Representing Muslims in Scotland and the North-East: A Series of Seminars with British Muslim Writers, Poets and Filmmakers

Authors, poets and filmmakers of Muslim heritage are producing some of the most exciting and politically engaged fiction and film in the UK today. This century’s climate of Islamophobia in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 bombings, 2013’s Woolwich attack and the more recent case of extremist Muslims from the UK joining the so-called Islamic State, has contributed to a number of British authors with a Muslim background examining issues related to cultural difference, social exclusion, multiculturalism, religion, current geopolitics, migration and national identity with greater momentum. However many British writers and filmmakers of Muslim descent, such as Monica Ali, have also described how events on the global and local scene have placed a burden on them to speak on behalf of their supposed ‘communities’, and to incorporate commentaries on the socio-political ramifications of identifying as Muslim in the UK into their work.

Critical attention towards novels, poetry and cinema from British writers and filmmakers of Muslim heritage has tended to focus on those based in London and cities such as Bradford or Manchester. Whilst this focus reflects both the comparatively larger size of the Muslim population in these metropolitan areas as well as the number of authors and filmmakers working in these regions, it can also render cultural production from Muslim writers, poets and filmmakers living in areas such as Scotland and North-East England into a marginal position. In this seminar series, funded by the University of Edinburgh’s Alwaleed Centre, this balance will be redressed with a public series of readings and interviews, including a film screening, with three acclaimed authors and filmmakers of Muslim heritage, Leila Aboulela, Iyad Hayatleh, and Tina Gharavi, based in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Newcastle respectively. The series will begin with an introductory critical perspective on the history of Muslim representation of Britain from Dr Claire Chambers, University of York.

This seminar series is poised at a historic juncture for Scotland and the UK. Following last year’s independence referendum and the prospect of further devolved powers to Scotland, there has been a widespread interrogation of what it means to be Scottish as well as what it means to be British. In their work Aboulela, Hayatleh, and Gharavi examine issues of Britishness, and the internal hierarchies and relationships of class, gender and ethnicity within this collective identity, as well as the complex negotiation of Muslim cultural and religious identities in the current political climate. By bringing together these three authors and filmmakers at this time, this seminar series seeks to gain a fresh perspective on the frequently fraught negotiation of ‘British Muslim’ identities.

Each event will begin with a short introduction, a reading or viewing of their work, and an interview by current PhD students Sibyl Adam or Peter Cherry. The talks are public – everyone is welcome. There will be a chance for the audience to ask questions at the end of each event.

All events will be in the Project Room on the first floor of 50 George Square, University of Edinburgh.

Claire Chambers – 20th January – 7.15pm, Project Room

‘Muslim Literary Representations of Britain, 1780−Present’

Claire Chambers is a lecturer at the University of York. Claire is an expert in contemporary South Asian literature written in English and in literary representations of British Muslims. Her book British Muslim Fictions: Interviews with Contemporary Writers was published in 2011. This year Claire published, with Caroline Herbert, Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations. She is currently completing her second book, Representations of Muslims in Britain, a monograph tracing the development of artistic depictions of UK-based Muslims from the eighteenth century to the present day. This lecture is in conjunction with the English Literature Department, who are kindly providing wine after the talk.

Claire’s profile on the University of York website can be seen here:

Leila Aboulela – Reading and Q&A – 3rd February – 5.30pm, Project Room

Born and raised in Sudan, Leila Aboulela is an award-winning writer who now lives in Aberdeen from where she has penned three renowned novels, The Translator (1999), Minaret (2005) and Lyrics Alley (2011), as well as a collection of short stories, Coloured Lights (2001), and a BBC Radio 4 commissioned play, The Insider (2013). Much of this output has examined the ways that religious faith, gender and class are ‘translated’ between cultures in trademark elegant and understated prose. Leila has said of her work: ‘I want to show the psychology, the state of mind and the emotions of a person who has faith. I am interested in going deep, not just looking at ‘Muslim’ as a cultural or political identity but something close to the centre, something that transcends but doesn’t deny gender, nationality, class and race.’ Refreshments will be available after the talk.

For more information about Leila and her writing, please see her website here:

Iyad Hayatleh – Poetry reading and Q&A – 17th February – 5.30pm, Project Room

Glasgow-based Iyad Hayatleh is a Palestinian poet and translator who moved to Scotland from Syria in 2000. His first collection of poems, Beyond All Measure, was published in 2007 and since then he has collaborated with the Scottish poet Tessa Ranford on a two-way translation project for a book, Rug of a Thousand Colours, with poems inspired by the Five Pillars of Islam. Refreshments will be available after the talk.

For more information about Iyad and his work, please see his website here:

Tina Gharavi – Screening of Last of the Dictionary Men and Q&A – 5th March – 5.30pm, Project Room

Tina Gharavi is a BAFTA-nominated filmmaker and screenwriter of Iranian heritage whose films and documentaries have examined her own experiences travelling from her adopted hometown of Newcastle to Tehran in Mother/Country (2001), recording the history of Yemeni migration to the North-Eastern English town of South Shields in Last of the Dictionary Men (2008) and documenting the lasting impact of American boxer Muhammad Ali’s extraordinary visit to the Muslim communities in South Shields for her 2008 film, The King of South Shields. Her first full length fiction film I Am Nasrine (2012) traced the arrival of two Iranian asylum seekers to Newcastle and gained Gharavi her first BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. Refreshments will be available after the talk.

For more information on Tina and her work, please see her website here:

Follow Tina on twitter here:

Poster advertising the seminar series available for download: Representing Muslims in Scotland and the North-East