Edinburgh and the World of Islam
An interactive walking tour highlighting the many historical and contemporary connections between Scotland's capital city and the Muslim world.
The relationship between the World of Islam and the West has many different dimensions, including the historical, the political, the social, the cultural, and the economic, as well as of course the religious. Many of these dimensions are illustrated in the history of the relationship between the City of Edinburgh and the World of Islam, and it is these features which this walk is designed to highlight, focusing as it does on a number of different sites around the city which have some kind of connection with the World of Islam.
Some of these connections are more obvious than others, but between them they illustrate the global reach which the city has had over the centuries; they also illustrate the fact that, not surprisingly, these links have sometimes been positive, in terms of demonstrating mutually beneficial cultural interactions, but also sometimes more negative, with several sites pointing to some of the military confrontations which have taken place over the centuries.
This walking tour comprises five individual tours in five different geographical regions of Edinburgh:
- North Edinburgh
- The West End
- The Royal Mile
- South Edinburgh
Each tour can be found below and comes complete with a Googlemap which will guide you through the route.
List of sights:
- Botanic Gardens, Inverleith
- Annandale Street Mosque, 43-45 Annandale Street
- Scottish Muslim Funeral Services, 28 East London Street
- Shah Jalal Mosque, 8a Annandale Street
- Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street
- Dundas Monument, St Andrew Square
- Scott Monument, Princes Street
- Scottish National Gallery, The Mound
- Hadeel Palestinian craftwork, 123 George Street
- Charlotte Square
- Birthplace of David Roberts, 8 Gloucester Street (not on Google Map Tour)
Botanic Gardens, Inverleith
In Inverleith, north of the city centre, is the Royal Botanic Garden and Arboretum. Here, amidst the 350-year old collection of plants from all over the world, are thirty-six specimens sent to the Garden from Aleppo, Syria, by Adam Freer (1747-1811). Freer was the third in a succession of remarkable Scottish doctors who worked in the city as physicians to the Levant Company, the main English, later British, Trading Company with the Ottoman Empire. Alexander Russell held the post from 1740-1754, and was succeeded by his half-brother Patrick, who worked in the city from 1750-1772, and then Freer, who held the post until 1781.
In 1756 Alexander Russell published The Natural History of Aleppo, with a second, much-expanded, edition, being published by Patrick in 1794; in the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment, the works describe the flora and fauna in and around the city, their uses in agriculture and medicine, and much else, including the customs, manners and culture of the inhabitants, and the literature, music, and religion of the city, together with its history and physical layout. The work is an eighteenth-century forerunner of the better-known 19th century works of Edward Lane on Egypt, and E.G. Browne on Iran, and the recent study of the Russells by Janet Starkey makes very clear how original their work was. You might also be interested this video produced by the Alwaleed Centre exploring Garden and Landscape Design in Safavid Iran and Mughal India by Prof. Attilio Petruccioli.
Subsequently, the Botanic Garden has continued to play an active part in ongoing research in the Muslim World, for example making a considerable contribution to the 9 volume Flora of Turkey, published by Edinburgh University Press between 1965 and 1985, with supplements in 1988 and 2000 (see Asceric-Todd 2018).
Annandale Street Mosque, 43-45 Annandale Street
Approximately a mile to the southeast of the Botanic Garden, at 43-45 Annandale Street, is one of Edinburgh’s main community institutions for Muslims in the city, the Anwar e Medina Mosque. This mosque caters mainly for the city’s Pakistani community, which is the largest element of the city’s Muslim population, 58.5% according to the census of 2011. In 2011, to mark the 10th anniversary of the events of 9/11 in New York and Washington DC, with the support of the Alwaleed Centre, British Muslim graffiti artist Muhammad Ali painted a mural on a wall next to the mosque which combines a hadith/saying of the Prophet Muhammad which urges people to ‘spread peace among yourselves’ with the words of a traditional Gaelic blessing. (For further details, see Graffiti artist unveils Islamic mural with Celtic twist.
Scottish Muslim Funeral Services, 28 East London Street
Just round the corner, at 28 East London Street, is the office of Scottish Muslim Funeral Services, who provide undertaking services for Muslim communities across Scotland (see Scottish Muslim Funeral Services). Their website also has a very useful Guide to Muslim Funerals, which includes helpful guidance to non-Muslims who wish to attend a Muslim funeral (see Muslim Funeral Guide - Scottish Muslim Funeral Services).
Shah Jalal Mosque, 8a Annandale Street
Back on Annandale Street, on the opposite side of the road, at 8a Annandale Street, is the Shah Jalal Mosque; this provides facilities for prayer and community activities for Edinburgh’s Bangladeshi community.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street
A few hundred yards to the southwest, up Leith Walk and along York Place, Edinburgh’s First New Town, constructed in the final quarter of the 18th century, is entered, and the first of Edinburgh’s Museums and Galleries is encountered, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, at 1 Queen Street. In Room 7, on the second floor, which focuses on ‘The Remaking of Scotland: Nation, Migration, Globalisation 1760-1860', there are four paintings which illustrate different aspects of the relationship between Scotland and the World of Islam. Firstly, on the left-hand wall as you enter the room from the vestibule, is a painting of Mohamed Ali Khan Walejah, Nawab of the Carnatic (the area round Chennai/Madras), painted by George Wilson; a European-style painting of an Indian Muslim ruler serves as an interesting example of cultural mingling as British influence expanded in the sub-continent during the course of the 18th century (Mohamed Ali Khan Walejah, 1717 - 1795. Nawab of the Carnatic | National Galleries of Scotland).
