LONDON / ISTANBUL (AA) – A photo showing a man leading his family in prayer after breaking fast at Bute House in Edinburgh went viral on Twitter on Tuesday.
The tranquil scene marked a special moment — the first evening of Humza Yousaf’s residency at the country’s seat of power as the first Muslim to hold the position of Scottish first minister after a key parliamentary vote.
Yousaf, just 37 years old, became the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) on Monday after receiving 52% of the vote in a second ballot.
The son of Pakistani immigrants in Glasgow, he has been involved in community and volunteer work from an early age.
“In December 2003, this young man, 18-year-old Humza, walked into our office to look for voluntary work. I said, no problem, you can do it. I think he just graduated in politics at the time,” Habib Malik, a prominent Pakistani-Scottish social worker and former colleague of Yousaf’s, said in an interview.
He was recounting Yousaf’s first days on the Scotland regional team of Islamic Relief, a UK-based aid group.
Yousaf began his volunteer work at a charity shop, where people donated second-hand clothes and other items. He was assigned to sort clothes out, shelf, and clean them.
“Then, he moved on and he showed interest in a fund-raising activity. So, he was involved in organizing fundraising activities such as concerts, dinners, games, and recreational events,” said Malik.
Yousaf was part of Malik’s core team and he drew attention with his energy and resolve while working for the charity.
“He always had a very positive attitude and was an excellent team player. He helped organize a fundraising concert. One of them was for Sudan in 2004 to raise money, when the country had a crisis.”
Yousaf and Malik worked together as volunteers from 2003 to 2011.
While studying politics at the University of Glasgow in 2005, Yousaf joined the Scottish National Party (SNP), working as an assistant for members of the Scotland’s parliament before becoming the youngest-ever lawmaker in the country at the age of 25.
He was appointed minister for transport and the islands in 2016. During his tenure, he came under fire for driving without insurance, for which he was fined £300 (about $372) and handed six penalty points.
Yousaf became the health secretary in 2021 and during the COVID-19 pandemic received criticism for long hospital wait times.
Role model for young Muslims
Yousaf’s new role as leader of Scotland did not come as a surprise to Malik.
“He has worked tirelessly and very hard, whatever job he has had. So, I am not surprised. He’s a very likable person and a high team member. He had plenty of leadership qualities. He knows how to lead and to motivate people.
“He is a strong believer, very passionate Scottish. He loves Scotland, born in Scotland. He strongly believes in an independent Scotland country as part of Europe.”
Yousaf will face some challenges as first minister, including in a dispute with the UK over Scottish independence.
In his victory speech, Yousaf highlighted the importance of independence for Scots. “I will ensure our drive for independence is in fifth gear. The people of Scotland need independence now more than ever and we will be the generation that delivers it.”
However, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rejected his call for another referendum for Scottish independence.
In 2014, Scotland held an independence referendum in which 55% voted to remain in the UK and 45% voted for independence.
Since the surprise victory of pro-Brexiters in a 2016 referendum – with most Scots voting to stay in the EU – Sturgeon has pushed for a fresh referendum on Scottish independence, but the UK’s Conservative government has said it will not give permission.
Asked what Yousaf’s origins symbolize for the Muslim community in Scotland, Malik said coming from a Pakistani background and being a Muslim send a very positive message to the country’s ethnic minority communities.
“I have spoken to young (Muslim) people, and they see him as a role model and as a truly inspirational figure. This has given a boost to the young Muslims and ethnic minority communities that they see hope that if you work hard, you can achieve to be at the top.”
Muslim people in Scotland are proud of their new leader, according to him.
“He set a beautiful example for the Muslim community. And I have no doubt he will leave a beautiful legacy as well for young people, who would like to choose politics as a career. ”
Roughly 77,000 people or about 1.4% of the total population in Scotland are Muslims, according to a 2011 census.
About 66% of Glasgow’s Muslims are Pakistani.