Who are Humza Yousaf’s parents? All about his Pakistani heritage

Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf’s appointment as First Minister of Scotland made him the first Muslim and Scottish Asian to serve in office. Yousaf has had a political career punctuated by firsts: in 2012, he became the first Scottish Asian and Muslim to serve as minister after Alex Salmond appointed him the Minister for External Affairs and International Development. 

Humza Yousaf’s father immigrated from Pakistan; his mother immigrated from Kenya

Humza Yousaf with parents, Shaaista and Muzaffar
Humza Yousaf with parents, Shaaista and Muzaffar | Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images

Humza Yousaf was born on 7th April 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland, to Mian Muzaffar Yousaf and Shaaisha Bhutta. 

Muzaffar moved to Glasgow from Pakistan with his father, who didn’t speak English. Yousaf announced his candidacy in Clydebank, where his grandfather worked for the Singer sewing machine factory. 

“I don’t imagine in his wildest dreams that his grandson would one day be running to be the First Minister of Scotland,” Yousaf said. Shaaisha, of Punjabi Arain descent, emigrated from Kenya to Glasgow, where she met Muzaffar. Shaaisha fled from Kenya as post-independence hostilities toward Indians increased. 

“Life as an Asian in east Africa became very difficult because they were essentially seen as taking all the good jobs,” Yousaf told Holyrood. “My grandfather was a train conductor, so he was seen as taking that job away from a black African, a black Kenyan, so life became very difficult.”

Yousaf said an ax attack on his maternal grandmother accelerated the move to Scotland. The politician said he had a typical immigrant upbringing. He attended a primary school that was ‘95% white Scottish’ and yearned to know more about his Pakistani culture. Yousaf said:

“I had a great childhood but I’m a typical son of immigrants and they were typical of first-generation immigrants. Their parents worked incredibly hard; bus conductors, shopkeepers, went into the restaurant business and other things but both came here for quite different reasons, in one sense.”

Yousaf’s parents didn’t expect him to join politics

Yousaf told Holyrood that his parents expected him to be a lawyer, pharmacist, dentist, accountant, or doctor. He stated that Asian parents expected their children to pick from the above professions. “Those five professions were it – you didn’t really have much choice,” Yousaf said. 

Yousaf stated that his most likely choice was law – he was poor at science and merely okay at math, which disappointed Muzaffar, an accountant. “Fair to say that my parents expected I was going into law,” Yousaf said. However, Yousaf’s passion was politics. 

He told the outlet that he realized the importance of politics following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yousaf stated that he was watching broadcasts of the attack when his peers started asking him challenging questions. He explained:

“They’re asking me things like, ‘why do Muslims hate America?’ It wasn’t malicious or anything, but they expected me to have the answers. I remember at that point thinking I’ve really got to learn a lot more about this.”

Yousaf described his return to Pakistan as a spiritual experience. “I got to see where he [his grandfather] would sit and sew garments, and for me, it was just a hugely spiritually uplifting moment because I’m the product of that hard work and that is why I am where I am,” Yousaf said. 

Not knowing what to expect, Yousaf told his parents he wanted to pursue politics. To his surprise, his parents accepted his career choice. Yousaf said that his father understood the need for Asian representation in the political sphere. Armed with his parents’ backing, Yousaf shunned other people’s opinions about his career choice:

“Nothing else really mattered to me other than getting that parental backing and while in the community, I used to get people all the time saying to me, ‘what kind of job can you ever get with studying politics, you should have done law’, I knew my mum and dad supported me and that was the main thing.”

Yousef faced racist abuse and threats after announcing his bid for SNP leadership

“We should all take pride in the fact that today we have sent a clear message, that your color of skin, your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country we all call home,” Yousaf said in his victory speech. 

Diversity in British leadership has increased: England has a Hindu prime minister; Anas Sarwar, the leader of Scotland’s opposition party Labor, is of Pakistani Muslim heritage; Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, also has Pakistani Muslim roots; Suella Braverman, the UK’s Home Secretary, is of Indian origin. 

The inclusivity in leadership has drawn praise. However, some don’t appreciate the emergence of diverse leaders. After announcing his bid for SNP leadership, Yousef faced racist abuse and threats. Yousaf told The Scotsman:

“It’s one of the long conversations, the hard conversations, that I had with the family who know about the racial and Islamophobic abuse that I get. Ultimately you don’t really worry about yourself too much – you worry about your kids.”

Yousef says he’s gotten used to racism, but his children haven’t. “This is my life, this has been my life for 10 years and it’s normalized now, I don’t think too much about it, but I shouldn’t have to give one [a panic button] to my step-daughter,” he continued. 

A police spokesperson said two people had been arrested and charged in connection with the abuse Yousaf received. Yousef thanked the police for the swift response: “I had to speak to Police Scotland, who’ve been as good as they always have been in dealing with these matters.”