Abdullah Qulliam: Builder of Britain's First Mosque
By: Ruqyah Sweidan/Arab America Contributing Writer
William Henry Quilliam was a legal practitioner from Liverpool who embraced Islam at a young age of 31. Upon returning from North Africa, he took the name Abdullah. Many believe that he was the first native Englishman to embrace Islam. Today, there are nearly four million Muslims in Britain. Quilliam’s conversion during the Victorian era signified a starting point to the growth of Islam in the country.
Who was Mr Quilliam?
William Henry Quilliam was born on April 10, 1856, to Wesleyan Methodist parents. He spent his childhood on the Isle of Man and was educated at the Liverpool Institute. Quilliam worked as a solicitor at 28 Church St, Liverpool. He was a criminal lawyer who defended many high-profile murder cases. The Liverpool Weekly Courier described him as the unofficial Attorney-General of Liverpool. Quilliam also had a diverse range of interests, including zoology, public speaking, and philanthropy. He founded and edited many journals and trade-union activities.
In a speech he made in Cairo in 1928, Quilliam explained his attraction to Islam. “I read the translated Holy Qur’an and the book of Hero’s written by Carlyle and many other books. When I left Tangiers I was obedient to Islam and surrendered to its power and confessed it was the true religion.”
Abdullah’s Growing Influence
Now called Abdullah, he wrote a pamphlet entitled Faith of Islam. The first edition had 2000 copies in 1890. A further 3000 copies were published in 1892. The Crescent, a weekly Islamic newspaper, was formed and edited by Abdullah. It represented Muslims in England between 1893 and 1908. Today the magazine is considered a historical record of Islam in the UK, and a growing convert community during British colonial times. It also received international attention. Another monthly journal that was published by Abdullah was the Islamic World, and this too, had world-wide circulation.
The last Ottoman Calipha, Sultan Abdul Hameed II, bestowed upon Abdullah Quilliam the official title of Sheikh al-Islam for the British Isles. The Emir of Afghanistan followed suit in recognizing Abdullah as the Sheikh of Muslims in Britain. He was then appointed as the Persian Vice Counsel to Liverpool by the Shah of Iran.
Britain’s First Mosque
Abdullah Quilliam purchased the Liverpool Muslim Institute at 8 Brougham Terrace, made possible by Prince Nasrullah Khan of Afghanistan. After establishing the mosque, Abdullah opened a boarding school for boys and a day school for girls. He also opened an orphanage (Medina House) for non-Muslim children whose parents could not look after them. The children learned the values of Islam. Moreover, the Institute operated educational classes covering a wide range of subjects enjoyed by both Muslims and non-Muslims. There was even a built-in museum and a science laboratory.
A number of notable individuals converted to Islam as a result of Quilliam’s preaching. They included professors Nasrullah Warren and Haschem Wilde, along with Robert Stanley, the former mayor of Stalybridge. It is estimated that around six hundred people converted to Islam in Britain because of Quilliam’s work
Abdullah’s Later Life
Quilliam eventually had to leave England in 1908 after facing hostility and persecution. The Roll of Solicitors Association had accused Abdullah of unprofessional conduct. Hence, this was one of the earliest cases of “Islamophobia” in the UK. Although he eventually returned and adopted the name Haroun Mustapha Leon, Quilliam passed away in 1932, near Woking. He was buried in Brookfield Cemetery in Surrey, England. Abdullah Quilliam left an inspirational legacy to Muslims in Britain who continue his charitable and educational work.
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