Further along the same wall, ‘The Slave Market, Constantinople’, painted by Sir William Allan (1782-1850) in 1838, is an early example of the genre which is now called ‘Orientalism’, which sometimes focused on the more exotic aspects of the Muslim World. Allan spent the best part of a decade between 1805 and 1814 in Russia and the Ottoman Empire, including the area round the Black Sea, returning to the region in 1829-30 with the ambassadors who were negotiating the treaty for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. This picture is thus based on first-hand experience in Istanbul, with an Egyptian slave-merchant selling a Greek girl to a Turkish Pasha, and the theme demonstrates clearly both the painter’s opposition to slavery and his sympathies with regard to the relations between Greeks and Turks (see The Slave Market, Constantinople | National Galleries of Scotland, and Macdonald 2000, pp. 92-5).
To the left of this painting is a portrait of Allan by William Nicholson, painted in 1818; in the picture Allan is portrayed wearing a Circassian vest, and carrying a bow which was traditionally used by Circassian warriors. These were among the objects which he acquired during his travels round the Black Sea (see Sir William Allan, 1782 - 1850. Artist. (In Circassian dress) | National Galleries of Scotland). On the other side of the picture of the slave market is a self-portrait of another important Scottish artist, Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841); Wilkie is best-known for his portrayal of scenes from Scottish life, but later in life he began to explore France, Italy and Spain, and his final journey was to the Ottoman Empire in order to see for himself the locations of Biblical events. He died at sea on the return journey from this trip (see Sir David Wilkie, 1785 - 1841. Artist (Self-portrait) | National Galleries of Scotland).
On the opposite wall of the room, next to the entrance through to Room 8, is a pair of paintings by Philip James de Loutherbourg illustrating the start of British military involvement in another part of the Islamic World, namely Egypt, during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1798 Napoleon invaded Egypt, with a view to protecting French commerce and restricting British communications with India, and although he himself returned to France in the following year, the French army remained in the country until 1801, when a British army under Sir Ralph Abercromby landed at Aboukir (now part of Alexandria) on 8th March, and went on to defeat the French at the Battle of Alexandria on 21st March. It is these two events which are portrayed in these paintings, which were painted very shortly after the events which they portray, in 1802 (see The landing of British troops at Aboukir, 8 March 1801 | National Galleries of Scotland, and The Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801 | National Galleries of Scotland). Abercromby was fatally wounded in the battle, and there is a portrait of him, painted by John Hoppner in around 1787, further along to the right on the same wall (see Sir Ralph Abercromby, 1734 - 1801. General | National Galleries of Scotland). There is also a street named after him, Abercromby Place, just to the north of the gallery.
The Gallery also holds portraits of a number of other Scots who figure in this guide, such as Sir Walter Scott (Room 5)), and Thomas Carlyle (Room 10), together with a painting, by Edward Clifford, of Ion Keith-Falconer (1856-1887), who served as a Church of Scotland missionary in Aden until his death from malaria (see Ion Keith Falconer, 1856 - 1887. Arabic scholar, missionary and sportsman | National Galleries of Scotland).
In 2011 the gallery organised an exhibition entitled Scottish Family Portraits, consisting of a series of 14 photographs of significant Scottish Muslims of Pakistani heritage, by German photographer Verena Jaekel. This is available online, at Verena Jaekel | National Galleries of Scotland, and one of the portraits is usually on display, on a rotating basis, in Room 12, on the first floor of the gallery, which focuses on ‘The Modern Portrait’.
Dundas Monument, St Andrew Square
Just to the south, in the middle of St Andrew Square, is a monument to Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, which has been a focus of some controversy recently, in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement and debates about Britain’s colonial history. As a young man, Dundas took part in an important legal case which established that slavery would be illegal in Scotland, but at a later stage, having risen to become Minister of War under William Pitt the Younger, at the time of the war against Napoleon, Dundas argued against the immediate abolition of the slave trade, as advocated by Lord Wilberforce and others. It has been calculated that, as a result of this delay, some half million slaves were transported across the Atlantic between 1792 and 1807, and for this reason Dundas has become a controversial figure.
The statue of him on top of the column was paid for by officers of the Royal Navy, in gratitude for the support he gave to this service, and Dundas was also hugely influential in the affairs of the East India Company, as securing his patronage opened doors for a number of ambitious young Scots to gain significant positions within that company as it expanded its influence in South Asia at the expense of the (Muslim) Mughal rulers of the sub-continent.
Scott Monument, Princes Street
A little further to the south, on Princes Street, opposite the end of St David Street, is one of the world’s largest monuments to a writer of fiction, the Scott Monument, constructed in 1840-1846. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is generally credited with having invented the historical novel, and although the vast majority of his works of this kind were set in either Scotland or England, one, The Talisman, first published in 1825, was set in the Middle East, in the era of the Crusades. On this basis, among the 68 statues on the monument are two characters from this novel, Saladin (Arabic name Salah al-Din, the ruler of Egypt and Syria between 1171 and 1193), and Richard Coeur de Lion, King Richard I of England, alongside Friar Tuck (of Robin Hood fame). They are located on the southeastern buttress, diagonally opposite from the former Jenners store, on the upper tier of the monument, above the gargoyle, with Saladin looking towards Edinburgh Castle, Friar Tuck next to him, and Richard I, perhaps appropriately, looking east (see also 5h below).
Scottish National Gallery, The Mound
The next building to the west of the monument, just before The Mound, is the Scottish National Gallery. Here, in Room 11, on the theme of ‘Rococo to Revolution 1700-1815', is a large painting by one of Scotland’s leading painters of the 18th century, Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), of James Dawkins and Robert Wood discovering the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. As well as painting, Hamilton was seriously interested in archaeology, and this painting is an early example of the developing interest in this field in Europe in the Enlightenment era (see James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra | National Galleries of Scotland).
