As the rest of the world – and indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom – finally wakes up to the fact that Scotland may well become an independent state in just a few days’ time, I thought it would be appropriate to take a wee look at an episode in Ottoman-Scottish relations. Although the Sublime State never had formal relations with an independent Scotland, the political, economic, and cultural history between the two polities is rich and remains largely unexplored (for now). 

‘İskoçya’ from Cedid Atlas Tercümesi  (1218 / 1803/4), Library of Congress

 Before I left my post in St Andrews this summer, I decided to have a sift through the catalogue of the Ottoman archives to see what sort of Caledonian materials lay therein (and thank you Sotiris Dimitriadis and Irena Fliter for getting hold of the documents for me). As well as details of a strong history of commercial interactions (which I will be writing on more fully in the near future), there were a number of documents on the subject of Scottish Muslims and/or Muslims in Scotland. 

 
For instance, there was an intriguing cover letter from the Ottoman vice consul in Glasgow, James Mutter, to the Ottoman chargé d’affaires in London, Cevad Bey. Just how Mutter, the owner of the Bowmore whiskey distillery at Loch Indaal on Islay, came to be the Ottoman vice consul – as well as that for Brazil – is unclear. Yet evidently the role was not entirely titular. Certainly Ottoman ships would have called at the Glasgow port from time to time, and a number of Ottoman vessels were constructed in the city’s dockyards. But the following note, dated 12 September 1908, speaks of something different:
 

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s letter of 10 instant, and have forwarded to “The Head of the Musulman Community in Dundee” the kind expression of Imperial satisfaction in receipt of their congratulation and expressions of fidelity.

Now, I have been unable to find the correspondence mentioned, and there is no other trace I can find of what exactly the Muslim Community in Dundee congratulated Abdülhamd II about, nor what this society was, nor who its members were. It seems possible, given Dundee’s importance as a port and university city, that there were a number of Indian Muslims studying there who might have subscribed to the Pan-Islamism that was so influential at that time. Indeed, a later survey conducted by the Committee on Indian Students in 1922 showed 235 Indian students studying in Scotland, including 21 at Dundee University College. Whatever the case, it is clear that Dundee had a sufficiently established Muslim presence by 1908, be it through visiting Muslims or British converts, to form an organised community. 
 
The Dundee story was, alas, a dead end in terms of the records, but another document from a few years earlier gives us an insight into some of the intellectual links between Scotland and the Ottoman Empire via Pan-Islamism at the turn of the twentieth century. The note below from the Grand Vizier Mehmet Ferid Paşa to the Education Ministry, dated 25 Muharrem 1321 (23 April 1903), describes some correspondence forwarded from the Ottoman embassy in London to the Foreign Ministry in Istanbul:
 
 One of the members of the British Astronomical Association residing in the town of Kilwinning in Scotland, an individual called Yahya en-Nasr Parkinson who has accepted Islam, has composed [a poem] entitled “An Address to the Children of the Muslims”. He seeks the granting of permission to disseminate and publish the poem in the great name of His Imperial Majesty. The hopeful request of the aforementioned [Parkinson] for the approval of the matter, and certain other addresses, were sent in the copy of the letter taken from the head of the Liverpool Islamic Society, Abdullah Quilliam Efendi.
This Yahya en-Nasr Parkinson – born John Parkinson – was one of a number of British converts to Islam in the early twentieth century, and is definitely the most prominent Scot among them. Certainly there were other important Muslim intellectuals with Scottish connections, most notably the co-founder of the Pan-Islamic Society of London, Dr Abdullah al-Ma’mmun Suhrawardy, one of the visiting Indian students who had undertaken post-graduate studies at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. 
 
Parkinson, however, was born and bred on Scotland’s west coast in the Ayrshire town of Kilwinning, about 20 miles south of Glasgow, a place more notable for its ruined abbey and Masonic history than for any connections with Pan-Islamism. According to a feature article in The Islamic Review, he was descended from an Irish family, had been well-educated and had enthusiastically embraced the pursuit of knowledge, with a particular passion for philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. This is all the more impressive given that he lost both his parents at a young age, and largely educated himself whilst he worked for the Busby Spinning Company in Kilwinning. 
 
