‘A humble and dedicated man… he was quite simply a gentleman’

Decency. Humility. Kindness.

Those words were repeated endlessly at the funeral service for MSP Bashir Ahmad, who died suddenly on Friday. They were the words chosen – by everyone from imam to first minister – to describe a politician whose friendships and influence cut across parties and communities.

With the shock of his death still fresh, raw emotions were on display from community leaders and politicians who had come to celebrate the man who broke the mould of Scottish politics.

The first minister could not hold back the tears. As he shared grief and memories with crowds of mourners ahead of the service at Glasgow’s Central Mosque, Alex Salmond spoke movingly of the MSP who died suddenly of a heart attack.

He said: “Bashir Ahmad was a history-maker. He became Scotland’s first Asian and first Muslim MSP and when he was elected to the Scottish parliament he made our family more complete. He changed the face of the parliament and that was a very important step forward.

“And when you are the first, character becomes important. We in Scotland were fortunate that our first Muslim MSP was a man steeped in humility and decency and kindness. A man of enormous compassion and humanity, I can honestly say I never met a single person with a bad word to say about him.”

It was the first minister who converted Ahmad to the cause of Scottish Nationalism in 1995. After listening to a speech by Salmond, Ahmad left the Labour Party to join the SNP.

His patriotism was proud but inclusive, according to the first minister. “He was a great patriot,” Salmond said. “He had a favourite saying, which he told me when we first met in 1995. He would say: It doesn’t matter where you come from; what matters is where we’re going together as a country.'”

Salmond then joined the throng of mourners who queued outside the mosque to pay their respects.

The service had been scheduled for 1pm but was delayed until 1.30pm to accommodate the large numbers of people who wanted to attend.

Once inside, Imam Habib led the Namaz-e-Janaza, the Muslim funeral prayer. The intercessionary verse is recited in Arabic, in line with Islamic tradition.

As the service ended and the crowds filed out, political and community leaders joined the first minister’s tribute to Ahmad. Community leader Bashir Maan was a lifelong friend. He described him as “a humble and dedicated man, who was helpful to anyone who asked for his assistance. Quite simply, a gentleman.”

“He inspired young people to want to become MSPs and MPs,” Maan, president of the Islamic Centre, added.

Labour leader Iain Gray said: “He was a kind and decent man and his death is a great loss.”

Conservative MSP Bill Aitken said Ahmad’s “passing leaves a gap in Scotland’s public life that will not easily be filled”.

Glasgow Govan MSP Nicola Sturgeon paid an emotional tribute. She said: “As a man, Bashir was a unique human being. He was loved and respected regardless of people’s politics because he was a kind, decent and sincere man. His political legacy will be immense.”

Salmond said: “One lad at the service told me Bashir was everything a Muslim should be: human and humane towards other people. He has set the standard for others who will follow in his footsteps. That will be his legacy.”

Originally published in the Sunday Herald. Feature image © Postdlf from w by Creative Commons 3.0

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