On the other side of Room 11 is a small painting by Edinburgh-born David Roberts (1796-1864) of St Patrick’s Church, on the Cowgate in Edinburgh (see St Patrick's Church, Cowgate, Edinburgh | National Galleries of Scotland). As well as producing a large number of watercolours of Scottish and European scenes, Roberts produced a very large number of paintings of Middle Eastern locations, particularly focusing on Egypt and Israel-Palestine, to which he travelled in 1838-9 (see David Roberts | National Galleries of Scotland). Roberts was also an experienced painter of theatre sets, and this gave him a fine appreciation of architectural scale, which he was able to put to good use in, for example, his 1842 painting of the Temple of Baalbec in Lebanon (see Baalbec | National Galleries of Scotland). There is a fine portrait of him in Arab dress, by Robert Scott Lauder (see David Roberts, 1796 - 1864. Artist (In Arab dress) | National Galleries of Scotland, ( you will the final sight on this tour is David Roberts' birthplace at 8 Gloucester Street).
Room 12 of the gallery, on the theme of ‘Painting as Spectacle 1785-1870’, contains one example of this theme which is related to the World of Islam, namely the portrayal by Sir David Wilkie of General Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo Sahib after having Captured Seringapatam on 4th May 1799. Tippoo (or Tipu) Sultan, who ruled Mysore (in southwest India) from 1782-1799, was an inveterate opponent of the British as they sought to expand their influence in southwest India, and this representation of the discovery of his body at the conclusion of the fourth Anglo-Mysore War, was painted in 1839, 40 years after the event (see General Sir David Baird Discovering the Body of Sultan Tippoo Sahib after having Captured Seringapatam, on the 4th May, 1799 | National Galleries of Scotland). The tone of the painting is the diametric opposite from that of the famous Tippoo’s Tiger, probably made around 1795 and now in the Victoria and Albert Musuem in London, which is a life-size representation of a tiger mauling a European (probably British) soldier (see V&A · Tippoo's Tiger (vam.ac.uk).
In the second half of the 19th century, Arthur Melville (1855-1904) also travelled widely in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Spain and Italy, and his work has been the focus of a recent exhibition at the Gallery (see Arthur Melville | National Galleries of Scotland.
Hadeel Palestinian craftwork, 123 George Street
Moving westwards through the New Town, Hadeel, at 123 George Street, is a retailer and distributor of Palestinian craftwork such as textiles, jewellery, and woodwork (see Fair Trade Palestinian Crafts - Hadeel - Fair Trade Palestinian Crafts). The shop is just next to the headquarters of the Church of Scotland at 121 George Street, and the church’s logo represents the Burning Bush which was encountered by Moses, in Exodus (chapter 3, verses 1-6), an incident which is also referred to in the Qur’an (chapter 20, verses 9-16).
At the very western end of the New Town is Charlotte Square, normally the location each August of the Edinburgh International Book Fair, which brings together writers and commentators from all over the world, including the Middle East and the wider Islamic World, such as Sudanese novelist Leila Aboulela and Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh.
Birthplace of David Roberts, 8 Gloucester Street
Finally, a short distance north of the square, reached through the fine architecture of the Moray Estate, is the birthplace of artist David Roberts, at Duncan’s Land, 8 Gloucester Street. Just next door, above a door belonging to a Thai restaurant, is a stone lintel, dated 1605, exhorting passers-by to ‘Fear God Onlye’.
List of Sights:
- First Turkish bath in Edinburgh
- Statue of W.E. Gladstone
- Turkish Consulate
- Dean Cemetery
First Turkish bath in Edinburgh
The walk around the West End of the city, the area to the west of the Queensferry Road, has a Turkish theme. First of all, at 12 Stafford Street, is the site of one of Edinburgh’s Turkish baths, which, as a plaque in the pavement outside indicates, was run by William Fielding, who had run a similar business in New York. Turkish baths were extremely fashionable towards the end of the 19th century, and among those which still exist today, the private Drumsheugh Baths Club in Dean Village retains some Moorish features (in the sense of a 19th century Romantic style which looked back to Spain’s Islamic past), even if the original building, which had many such features, was burnt down in 1892. Among baths open to the public the Portobello Baths, in the northeast of the city, continues to offer the experience of a Turkish bath for a modest fee. What are today called ‘Turkish’ baths were not, of course, originally Turkish, but rather Roman; the story of how they disappeared from Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West but lived on in those parts of the Middle East which became Turkish in the days of the Ottoman Empire, and were then reintroduced to Europe as ‘Turkish’, is an interesting example of cultural transmission.
Statue of W.E. Gladstone
A few yards to the west, in the middle of Coates Crescent, on the north side of Shandwick Place, is a statue of W.E. Gladstone. Four times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gladstone represented different constituencies in both the north and south of England from 1832 to 1880, but his final constituency, from 1880-1895, was Midlothian, the area which includes the City of Edinburgh, and in order to secure election he ran what has been called the first ‘modern’ political campaign, utilising the power of both speeches and pamphlets to arouse public opinion. The issue on which the campaign focused was the policy of Ottoman Turkey towards the Christian population of the Balkans, especially in Bulgaria, and, in contrast to the policy of Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, which was to support the Ottoman Empire against Russia, Gladstone advocated the idea of a world community, based on common humanity and the brotherhood of man, and protecting the weak. The rhetoric worked, with Gladstone replacing Disraeli as Prime Minister in 1880, but two years later, ironically, Gladstone’s government was responsible for the British occupation of Egypt, which lasted, in different ways, until 1956. (See also 2h above).
A short distance to the north, at 39 Drumsheugh Gardens, is the fine building, originally built at around the time of Gladstone’s Midlothian Campaign, which is today the Turkish Consulate in Edinburgh. Turkey is the only Muslim-majority country which currently maintains a consulate in Edinburgh, perhaps partly on the basis of an ambition which is shared with Scotland for closer relations with the European Union, and the first Turkish consul in Edinburgh, Semih Lütfü Turgut, who was appointed in 2014, served for a time as Dean of the Consular Corps in the city.
