Britain’s First Shaykh – Abdullah Quilliam

quilliamWilliam Henry Abdullah Quilliam (10 April 1856 – 23 April 1932) born in Liverpool, was a 19th-century convert from Christianity to Islam, noted for founding England’s first mosque and Islamic centre. He is widely recognised as a pioneer for Islam’s establishment and growth in the UK and was often addressed as the First Shaykh of Islam of the British Isles. His is a history that all British Muslims should know as he paved the way for future generations of British Muslims.

William Henry converted to Islam after visiting Morocco to recover from an illness at the age of 17. Returning to Liverpool, he began to promote Islam in Britain as Abdullah Quilliam. He had earlier learned about Islam while visiting southern France in 1882 and crossing over to Algeria and Tunisia.

Quilliam established the Liverpool Muslim Institute at 8 Brougham Terrace, Liverpool in 1889, opening on Christmas Day. This was England’s first mosque, accommodating around a hundred Muslims, This was followed by a Muslim college, headed by Haschem Wilde and Nasrullah Warren, which offered courses for both Muslims and non-Muslims. A weekly Debating and Literary Society within the college attracted non-Muslims.

Quilliam influenced the paths of other converts, including his mother Harriet, his sons, scientists and intellectuals and his example led to the conversion of over 150 Englishmen to Islam. Quilliam was influential in advancing knowledge of Islam within the United Kingdom and gained converts through his literary works and the charitable institutions he founded.

An active writer and essayist, he produced a weekly paper, The Crescent, from 1893 until 1908. He published three editions of his The Faith of Islam which, translated into thirteen languages, gained him fame across the Islamic world.

He travelled extensively and received many honours from the leaders of the Islamic world. He had contact with English-speaking West African Muslims and toured the region’s coastal cities on his way to Lagos to attend the consecration of the Shitta Bey Mosque in 1894. He was appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles by the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II in 1894 and Persian Vice Consul to Liverpool by the Shah. He also received money from the Emir of Afghanistan to help fund the Islamic Institute in Liverpool.                         

Quilliam’s work in Liverpool stopped when he left England in 1908 in advance of being struck off as a solicitor. His son swiftly disposed of the property that had been used as a mosque and Islamic centre. Without Quilliam’s influence and funding, the Muslim community in Liverpool dispersed.

He had returned to the UK by December 1914 under the name of H. M. Leon. He spent much of his time at Onchan on the Isle of Man. He died in Taviton Street, Bloomsbury, London in 1932 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking. The prominent Anglo-Muslims Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (who each translated the Qur’an) were later buried near him.

The restoration of the Liverpool Muslim Institute has been undertaken by the Abdullah Quilliam Society who understand the need to protect and preserve our Muslim Heritage in this country as a way of identifying who we are, what we stand for and what we aspire to achieve. Imams Online is fully supportive of their efforts.

(Imams Online would like to stress that it is not affiliated with the Quilliam Foundation Think Tank. Our aim is to showcase and preserve our Muslim Heritage)

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