The Colonial Period
In 1897 a map of the British Empire would include Nigeria, Egypt, India and Malaya, all large territories with significant Muslim populations. Muslim lands provided the manpower and material resources that contributed to the prosperity of Victorian and Edwardian England.
The colonial encounter first brought Muslims to Britain as seamen, soldiers or students. The seamen, known as ‘lascars’, established the first communities in the main ports of England and Scotland. By the turn of the century there were also several hundred Muslim peddlers, who even ventured to the remoter parts of Scotland with their wares and medicines.
For a long period during her reign Queen Victoria employed two male Indian secretaries – Mohammed Buksh and Abdul Karim. They both entered the Queen’s service three days after her Golden Jubilee in 1887, but while Buksh remained at the rank of bearer, Abdul Karim became her secretary and an influential figure in the Royal Household.
The ‘Muslim time-line’ below describes how a Muslim community emerged in more recent times, with information on its most important personalities.
1860: Existence of a mosque at 2 Glyn Rhondda Street, Cardiff, recorded in the Register of Religious Sites (now maintained by the Office of National Statistics)
1886: Founding of the Anjuman-I-Islam in London, later renamed the Pan-Islamic Society.
1887: William Henry Quilliam (Shaikh Abdullah Quilliam) embraced Islam and led a small community in Liverpool. In 1889 the community rented a house, 8 Brougham Terrace, to serve as a prayer hall. He would personally call the adhan – the call to prayer – from one of its upper windows. The community was soon able to purchase the rented property and also 9-12 Brougham Terrace, which became the Liverpool Muslim Institute. Following a visit to Turkey Abdullah Quilliam was given the title ‘Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles’ by the Sultan. He founded a weekly journal, The Crescent, that was published from 1893 to1908. Quilliam is buried at Brookwood Cemetery, near Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking.
1889: Establishment of the Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking, with an adjoining student hostel, under the patronage of the Indian Muslim princess, the Begum of Bhopal. It was the base for the journal Muslim ‘India and the Islamic Review’, re-named as ‘the Islamic Review’ in 1921. An early editer was the charismatic Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, a barrister originally from Lahore.
1910: Syed Ameer Ali convened a public meeting at the Ritz Hotel for the establishment of the London Mosque Fund for “a mosque in London worthy of the tradition of Islam and worthy of the capital of the British Empire”. He was the first Indian to be appointed Privy Councilor and to be given membership of the Judicial Committee, the then Supreme Court of the Raj. On retirement in 1904 he settled in Britain with his English wife, His sons Waris and Tariq would subsequently serve as trustees on a number of the first mosque projects in London.
1913: First issue of the journal ‘Muslim India & The Islamic Review’, later renamed the ‘Islamic Review’, Woking. The journal was published for sixty years.
1914: Friday prayers held under the auspices of the London Mosque Fund, first in Lindsay Hall, Notting Hill Gate, and later at 39 Upper Bedford Place. The venue then shifted to 111 Campden Hill Road, where prayers were conducted till October 1928.
1916: British Muslim Lord Headley (Al-Haj El-Farooq) writes to Secretary of State Austen Chamberlain for allocation of state funds for the purchase and construction of a mosque in London “in memory of Muslim soldiers who died fighting for the Empire”.
1917: Marmaduke Pickthall, the son of an Anglican clergyman and distinguished poet and novelist, declared his Islam in dramatic fashion after delivering a talk on’Islam and Progress’ on 29 November 1917 to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London. Throughout the Great War (1914-1918), and even prior to declaring his faith as a Muslim, he wrote extensively in support of the Ottomans. When a vicious propaganda campaign was launched in 1915 over the massacres of Armenians, Pickthall rose to the challenge and argued that all the blame could not be placed on the Turkish government. At a time when many Indian Muslims in London had been coopted by the Foreign Office to provide propaganda services in support of Britain’s war against Turkey, Pickthall’s stand was a most courageous one and of great integrity. When British Muslims were asked to decide whether they were loyal to the Allies (Britain and France) or the Central Powers (Germany and Turkey), Pickthall said he was ready to be a combatant for his country so long as he did not have to fight the Turks. He was conscripted in the last months of the war and became corporal in charge of an influenza isolation hospital. The Foreign Office would have dearly liked to have used his talents as a linguist, but instead decided to regard him as a security risk.
1928: Formation of the London Nizamiah Mosque Trust Fund by Lord Headly (Al-Haj El-Farooq) ; these funds were subsequently transferred to the London Central Mosque Fund (present day Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park).
1930: A branch of the Western Islamic Association was formed in South Shields by Khalid Sheldrake. In 1936 there was also a sufi zawiya in South Shields at 45 Cuthbert Street. By 1938 the Muslim community was 700 strong.
1933: Muslim Society of Great Britain, under the presidency of Ismail de Yorke, organises Islamic events at the Portman Rooms, Baker Street.
1934: Formation of the Jamiat Muslimeen, East London, under the presidency of Dr. Qazi, with branches in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle. Following the death of Lord Headley, Sir Hassan Suhrawardy took over as chairman of the Nizamiah Mosque Trust.
1937: Abdullah Yusuf Ali, best known in the English-speaking Muslim world for his monumental translation and commentary of the Holy Qur’an, finally settles in Britain after years as an itinerant educationalist. British Muslims initiate their first political campaign by expressing opposition to the Peel Commission’s proposals for the partitioning of Palestine. Yusuf Ali, drawing on his first-hand knowledge of the mandates drawn up by the League of Nations, lectured widely on the injustice in Palestine, at venues in Brighton, Cambridge and London. Yusuf Ali was the only non-ambassadorial trustee of the London Central Mosque Fund, thus representing the British Muslim community.
1940: Churchill, at a war cabinet meeting on 24th October, authorises allocation of funds for the acquisition of a site for the London mosque.
1941: East London Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre opened by the Egyptian Ambassador, Dr Hassan Nahjat Pasha. The Mosque was subsequently managed by the Jamiat Muslimeen.
1943: Formation of the Jamiat Ittihad Muslimeen, Glasgow. The Jamiat’s first mosque was at 27/29 Oxford Street, Glasgow.
1944: King George VI visits the Islamic Cultural Centre – Regents Lodge in Regents Park – for its official opening.