At some time around 1900, dissatisfied with the Presbyterianism he professed, and having embarked on a philosophical and religious engagement with Islam, he converted to that religion and began to write a number of poems and articles concerning his new faith, some devotional, some political, some a mixture of the two. To give an idea of his poetry, here is his The Clarion of Islam (which can be found here at British Muslim Heritage along with some of his other works):
 
 

Are the sons of Islam sleeping? / Is the sword of Islam broke? 
Must the Khalif of the Faithful / Bow before the Christian yoke?
Is the martial power departed / From the line of Ertoghrol?
Or the flag of Islam flying / O’er the towers of Istambol?
Keep it flying then ye Muslims / Keep it in its honoured place;
Rally round, ye best and bravest / Of the valiant Turkish race;
Scorning death and peril and hardship / For the name your fathers won,
Every pennon, every falchion / Waving in the morning sun;
Right is on your side, and justice / Soars with every flashing blade;
Marshall then each steady squadron / Marshall then each strong brigade;
In your veins the blood of heroes / Coursing in a crimson tide,
They were not afraid of action / Will their sons the battle bide?
Where is now the fearless manhood / That your worthy fathers knew?
Underneath the Prophet’s banner / Braver hearted never drew;
Have their scions lost the vigour / The imbued those mighty arms
To withstand the strongest cohorts / Revel in the war’s alarms?
Silent in your mausoleums / Wake ye silent dead! I say.
Waken from the sleep of ages! / Teach your sons to lead the fray;
Rise, I say, and teach the Muslims / How to win undying fame
;How to die for home and freedom / How to die for Osman’s name.

 
 
Clearly, Parkinson had not only embraced Islam, but, as this and a number of his other writings demonstrate, passionately supported the caliphate and the legitimacy of the Ottoman sultans to hold that office. Moreover, he seems to have favoured poetry that looked to the exploits of Muslim arms and jihad. His magnum opus, Lays of Love and War (undated but c.1900), included a long poem called The Sons of Islam, that mentioned in the Grand Vizier’s note above, which primarily concerned, in bloody detail, the military victories of Islamic armies:

Sing Taric’s name / His spotless fame,Of Islam’s chivalry the boast;On sunny plain / Of Southern Spain,He overthrew the Gothic host.
They stood at bay / Till seventh day,

Both king and knight in armour bright,
Ran throe’ their hands / The flowing sands,
The glowing sands of life and light.
The lances flash / The armies crash,

The swinging ph’lanx the thund’ring shock;
The ringing shield / The stricken field,
The battle shout, they crash and rock.
Both Prince and Knight / With vassal might,

In ghastly ranks of death they lay;
The blood of lord / Imbued the sword,
When set the sun that stormy day. 

 
As well as this poetry, he published articles frequently, later writing a short treatise on Islamic philosophy. Later, he travelled with his work to Rangoon in Burma where he became involved with local pan-Islamist organisations. A photo of him at a banquet held in his honour in Burma, wearing a fez and a garland on the right, has been posted to the local history site Ayrshire History.
 
During his lifetime, Parkinson was well-regarded as a writer and scholar, for instance being included with great praise in John Macintosh’s The Poets of Ayrshire form the Fourteenth Century till the Present Day (1910). More than this, according to the biographical details given in Macintosh’s book, and in an article on the poet in the Kilmarnock Standard of 2 March 1907 (which you can read here), Parkinson’s work was recognised by the Ottoman state. He was inducted into the Mecidiye order (fourth class) by Abdülhamid II in 1905 in recognition of his literary efforts, and was given the award in a ceremony at the Liverpool mosque by Quilliam. The newspaper article further claimed that: 


His Majesty was so highly pleased that he accepted in gift a copy of the book and ordered it to be rebound in morocco and gilt-edge and interspersed with blank leaves on which a Turkish translation was to be written to assist him with any difficult terms, and the work to be placed in his library for his own private use.

Clearly, the writing of this Scottish Muslim impressed the Ottoman administration, and provided an excellent example of the success of imperial propaganda in inspiring loyalty among the world’s Muslims to the sultan as caliph.
 
Scottish Muslims and Muslims in Scotland established strong links with the Sultan-Caliph during the reign of Abdülhamid II. Some sent letters to the sultan, like the Muslim community of Dundee, and others, like a group Indian students at Glasgow University in 1912, even donated money to help Ottoman war efforts. Parkinson, however, represents the small number of Scots and Scottish residents who embraced Ottoman Pan-Islamism intellectually and culturally, and expressed that affiliation publicly and eloquently. Although his poems certainly fit into the British Victorian tradition (they remind me a lot of Alfred Lord Tennyson), the subject matter of the poems and his articles show a profound engagement with Islam as a faith and a heroic Islamic history and tradition through the prisms of Ottoman loyalism and the merits of holy war. 
 
