International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:36 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 3:36 pm, 25th October 2018

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr McCabe. We know that God is shining on us when there is a Scotsman in the Chair in Westminster Hall. I say that as an atheist. I sincerely congratulate Jim Shannon on securing the debate on an issue that he has championed consistently and with depth. It feels almost rude of me to say these things with my back to him, but I hope that he will take the words in the spirit in which they are meant. He has always stood up for the right of those of faith, and those of none, to go about their lives in the way they want.

Many Members have given examples illustrating the deeply horrifying and sinister persecution that takes place in countries around the world against different religious minorities. I have no desire to repeat those, but I want to single out one Member who spoke, Siobhain McDonagh, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. She has a long-standing interest in their plight and does a good job chairing the group. I am only sorry that I cannot get to more of the meetings.

Many hon. Members will remember the case of Asad Shah, mentioned by Stephen Kerr. He was the Ahmadi shopkeeper from my constituency, on the south side of Glasgow, who was brutally killed. He was loved by everybody; there was not a person with a bad thing to say about him. He was a traditional shopkeeper: the self-service machines in Tesco were not for him; it was for him to fill the basket. People went in as customers and left as friends. He was brutally taken from us because of religious persecution.

I shall never forget that night. The shop where he was killed is about a four-minute walk from my front door. I remember seeing on social media that something had happened. No one quite knew what. I thought, “I am not going to sit up and worry about this. I am going to go to bed.” In the morning, I woke up to the worst possible news: the friendly shopkeeper had been slaughtered on the streets of my constituency. Afterwards, I saw something that I hope never to have to see again. People were rallying outside his shop, which sadly has since had to close because his family have had to leave Glasgow altogether. Hundreds of people had come together to stand in silence and remember a much loved and gentle man. Every time I saw him, he was always friendly. I do not think he ever remembered my name; I was just “Mr SNP” every time I went into his shop. I can assure the House that I have been called worse.

All of us on the south side of Glasgow remember Asad Shah with great affection. We will always be horrified at how he was taken from us and at the motivation behind it. The scenes of solidarity on that Friday night were quite something to see, but I hope I never have to see them again.

I wish the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden the very best in her work to address the plight of the Ahmadi people. As you will know, Mr McCabe, the south side of Glasgow has a substantial Muslim community. There are many Muslim people whom I count as friends and who are fairly progressive even on issues such as gay rights, but I am always amazed that the minute I mention Ahmadi Muslims, something happens—a shutter seems to come down. People keep telling me, “Stewart, it’s best that you don’t bring up the subject in other mosques or with other Muslims. It won’t help you at the next election.” However, it is vital that the hon. Lady and I, along with other hon. Members present, continue to shine a light on it.