Among diplomats who travelled in the other direction, to represent Britain in Istanbul, a notable one is Robert Liston, who served as British Ambassador in the city from 1812-1820. Born in Kirkliston, just to the west of Edinburgh, near the airport, Liston served at a difficult time in international relations, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, and his wife Henrietta provided a vivid chronicle of their time and travels in and around Istanbul. These journals have recently been published, and the National Library of Scotland organised an informative exhibition to mark their publication.
Beyond the West End, and on the other side of the very picturesque Dean Village, on the banks of the Water of Leith, is Dean Cemetery, 63 Dean Path, where many of the city’s most significant figures are buried. Among those who had connections with the World of Islam are the painter Sir William Allan, whose gravestone is against the wall on the right of the main entrance, which divides the original cemetery from its late Victorian extension and Sir William Muir, the scholar of Islam, whose gravestone is on the south side of the cemetery, on the lower terrace.
List of Sights:
- Holyrood Palace
- Scottish Parliament
- Morocco's Land
- Cashmere shops
- City Chambers/Royal Exchange
- Gladstone’s Land
- Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland
- Camera Obscura
- Castle Esplanade
- Edinburgh Castle
- Hanam’s Restaurant
The main thoroughfare of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Royal Mile links some of the city’s most famous landmarks. At its eastern end Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official residence when she is in Edinburgh. A recent news story has revived the claim, first made by Burke’s peerage in 1986, that the Queen is a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, via the Arab rulers of medieval Spain. The claim was revived by the BBC Arabic service in 2018, and an article in ‘The Economist’ attempts to explain why the claim might have been revived at that time.
The Queen's Gallery, at the entrance to the palace, sometimes has exhibitions related to the World of Islam, with two recent ones being ‘Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent’ in 2020, and ‘Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East’ in 2014.
Just opposite Holyrood Palace is the Scottish Parliament, which was opened by the Queen in 2004, following the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Following the 2021 election, there are 4 Muslim members of the parliament (MSPs), Humza Yousaf, as of 2021 the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care in the Scottish National Party Government, and MSP for Glasgow Pollok; Anas Sarwar, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and one of the Regional MSPs for the Glasgow region; and two newly-elected members of the parliament, Kaukab Stewart, the Scottish National Party MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, and Foysol Choudhury, a Labour MSP elected for the Lothian region.. The first three have family connections with Pakistan, and the last with Bangladesh.
Continuing up the Royal Mile, after approximately 400 yards, on the right, just beyond Canongate Church and New Street, Morocco's Land is reached. At first-floor level, and most easily visible from the opposite side of the street, is a sculpture on the side of the building which is reputed to represent the Emperor of Morocco. The story behind the statue is that, in the 17th century, a young Edinburgh man, Andrew Gray, was obliged to flee the city, as a result of taking part in a riot. Fleeing by sea, he was captured by Moroccan pirates, and made a slave, but he somehow prospered there, securing the favour of the emperor, and 12 years later he returned to Edinburgh, where he was able to save the life of the daughter of the Provost of the city, who was suffering from the plague. According to the story, they then married, and settled in this building. An alternative, less romantic story, is that the building simply belonged to a merchant who prospered on the basis of trade with North Africa, his sister marrying the Emperor of Morocco, but either way the connection with that country is clear.
Another example of a Scot who led an interesting life in the World of Islam is the career of Thomas Keith. Born in Edinburgh around 1793, Keith pursued a military career, serving in a British expedition to Egypt in 1807. Having been captured, he converted to Islam, taking the name Ibrahim Aga, and in 1811 he joined an expedition organised by the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, against the Wahhabi movement in Arabia. This succeeded in recapturing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina from the Wahhabis, and Keith/Ibrahim was made acting governor of the latter city in 1815. He died in a Wahhabi ambush later in that same year. His life is the focus of a novel, Blood and Sand, by Rosemary Sutcliff, who is best known for her children’s novel, The Eagle of the Ninth.
In the twentieth century, another interesting biography of someone born in Edinburgh is the life-story of Lady Evelyn Cobbold. Born in the city in 1867, her family were in the habit of spending the winters in North Africa, and it was on the basis of this experience that around 1915, after a career as a Mayfair socialite, she announced her conversion to Islam, taking the name Zainab. She separated from her husband, John Dupuis Cobbold, in 1922, and in 1933, aged 65, she became the first British-born woman to perform the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Her account of this experience, first published in 1934, has recently been reprinted, with a substantial biographical introduction (see Cobbold 2009).
The next section of the Royal Mile is heavily dominated by retail outlets, and among them are a number which specialise in the sale of cashmere woollen items. It is an interesting story as to how the English spelling of the wool came to differ from that of the geographical region from which it came – Kashmir – but in the 18th century British soldiers and merchants working in India brought Kashmiri shawls back with them to the UK, and they soon proved extremely popular. The local weaving industry in Edinburgh quickly began to produce cheaper imitations, with the first being produced by William Mortimer in 1777, and many other weavers following suit in the Fountainbridge area of the city. Between 1800 and 1820 over 1,000 weavers were at work there producing Kashmiri-inspired shawls, and in 1836 the Edinburgh Silk Mill opened to produce shawls of a particularly high quality. Some production had earlier been outsourced, however, to weavers in Paisley, to the west of Glasgow, and there they gained a competitive advantage through using newer looms, which enabled them to produce more complex designs; as a result was that the Edinburgh Mill was unable to compete, being forced to close in 1845, so the shawls became widely-known simply as Paisley shawls. The name of the Silk Mill has recently been revived, however, in a student accommodation block at 162 Dundee Street.
Cashmere products produced across Scotland continue to be very popular, being available at a large number of shops on the Royal Mile; selecting particular outlets is therefore a rather invidious task, but three which, as suggested by their names, have a specialist focus on the product are Balmoral Cashmere (No. 64), Royal Cashmere (No. 160), and Cashmere House (No. 174), all on the left-hand side of the street.