An obituary to Yahya en-Nasr Parkinson in The Islamic Review in 1918, written by the prominent Pan-Islamist thinker (and member of the Pan-Islamic Society of London) Sheikh Mushir Hosain Kidwai, described his identity in the following manner:

He adopted Islam by conviction, and how sincere he was in that adoption can also be gleaned from his writings and poems. The British nation is well known for its patriotism, it is proud of its nationalism. Islam transcends the limitations of local patriotism and narrow nationalism. Since the time that Mr Parkinson adopted Islam his outlook of patriotism and nationalism also extended.

Nationalism and political Islam continue to be relevant in the story of Scotland. At the moment, Scots have been in the news in two particular contexts. The first is the presence of Scots in the Middle East, either as hostages captured (and, recently, executed) by, or as recruits to, the force that claims to have reestablished the caliphate.  The young Scots who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight share some ideological similarities with Parkinson, although they have chosen to pursue and express their ideology in as different a way as can be imagined.
More notably, Scotland’s referendum on independence has, since it was set at the end of 2013, generated fierce and often divisive debate in Scotland, and, in the past couple of weeks or so, within the rest of the UK. The questions of what shapes Scottish identity, and who should be considered a Scot, have raised a number of issues and fault-lines in Scottish society. The nationalist rhetoric of those for and against independence forces notions of identity to be compressed into small boxes, which inevitably poses problems for Scotland’s religious, ethnic, and national minorities. 
 
Above all, the links between Scottish Muslims / Muslims in Scotland and the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Abdülhamid II demonstrate what many of us appreciate; that the answers to the question of identity cannot be condensed to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Parkinson was clearly a product of British and Scottish culture and society, but chose to adopt an identity that looked beyond the constraints of local national feeling and geographical location. We cannot know what led him to convert, nor what appealed to him about Ottoman Pan-Islamism, nor why his interpretation of Islam and Islamic history developed in the way it did. He certainly seems to have impressed the Ottomans and other Pan-Islamists, but we cannot know their true opinions about him or his beliefs. 
 
Neither can we know whether he retained a sense of ‘Scottishness’ or ‘Britishness’, or how or whether he would have even understood or recognised such terms. We can get a glimpse, however, through Parkinson’s articles. One article published in The Islamic Review in December 1914 (you can read the full article at pp.587-9 here), written just before the Ottomans entered into the First World War, saw him grappling with a problem of loyalty. Many of the articles in these sorts of publications in 1914 supported Muslims fighting for the British Empire, but the prospect of war against the caliphate clearly presented some conflicts of loyalty – at least in public – for people like Parkinson who had expressed such fervent feeling towards the Ottoman dynasty:
 
 

The people of Turkey are allied to the Muslims of the [British] Empire by a common bond and a common creed. If that assertion is of any value there must be sympathy between them in all circumstances – in war or peace. If there is not, those bonds are of no more value than broken reeds or bonds of woven air…Failing any agreement and war [between the Ottomans and Britain] ensued, as a Britisher I would support my country in the contest by every honourable means in my power, to bring matters to a victorious ending, and I think every Muslim in the Empire would do the same. Yet, while doing so, I would regret the necessity that compelled me to fight against Turkey, a people with whom I sympathise on many national ideals and to whom I was bound by the aforesaid bonds. 

After this publication, the articles in The Islamic Review became far less political, doubtless due to the censorship regime as a result of the war. These articles, along with the poems, give us some insight into Parkinson’s identity and self-perception, and I do not doubt that his very public enthusiasm for the Ottoman Empire, the caliphate, and the victory of Muslim arms, must have put him in a difficult position with his fellow-countrymen during the war. He concluded this article by saying that ‘those of us who have long stood by [the Ottoman Empire] in weal and woe, in good or evil days, will still stand by to help with every means in our power, so long as that help does not interfere with our greater duty to our own Empire, to our native land.’ To make such a strong statement of feeling towards what was very soon to be an enemy power, despite the qualifier of loyalty, shows how deep his identity was a Muslim and supporter of the caliphate went, but also, perhaps, shows that he held a number of identities. 
 
Yahya en-Nasr Parkinson’s story represents something important. Whatever the people of Scotland decide for their future on 18 September 2014, the letter of an Ottoman Grand Vizier concerning a Scottish Muslim from a hundred years ago shows that there are many unexplored corridors in the history of Scottish identity, and of Scottish interactions with the wider world. Above all, this kind of archival nugget of a Scot who garbed himself not in tartan or a union flag, but who wore an Ottoman fez, shows that the country’s history and identity is far more complex, relevant, and interesting than the reductive narratives presented in the electoral rhetoric.

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