructions of Islam as an Other against which to define itself. This became especially prominent at the time of the crusades, but also persisted afterwards, partly even until today. Post-medieval times saw further commercial exchange, travel, political dealings (conflictual and otherwise), as well as intellectual and cultural contact. Connections intensified with the expansion of the British Empire which brought many Muslims under its sway. Muslim presences in Scotland itself may extend back to isolated cases in the Middle Ages, but grew more notable from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, through incoming servants and sailors, and since the mid-nineteenth century also students. Numbers increased through twentieth- and early twenty-first-century immigration, especially from South Asia, but also from the Middle East and elsewhere. Many of these immigrants and their descendants have come to self-identify as Scots.2 Recent figures suggest that the number of Muslims living in Scotland has risen to between 76,000 and 90,000, constituting between 1.4 and 1.6 per cent of the total population, which makes Islam the second-largest religion in Scotland. Converts to Islam are documented in Scotland since the [End Page v] eighteenth century; their current number has been estimated at around one thousand, but may well be higher.3
Since 2001, repeated terrorism scares, the western 'war on terror', and the recent refugee crisis have intensified debates about multiculturalism, integration, Islamophobia, and the racism often lurking behind western liberalist façades – international phenomena which have also affected Scotland. Whether before or after 9/11, many Scottish Muslims, like members of other minorities, have voiced concerns over their experiences of xenophobia and discrimination. At the same time, many people (including certain members of minority communities) believe that Scotland is at least somewhat less xenophobic than England or other western countries, and that the contemporary Scottish preference for civic over ethnic nationalism makes for a commendably open society with a good potential for accommodating diversity and integrating even relatively recent arrivals into the national body politic as 'new Scots'.4 Sceptics have, however, warned that such one-sided claims obscure the nonetheless very real element of continuing xenophobia and racism in Scottish society that still needs to be tackled.5
Despite all these important factors, Scottish/Muslim connections were long under-researched; a situation which only began to change slowly in recent years. In historical scholarship, pioneering work has been done by Bashir Maan; and there have also been various important post-millennial publications in social science.6 Literary and cultural studies has begun to acknowledge the general importance of diversity in the Scottish canon,7 but so far there is little specialised work on the particular role of Muslims in Scottish literature, other than studies of a few individual writers. This special issue brings together contributions on a range of writers, genres, and periods, combining a selective historical cross-section with some in-depth case studies, and hoping to encourage further research in this thematic field. Our articles trace continuities and changes in the representation of Scottish East/West encounters and Muslim/non-Muslim relations from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century, with a view to exploring a history of discourses ranging from mutual hostility, cultural binarism, and essentialism, to hybridity, solidarity, and transculturalism. Key questions include: How have Islam and Muslims...