City Chambers/Royal Exchange
A further 200 yards up the Royal Mile, on the right again and opposite St Giles’ Cathedral, is the building which is now the City Chambers, the headquarters of the City of Edinburgh Council. The building is now the only surviving 18th century public building on the Royal Mile, and originally it was the Royal Exchange, whose purpose was to provide a space in which merchants could meet and conduct their business. As well as including shops and a Customs House, there were also originally three coffee-houses in the building. Coffee reached Europe, from its original source in Yemen, via the port of Mocha, in the seventeenth century, with the first coffee house opening in Venice in 1645. From there it quickly spread along the trade routes of Europe, becoming extremely fashionable, and a mark of good taste. Various coffee houses were opened in Edinburgh, and this is a tradition which of course very much continues today. On the opposite side of the Royal Mile there once stood Turks Close, whose existence demonstrates trade with other parts of the Muslim World in early modern times, but this was destroyed in the 18th century as part of the redevelopment of the area.
Continuing up the Royal Mile, past the statues of Adam Smith (on the left) and David Hume (on the right), and the High Court, Gladstone’s Land is reached. This house is named after Thomas Gladstone, a merchant who, with his wife Bettie Cunningham, purchased the property in 1617. Among their tenants were John Riddoch and Margaret Noble who, between their marriage in 1622 and his death ten years later imported luxury goods such as ginger (from the ‘East Indies’, what is today Indonesia), raisins (from Greece and the Ottoman Empire), almonds (from the Middle East and Southern Europe), pepper, rice and indigo (from India), sugar (from the West Indies via Brazil), tobacco (from South America), and cloves (from China). The trade in these products was either direct, or via companies based in England and Northern Europe such as the East India Company and its Dutch equivalent. They also traded in fabrics and dyes, and when John died he left goods and money worth almost £5,000, equivalent to around £600,000 today. Samples of some of the goods in which he traded can be seen in one of the back rooms on the first floor of the house, and overall the house tells a powerful story of the commercial and social life of the city over the past 500 years.
Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland
A little further up the Royal Mile the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland is reached. Here, each year in May, representatives of churches from all over the country meet to hear reports on different aspects of the church’s life, and debate its future agenda. On two occasions now the General Assembly has been addressed by a Muslim speaker, the first Professor Mona Siddiqui, then of the University of Glasgow and now of the University of Edinburgh, in 2010, and the second, in 2017, Prince Ghazi of Jordan.
Immediately beyond the Assembly Hall is a tourist venue from which magnificent 360-degree views of Edinburgh can be obtained, the Camera Obscura. In a Camera Obscura, light is passed, originally simply through a hole but later through a lens, so that an image of what is outside is projected into a box or onto a wall, a process which is particularly useful for observing objects which are dangerous to the naked eye, such as the sun. There is evidence of such a device being used in prehistoric times, and in China, but the first person to explain how it works was the Arab polymath Ibn al-Haitham, who lived from 965 to 1040, and was the first person to appreciate that light travelled to, rather than from, the eye. On this basis he was able to explain how the Camera Obscura worked. Jim al-Khalili has described Ibn al-Haitham as the greatest physicist between Archimedes and Newton, and in his book Pathfinders: the Golden Age of Arabic Science, he suggests that he has a stronger claim to the title ‘father of the scientific method’ than either Francis Bacon or Descartes.
Continuing up the Royal Mile, the Castle Esplanade is soon reached. This is the site of the annual Military Tattoo, a performance of music and dance, originally by military personnel but now also involving civilians, from around the world. Contributions have come from different parts of the Muslim World such as Pakistan (1955), Malaysia (1956), Turkey (1957), Jordan (1963), Oman (1980), and Egypt (1995).
On the right (northern) side of the esplanade, looking over Princes Street and the New Town, are two monuments to the involvement of Scottish regiments in campaigns in different parts of the world: first of all is a monument to the 78th Highlanders, commemorating its members who died in the course of the uprising against British rule in India in 1857-8. It takes the form of a Celtic cross, made of sandstone, and among the imagery on it are both a stag’s head and an Indian elephant. At the far end of the esplanade is then a second monument, to the men of the 72nd Highlanders who died in the course of the Second Afghan War of 1878-80. This was one of the conflicts about which W.E. Gladstone complained during his Midlothian Campaign of 1880.
Within the dramatic setting of Edinburgh Castle, at the western end of the Royal Mile, there are then many references to places in the World of Islam in the National War Museum, and in the Scottish National War Memorial, constructed after World War I as a tribute to all who died in that conflict. In the former, two exhibits highlight contrasting aspects of the relationship between Britain and the World of Islam, the first a picture by Robert Gibb of ‘The Thin Red Line’, the defensive action by the 93rd Highlanders in the Crimea, at which they halted a Russian cavalry charge during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, and the second a painting by Alphonse Marie de Neuville of the Highland Brigade launching an attack on Egyptian defensive positions at the Battle of Tel el-Kabir in 1882, an action which consolidated British control over the country. In the first Britain was fighting in alliance with the Ottoman Empire against Russia, whereas in the latter Britain was seizing control of a former Ottoman province.
In the War Memorial there are then many references to campaigns across the Muslim World, including to countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Persia (Iran), Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Arabia, and to individual places such as the Dardanelles, the Suez Canal, Kut al-Amara, Baghdad, Gaza, Jaffa, Megiddo, Jerusalem, and Damascus. Acknowledgement is also made of the very considerable contribution made by the (religiously-mixed) Indian Army.
Finally, if refreshment is needed after the exploration of the Royal Mile, Hanam’s Middle Eastern (Iranian Kurdish) restaurant, at 3 Johnston Terrace, could be the place to visit. It can be reached by descending the steps at the lower end of the castle esplanade (Castle Wynd North), and turning left at the bottom.
