John Parkinson 1874-1918, Poet and Writer on Islam

This blog post was kindly provided by Christine Watson from Kilwinning Heritage. Check out their website to plan your visit to the Heritage Centre at Kilwinning Abbey Tower. Or why not give them a follow on their Facebook page?

As part of the Kilwinning Heritage Trail, there is a blue plaque on the Main Street at the entrance to Garden Square which names John Parkinson, Scottish Muslim poet, essayist and self-taught astronomer who was born in Kilwinning of Irish descent. Having lost both parents whilst still a baby, he lived his entire life in the home of his grandparents. When they died, he supported himself from the age of sixteen as a wool spinner in the Busby Spinning Company. A voracious reader, he taught himself astronomy, mathematics, science, geography and philosophy. Converting to Islam around 1900 and discovering a talent for poetry, he adopted the name Yehya-en-Nasr.

Although relatively isolated in Scotland, Parkinson maintained contact with the Liverpool Muslim Institute between 1901 and 1908 which helped to establish his literary reputation by publishing his early work, after which he developed connections with literary and learned Muslim circles in British India and in the UK.

As well as his column in the local newspaper, which appeared under the name of ‘Ingomar’, Parkinson published several books, including Essays on Islamic Philosophy, and his collection of poems, Lays of Love and War, which deal with romance and Jihad. He had a two-year sojourn in Burma as a deputy editor of a Rangoon newspaper in 1908-10, but ill-health forced him to return to Scotland, where he died in December 1918 after a short bout of pneumonia. His unmarked grave is in Kilwinning Cemetery, where he has been largely forgotten due to having no family to remember him.

These photographs were taken during his time in Burma. John Yahya-Parkinson is wearing a garland, and on his right is Prince Jamshed Bakhsh. While he achieved some fame within local and international Muslim literary circles, Parkinson has been largely forgotten until a 21st century revival of interest in his work among some historians. Brent D Singleton in California republished a number of Parkinson’s poems in an anthology of poems by Muslim converts during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, The Convert’s Passion (2009), and a number of them have also been set to music by Abdal Hakim Murad in Muslim Songs of the British Isles (2005).

Information compiled by Christine Watson, Kilwinning Heritage

Further information

Selected poems

British Muslim website