AAMER Anwar has found God. The one-time revolutionary atheist - now a defacto voice for Scotland's Muslims - has started praying again. He did so on the night of the Paris attacks, standing over his three sleeping children. Anwar had been up till 4.30am, watching the news - and then what he called an anti-Islamic "hatefest" on social media.

Exhausted - and told by his elderly mother to go to sleep - the 47-year-old put away his smartphone and went to kiss his son and two daughters good night.

"I just thought 'Here we go again'," Anwar explains from behind a desk layered with family photos. "I looked at their faces and I just thought 'Please don't make them deal with racism'.

"My children are Asian, they are Muslim, they are marked out by the colour of their skin and their religion. They are going to grow up in this environment. And we are told this is a generational issue."

HeraldScotland: Aamer Anwar and his wife say they were abused

Age and fatherhood have driven the leftist firebrand turned solicitor back to Islam. But so too, he says, have assaults on the faith from those who blame one religion - and all its adherents - for horrors carried out by a few criminals in its name.

In his own words: full Q&A of interview with Aamer Anwar

"As a young man growing up I believed in God and then I became a revolutionary socialist," he says. "I am not particularly religious; I am quite westernised. But my faith or spirituality has returned.

"It is part of my identity now and my security. Which it never was. And that is the responsibility of those who blame 1.6 billion Muslims for the work of some extremists."

Paris and resulting fears for Anwar's children isn't the only thing keeping him up (he considers four and a half hours to be a good night's sleep). The lawyer is busy. His office, just yards from Glasgow's sheriff court, is lined with yellowing press cuttings that show just how busy.

Anwar represents the family of Aqsa Mahmood, the young Glaswegian dubbed a "jihadi bride" after quitting a life of middle-class privilege in Scotland for Islamic State-controlled Syria.

HeraldScotland: Aqsa Mahmood left her Glasgow home in November and travelled to Syria after becoming radicalised, her family says. (Family handout/Aamer Anwar & Co Solicitors/PA)

He also speaks for relatives of both Sheku Bayoh, a man whose death in custody has sparked one of the biggest and most public rows in the Scottish justice sector of recent years, and Keirin Burt, the five-year-old son of Lamara Bell who died after her car crash on the M9 went uninvestigated by police despite a 999 call.

He is also representing two nationalist MPs with legal problems: first Michelle Thomson then, from last week, her colleague Natalie McGarry.

All this a quarter of a century after his own life-defining brush with the law: as a student activist in 1991 he lost his front teeth while being arrested for flyposting in Glasgow's West End. He sued - the first case in which a Scottish police officer was accused of racially-motivated assault - and won £4,200.

Anwar often repeats the words he says rang through his ears when his face was being pushed to the ground: "This is what happens to black boys with big mouths.''

His smile is repaired. ("I'm vain," he admits as he is photographed alongside his framed newspaper cuttings. "I got implants.") So too is his pride. His assault - and the resulting case - was the highlight of his youth.

What was he like then? Anwar chooses his words carefully: "Hardcore," he says. "A hothead. " He adds: "When I had my teeth smashed in by the police I was an extremely angry young man with a huge chip on his shoulder and quite rightly so.

"I was dangerous. I was always up for a fight. I hated the authorities.

"I was a nuisance, a thorn in the side."


HeraldScotland: GVs of Tommy and Gail Sheridan outside the High Court in Edinburgh. Statement from solicitor Aamer Anwar.But who, now, is Aamer Anwar? Is he still angry? "People say I have mellowed. I don’t think so. I have learned lessons over the years on how to fight for the campaigns or for the families or individuals and realise there are different ways of doing things.

"There are lots of versions of me. The public one is an angry rabble-rousing controversial lawyer. I would hope that when people meet me they would realise there is a pleasant side to me. I always get told you never smile and you always look angry. But quite a lot of the stuff I do would make most people angry. It is not the sort of stuff you can go on the TV and smile about."

Anwar admits his relationship with his family suffered when he was being what his parents - migrants from Pakistan - thought was a Godless "nutcase". After Anwar turned to the law at the turn of the century, they were more pleased.

Nearly a decade and a half on, Anwar now has his own practice and four lawyers. So is he respectable? "I hope not," he says. "I would not regard myself as respectable. The next stage is becoming a judge. I don’t see how I could become a judge. I don’t think the establishment would ever accept me. I hope they would never accept me. Because if it does, then I have sold out. They don’t take people like me."

Why not? His ethnicity, he says, his religion. "Racism has been written out of the picture; everybody says it has been fixed. How many High court judges are ethnic minority? Zero. People assume I play the race card. 99.9 per cent of the time I don’t even mention the word 'race'.

"I work 100 times harder than my counterparts. Yet I always have to have eyes in the back of my head."

Anwar has his critics. Some lawyers, I tell him, see him as more PR man than solicitor. Is that fair?

"I suppose those would be the lawyers that have no profile," he flashes back. "And there are a lot of them. There is a great deal of professional jealousy. I can’t say that anyone has ever done many favours for me in the legal institutions. It has always been tough."

How much of his day is spent on PR? Half, he says. Does he trust his colleagues? "There are just two advocates (Claire Mitchell and Sarah Livingstone) I could trust with my life and turn to in a time of need.

"That is quite a lonely place to be. There is some form of snobbery from colleagues that I am not really a lawyer. Some people said you would make a better politician than a lawyer. I beg to differ."

Anwar has friends outside the law. Some in very high places, in Scotland's new nationalist establishment. They - he calls them "Alex" and "Humza", The Herald calls them Mr Salmond and Mr Yousaf - wanted him to run for Westminster.

HeraldScotland: Humza Yousaf

"I thought I could win it hands down," he said. "For years that is the direction I thought I could go in."

So why the change of course? "I'd be a disaster," he explains. "I did not want to be in the position where I thought I could not speak my mind. To be fair, I was told I wouldn't be.

"I am the sort of person who very quickly could have become fed up and angry and I would not have been very good. I don’t think I would make a very good politician."

One minister, Anwar says, acknowledged this, saying the lawyer would have taken the whip off the SNP "and whipped us with it".

Now Anwar cites all his high-profile campaigns and cases as evidence he can have as big an impact out of parliament as in.

"The work has increased," he says when asked about the conveyor belt of headline-grabbing cases. "It is hard to say No. It is almost as if the world has become insane.

"I can’t take on everything. People assume I am a millionaire. I'm not. I work extremely hard and I would be better off being a plumber or a hairdresser.

"I'm not poor; I am comfortable. A large proportions of the high-profile cases you will see I do for free, pro bono."

HeraldScotland: Solicitor Aamer Anwar read out a statement on behalf of a family whose daughter travelled to Syria and married an Isis fighter

His new ambition? To follow in the footsteps of lawyers like campaigner Gareth Pierce, who defended the Birmingham Six falsely accused of IRA bombings. "She is my role model," he said.

He wants a human rights campaigning law centre on an English model with 20 lawyers able to take on cases like his.

So success would be no longer being needed? "That sounds pompous," counters Anwar. "No, but if I could see around me a lot of people doing the type of work I am doing.

"People say 'Och, Aamer' when they see me in the media. But other lawyers are welcome to the work. Why did they not take the cases on on?"