List of Sights:
- National Museum of Scotland
- Old College
- Surgeons’ Hall Museum
- Roxburgh Street Mosque
- The Nomads Tent
- Central Mosque
- Mosque Kitchens
- George Square
- Nanyang Malaysian Restaurant
- Dar al-Arqam Mosque
National Museum of Scotland
In the area of the city to the south of the Royal Mile, our walk begins at the National Museum of Scotland, on Chambers Street. A number of artefacts on display in the museum have connections with the World of Islam, including, in the Earth in Space gallery on Level 1, an instrument which is very important for the history of science, an astrolabe made by Muhammad ibn Saffar in Cordoba, Spain in 1026-7. Astrolabes were extremely important in medieval times, as observing the stars made it possible for users to establish their exact position on the fact of the earth, and thus enabled Muslims to calculate the correct direction and times of prayer. This example is the second oldest surviving astrolabe which was made in Europe (see Astrolabe (nms.ac.uk), and Anderson, 2020). The same cabinet also contains a later celestial globe, showing the traditional Islamic representation of the constellations, made by Diya’ ad-din Muhammad in Lahore (now in Pakistan), in 1663 (see Celestial globe (nms.ac.uk).
Secondly, the galleries include a number of historical items from Muslim cultures. The ‘Art of Ceramics’ gallery on Level 3 features a fragment of a 13th century Iraqi water jar with elaborate openwork showing seated dignitaries attending a banquet (see Water jar (nms.ac.uk)), and a large basin from 19th century Morocco, probably made as a diplomatic gift (see Moroccan water basin (nms.ac.uk)). ‘Artistic Legacies’ (Level 5) presents the intriguing developments of tilework in Western Asia through examples from Ottoman Turkey (see Wall tile (nms.ac.uk)), a 14th century frieze with calligraphic writing from Uzbekistan (see Panel / tile (nms.ac.uk)), and Iranian lustre tiles (Wall tile (nms.ac.uk)); the ‘Windows on the World’ gallery on Level 5 also includes two 16th century Iznik tiles from Ottoman Turkey (see Tile (nms.ac.uk) and Tile (nms.ac.uk)), together with a 66-tile 19th-century European imitation of the style. A beautifully embroidered Turkmen chyrpy (mantle) (see Mantle, woman's (nms.ac.uk)) and a silver bridal set from Turkey (see Jewellery box (nms.ac.uk)) are part of the Middle Eastern case in the ‘Patterns of Life’ gallery on Level 1.
Thirdly, the National Museum has on display works by contemporary artists. These include, in the ‘Artistic Legacies’ gallery on Level 5, a fine scroll by Chinese Muslim calligrapher Haji Noor Deen which portrays one of the names of God, al-Rahman (the Merciful), in Arabic and Chinese characters (see Calligraphy scroll (nms.ac.uk)). Iranian artist Maryam Salour’s work is represented in the gallery ‘Inspired by Nature’ (Level 5) through her Valley of Lar ceramic poppies (see Valley of Lar poppies (nms.ac.uk)) and the sculpture ‘Shaitan wa Fereshte’ (Devil and Angel) (see Devil and Angel (nms.ac.uk)).
Finally, in the History of Scotland section of the museum, in the ‘Early People’ section on Level –1 (minus 1), are some remarkable examples of commercial interaction between Scotland and the World of Islam from over 1,000 years ago, in the Viking Age, namely a number of silver dirham coins, produced by the Samanid dynasty which ruled in Central Asia (what is now Uzbekistan) from 892-1005. 19 of these were found on the Isle of Skye in 1891, and a number of them can be seen in the case devoted to ‘Viking trade – distant horizons’ in the section on the theme of ‘Moving things, travelling people’ (see Silver dirhams from the Storr Rock Viking Hoard (nms.ac.uk), and Coin, 1 dirham (nms.ac.uk)). A further 19 form part of the Skaill Hoard, found in Orkney in 1858, and two of these, one minted in Tashkent in 896-7, and the other minted in Baghdad in 945-946, can be found in the case entitled ‘Hoarding Wealth’, which is specifically devoted to this hoard (see Coin, 1 dirham (nms.ac.uk) and Coin, 1 dirham (nms.ac.uk)).
Then on Level 5, the ‘Scotland: a Changing Nation’ section chronicles the processes of both emigration from and immigration to Scotland, the latter through some of the voices in a 10-minute film entitled ‘One Nation: Five Million Voices’ (see One Nation, Five Million Voices on Vimeo).
Just round the corner from the Museum, on South Bridge, is Old College. This is the central administrative building of the University of Edinburgh, designed by Robert Adam and William Playfair, and is one of the city’s most significant public buildings. Two figures associated with it have particular connections with the World of Islam, firstly Sir William Muir, who served as Principal of the university from 1885-1903, and secondly, A.J. Balfour, who served as Chancellor of the university from 1891-1930).
Prior to becoming Principal, Muir had served as a member of the Indian Civil Service, particularly in the North-West Provinces, the area around Allahabad, serving as Lieutenant-Governor there between 1868 and 1874, and in addition to his work for the civil service, Muir wrote a Life of Mahomet, published in 4 volumes between 1858 and 1861, and an account of The Early Caliphate and the Rise of Islam, published in 1881. He was also an active supporter of the work of Christian missions in India, suggesting in The Mohammedan Controversy, published in 1897, that Islam should be seen as an active and powerful enemy of Christianity.
A.J. Balfour was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1902-1905, and served as Foreign Secretary in the coalition government headed by Lloyd George between 1916 and 1919. It was in that capacity that, on 2nd November 1917, the declaration which bears his name was issued, to the effect that ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people … it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or of the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’ A complicated set of motivations lay behind the issuing of this declaration (see Lewis 2009), but it represented a significant step in the process which led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, with all of the devastating consequences that have followed from that in the Middle East region. In addition to his political activities, Balfour was a significant religious thinker, delivering two sets of the university’s prestigious Gifford Lectures, in 1913-4 on ‘Theism and Humanism’, and in 1922-3 on ‘Theism and Thought’.
