Sales of Scotland’s Islamic tartan surge amid questions of religious, national identity

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A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)
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A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)
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A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)
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A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)
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A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)
Updated 15 September 2019

Sales of Scotland’s Islamic tartan surge amid questions of religious, national identity

  • Renewed interest comes at a time of increasing questions of identity
  • A Muslim academic created the design for fabric, traditionally associated with Scottish clans and institutions

LONDON: Sales of a specially designed Scottish Islamic Tartan are soaring thanks to a surge of interest linked to timely questions of religious and national identity.

The tartan was introduced seven years ago to stand alongside the traditional woolen fabrics that proudly represent Scottish clans and institutions. It was designed in 2012 by Scottish Muslim academic, and Arab News columnist, Dr. Azeem Ibrahim to celebrate the histories of Scotland and Islam, and highlight and promote the dual heritage of the two communities in an attempt “to overcome religious intolerance and cultural discrimination.”

The mill that weaves the Islamic tartan fabric said that sales have been steady since it was launched but suddenly increased in the past week after an image and details of the tartan went viral on social media.




A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)

“The sale of most tartans is a steady trickle, generally, and we normally expect a few orders a week,” said Nick Fiddes, managing director of DC Dalgliesh and CLAN.com, which describes itself as the world’s only hand-crafted tartan mill. “The volume went up by four to six times, perhaps. It was very noticeable and we had no idea why at first. It was quite mysterious.”

The sudden interest came after Canadian academic Laura Morlock, who specializes in religious attire, posted a tweet on Sept. 5 about the tartan.

“Scotland has officially created a tartan to honor its Muslim citizens,” she wrote. Despite coming seven years after the launch of the fabric, the post was retweeted 13,000 times and liked by more than 50,000 people.

Morlock said the response to her post suggested that drawing attention to the tartan must have resonated at a time when Muslim communities in the West, and particularly the US, are feeling more isolated.

“I think people responded differently to learning about this because it hits a nerve at a time when hate crimes (particularly those against religious communities) are on the rise, and the news is full of federally mandated nationalistic cruelty around the globe,” she wrote in her blog.

Fiddes said the tartan is part of a Scottish-Islamic venture that aims to bring the two communities closer together.

“This is one thing I love about tartans,” he said. “It is saying that Muslims are a part of Scotland too, due to cultural significance.”

Tartans are produced in a variety of colors and patterns of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical lines and stripes, and form part of Scotland’s national dress, most notably in the kilt.

“The Islamic tartan was essentially the Scottish-Muslim identity being weaved together in the same way that the tartan is weaved together through its strands,” said Ibrahim, who is director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington.

Muslims have been coming to Scotland since the late 18th century, when sailors from India, Pakistan, Yemen and Malaysia began to arrive in Glasgow on merchant ships. The Muslim population grew substantially after World War II, and a 2001 census indicated that 42,550 Muslims lived in Scotland at that time. Today the figure is estimated to be about 75,000.

FASTFACT

Theological explanation

The tartan design incorporates several Islamic and Scottish elements - the blue represents the Scottish flag (Saltire) and green represents the color of Islam. Five white lines represent the five pillars, six gold lines represent the six articles of faith and a black square for the Kaaba.

In designing a tartan for this community, Ibrahim consulted some of the top tartan designers in the country. The theological explanation behind the final design is that it incorporates several Islamic and Scottish elements. The blue in the pattern represents the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag, and green represents the color of Islam. There are five white lines to represent the five pillars of Islam, and six gold lines representing the six articles of faith. A black square represents the Kaaba in the Great Mosque in Makkah.

At the time the tartan was launched, there was a debate about independence for Scotland, and a national referendum on the question of splitting from the rest of the UK was held two years later.

The Islamic tartan brought “a new focus to what it means to be a Scot,” Ibrahim wrote in 2012. “Muslim communities in Scotland are particularly sensitive to the complexities of culture, race and religion that are perceived as an integral part of Scottishness,” he added.

“Therefore the idea of a Scottish Islamic Tartan seemed to me to be the perfect symbol of the future generation in particular, for the younger, educated Muslims caught between two cultures: East and West, traditional and modern. Instead of conflict, the tartan represents a tightly woven blend of tradition and heritage.”




A specially designed Scottish Islamic tartan, released seven years ago, is having a revival in sales following questions of religious and national identity in Scotland. (Photo: Supplied/Azeem Ibrahim)

Ibrahim was initially puzzled as to why interest in the tartan is on the rise now.

“I think it is something that nobody ever understands, when things will go viral,” he said. “A couple of people tweeted it and then it became absolutely nuts and it has gone all over the world.”

The boost in the profile of the tartan comes at a time when the United Kingdom is preparing for its departure from the European Union. Many believe this increases the likelihood of a renewed push for Scottish independence, given that Scotland voted overwhelmingly in the 2016 UK referendum on Brexit to remain in the EU.

“There’s certainly much more interest in people’s identities and people’s affiliations and how people feel about their personal (sense of) belonging: what exactly they belong to,” said Ibrahim.

The Islamic tartan was not introduced for commercial purposes, he added, but rather as a public-relations exercise “to celebrate Scottish-Islamic identity as these two civilizations have made an immense contribution to humanity.”

Ibrahim said he has presented a number of scarfs and ties from the Islamic tartan to world leaders and dignitaries, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and many others.

One of the people who appeared in the original promotional images for the tartan's launch in 2012 was Scottish National Party politician Humza Yousaf, who is now Scotland’s justice minister.

It was "an importantly symbolic initiative that brought together the various strands of our multifaceted identities as Scots, Muslims, etc.,” he said.


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.