Opposite the main entrance to Old College, Blackwells Bookshop sells books on Islam in the Religious Studies section, and books on the World of Islam in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia sections, all on the first floor; and books about Scotland, including on Muslims in Scotland, are available in the Scotland section on the ground floor.
Surgeons’ Hall Museum
A few doors along from the bookshop, on Nicolson Street, between Drummond Street and Hill Place, is the Surgeons’ Hall Museum. In the History section, alongside the exhibits about the development of surgery in ancient Greece and in modern Scotland, there is brief reference to the contributions to the History of Medicine made by two towering figures from the World of Islam, namely Avicenna/Ibn Sina (980-1037, Central Asia, now Uzbekistan) and al-Zahrawi (936-1013, Spain). The contribution of the latter to the development of surgery in particular came through the invention of a large number of surgical instruments which are still in use today.
Al-Zahrawi came from al-Andalus, the name given to the regions of Spain which were under Islamic rule in the medieval period, and another figure from that region who made a towering contribution to the History of Science is ‘Abbas ibn Firnas, who is sometimes compared to Leonardo da Vinci for two reasons, firstly his inventiveness in general, and secondly for making an attempt to fly. Dr. Glaire Anderson, who teaches at the Edinburgh College of Art, is currently writing a study of ‘Abbas’s contributions to the development of science in Andalusia.
Roxburgh Street Mosque
To the rear of the Surgeons’ Hall Museum, and accessible via either Hill Place or Drummond Place, at 12 Roxburgh Street, is Edinburgh’s oldest mosque, the Roxburgh Street Mosque and Community Centre. This was opened in 1969, at the instigation of Muslims who had migrated to the United Kingdom from East Africa. The only evidence of the function of the building is the Arabic inscription ‘In the Name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate’, in the glass window above the door, but the mosque remains active, even though a number of other mosques have now been established in the city.
The Nomads Tent
Some four hundred yards to the southeast of the mosque, at 21 St Leonard’s Lane, is the Nomads Tent. This describes itself as ‘a warehouse of tribal art’, selling rugs, carpets, jewellery, textiles, and other artefacts from Iran, Turkey, India, and other countries which produce authentic nomadic, tribal and village crafts. Set up by Rufus Reade in 1983, it is now run by Andrew Haughton, and as well as the regular display of items for sale, exhibitions and other events are organised to promote a better understanding of the parts of the world from which the items come (see The Nomads Tent - A Warehouse of Tribal Art, Edinburgh).
Just next door to the Nomads Tent is the new Holyrood Distillery, at 19 St Leonard’s Lane, and although, in the light of the Qur’an’s prohibition of the consumption of wine, the World of Islam is not usually associated with the production of alcoholic drinks, it is worth remembering that the English word ‘alcohol’ is actually derived from Arabic, and that in terms of the chemical processes needed to distill alcohol the Islamic World made a significant contribution through the work of the chemist Jabir ibn Hayyan.
Returning in a northwesterly direction, to 50 Potterow, the Edinburgh Central Mosque is reached. The idea of building such a mosque originally came from the Roxburgh Street Mosque (see above 5d), whose members were able to buy the plot from the City Council but were not in the end able to finance the construction of the building, so financial support was therefore obtained from Saudi Arabia, and the mosque is therefore officially known as the King Fahd Mosque. Designed by Iraqi architect Basil al-Bayati, building work began in 1990, and was completed in 1995, with the building being officially opened in 1998 by King Fahd’s son, Prince Abdul Aziz.
The area around the mosque has a number of shops and restaurants which sell food and products from around the World of Islam. Two which have a particular connection with the mosque are The Original Mosque Kitchen and Aroma Café (Edinburgh Central Mosque, 50 Potterrow, Edinburgh) (list.co.uk), and Mosque Kitchen |, at 31-33 Nicolson Square; these specialise in South Asian food, and for Middle Eastern food Beirut, at 24 Nicolson Square, offers a good menu.
Nearby to the mosque is George Square, around which are located many of the departments of the University of Edinburgh in Arts and Social Science subjects. First of all, on the south side of the square, is the main University Library, designed by Basil Spence and opened in 1967. In the strong room of the library are kept two of the university’s great manuscript treasures which, for obvious reasons, are not normally available for public viewing, but digital images are available for both the ‘World History’ (literally ‘Compendium of Chronicles’) by Rashid al-Din, which was prepared for the Mongol rulers of Iran in the early 14th century and surveys the whole history of the known world of the time, from China in the east to Ireland in the west, and came to the University of Edinburgh through a donation by Colonel John Baillie of the East India Company in 1876, and al-Biruni's ‘Chronicle of the Ancient Nations’, prepared at around the same time, which assembles the details of the calendars and chronological systems used by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians and others in the Mediterranean and West Asian worlds in the ancient and medieval periods, and describes the festivals and worship practices of the different religious communities. This manuscript was donated to the library by Robert Munro Blair Binning of the Madras Civil Service in 1877. Details of an exhibition about the Rashid al-Din manuscript in 2014 can also be found at The World History of Rashid al-Din, 1314. A Masterpiece of Islamic Painting | Library & University Collections (ed.ac.uk), and recordings of two lectures about the manuscript, by Prof. Sheila Blair and Prof. Robert Hillenbrand, can be found at Illustrating History Rashid al Din and his Compendium of Chronicles - Media Hopper Create and Stories of the Prophets in the Edinburgh World History of Rashid al Din - Media Hopper Create).
Continuing round to the west side of George Square, a number of the houses have connections with the World of Islam, in different ways. First of all, No.25 was the house in which Sir Walter Scott grew up, spending his formative years there between the ages of 3 and 26.
A few doors along, No. 22 was the home of Jane Welch Carlyle, the wife of Thomas Carlyle the essayist, historian and social commentator who, in 1840, delivered a lecture in Edinburgh in which he referred to Muhammad as a ‘Hero’, as one of the series of individuals whom Carlyle considered to have made a positive impact on human history. In the course of the lecture Carlyle recognised Muhammad’s sincerity, so that it was wrong to denigrate his character, as most earlier western accounts had done, and Carlyle’s conclusion was that even if Muhammad was not the truest of Prophets, he should nevertheless be esteemed as a true one. His On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History: Six Lectures was published in 1842, and along with the Hero as Prophet, the other types of heroes which Carlyle considered were the Divinity (Odin), the Poet (Dante, Shakespeare), the Priest (Luther and Knox), the Man of Letters (Johnson, Rousseau, Burns), and King (Cromwell, Napoleon).
No. 19 George Square is the current base of the university’s Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, which has a very distinguished 270-year history of working in the subject. In 1965 the university appointed its first Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and the first holder of that position, Montgomery Watt remains well-known for his biography of Muhammad 'Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman', which was first published in 1961 and remains in print today. Among the publications of later scholars in the department Carole Hillenbrand’s 'The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives' was awarded the King Faisal International Prize for Islamic Studies in 2005, the first occasion on which the prize was awarded to a non-Muslim. The Department has a particular association with the University of Baghdad, through the establishment of the Iraq Chair in Arabic and Islamic Studies..
At No. 16 George Square, is the Prince Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, which was established in 2010 to promote a better understanding of contemporary Islam and the globalised Muslim World. See Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World | The University of Edinburgh for further details of the Centre’s programmes and activities.
Finally, on the north side of the square, at 15a, is the Chrystal Macmillan Building, the administrative base of the university’s Centre for African Studies and Centre for South Asian Studies, each of which researches and teaches about issues of significant concern to a large number of Muslims (see respectively Centre of African Studies | School of Social and Political Science (ed.ac.uk) and University of Edinburgh | School of Social and Political Science | Home). The building has, at the rear of its foyer, an exhibition focusing on the history of students, including from the Muslim World, who have come to study in Edinburgh from all over the world (see UncoverED Exhibition Launch - Black History Month 2022); and there is also an associated online timeline of university alumni from different continents, including Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah (an Afghani-Indian who graduated in 1918, and Azar Besharat Moayeri (originally from Iran, and the university’s first female graduate in Chemical Engineering in 1967 (see Timeline – UncoverED (uncover-ed.org)).
Nanyang Malaysian Restaurant
If refreshment is needed after this stage of the tour, the Nanyang Malaysian Restaurant at 1-3 Lister Square in the Quartermile area, just on the other side of Middle Meadow Walk, may satisfy this need.
Dar al-Arqam Mosque
Two hundred or so yards to the west, along Lauriston Place, is the Dar al-Arqam Mosque. Originally a United Presbyterian church, it has been very imaginatively converted into a mosque, a process which has involved re-orienting the building from a southward orientation to a south-eastern one, to face Mecca.
Finally, half a mile or so to the south, across the open space of The Meadows and up Argyll Place and Palmerston Road, is the Grange Cemetery. Access is from Beaufort Road, and in Block Q is the grave of Rev David Liston (1799-1881), Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages in the University of Edinburgh, in the days when Hebrew and Arabic were usually taught together. In Block N of the cemetery can be found the grave of Robin Cook, who served as Foreign Secretary and then Leader of the House of Commons in the Labour Government of Tony Blair. He was one of the chief opponents of the Iraq War of 2003, resigning from the Cabinet over the issue because of the absence of international agreement over it, and the epitaph on his gravestone reads 'I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of Parliament to decide on war'. Edinburgh also figures in the cv of the Prime Minister whom he opposed, Tony Blair having had his secondary school education across the city, at Fettes College.
Half a mile or so to the southwest of the Grange Cemetery is a small area within the suburb of Morningside which is sometimes described as Little Egypt, on the basis of a number of street names bearing Middle Eastern names such as Canaan Lane, Jordan Lane, Nile Grove, Egypt Mews, and also Eden Lane. On Canaan Lane some individual houses also bear Biblical names, for example Hebron Bank (No. 42) and Goshen (No. 8). These are all near a small river known as the Jordan Burn, and the names probably go back to the 17th century, reflecting the influence of the Bible in all aspects of Scottish life at that time. To the northeast of Edinburgh the coastal suburb of Joppa reflects the same trend, the name being given in the 18th century on the basis of its coastal location, like that of the city better-known as Jaffa in Palestine.
List of sights:
- Mohiuddin Trust, 123 Great Junction Street
- Shi’i Imambara/Mosque, 1 King Street
- Café Truva, 77 The Shore
As Edinburgh’s port, Leith has had significant international contacts for centuries, as well as being one of the parts of the city in which immigrant communities have settled. International contacts are exemplified by the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, now the Leith School of Art, at 25 North Junction Street.
Mohiuddin Trust, 123 Great Junction Street
With regard to contacts with the Muslim World, Leith has the Mosque and Education Centre of the (Pakistan-based) Mohiuddin Trust at 123 Great Junction Street, a building which was formerly a Secession Church (see Mohiuddin Islamic Centres - Mohiuddin Trust).
Shi’i Imambara/Mosque, 1 King Street
Just opposite, at 1 King Street, the city’s Shi’i Imambara/mosque. Leith also hosts Edinburgh’s Sikh gurdwara (1 Sheriff Brae), Hindu mandir (St. Andrew Place), and Tibetan Buddhist Centre (25 Bernard Street), the first two former churches, and the last a former bank.
Café Truva, 77 The Shore
On the historic Shore, which runs along the east bank of the Water of Leith, the original historic harbour area, at No 77, is Café Truva, which offers Turkish and Mediterranean refreshments. Other branches can also be found, at 251-253 Canongate (on the Royal Mile), and 48-52 Lady Lawson Street (to the west of the castle).