Shaykhul Islam of the British Isles;
Shaykh Abdullah (William Henry) Quilliam (Rahimahullah)
By Mujib Abdur Rahman
A few Years ago, me and a group of brothers headed to Woking, to visit the Shah Jahan Masjid, the first PURPOSE BUILT Masjid in Britain. I first heard about this Masjid when my late father mentioned how he attended a Janazah there. I became quite fond of it and always wished to visit it.
It’s a beautiful little Masjid MashaAllah, well maintained. Though the regular prayers take place in a nearby building with a larger capacity, many people from all over the country visit the Masjid. Built in 1889 by Dr Gottleib Wilhelm Leitner, it plays an important role in educating the local community through classes for children and adults as well as guided tours for schools.
But what is more interesting about the link to the Masjid, is the grave of a notable individual; actually a few notable individuals. They are Marmaduke Pickthall, Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Abdullah Quilliam. I want to concentrate on Abdullah Quilliam the founder of England’s first Masjid.
Unfortunately we couldn’t locate their graves, but nevertheless went to the Muslim graveyard and prayed for them and other Muslims around the world.
It was in the Victorian age, a boy was born to a wealthy local family in Liverpool (#YNWA! LFC!) His father was a Watchmaker Manufacturer and his great grandfather (Robert Quilliam) was born in Isle of Man, where the young boy would study to work in legal practice. This young boy was called William Henry Quilliam.
A successful solicitor, William was well respected in the community. He would be well connected with the highest people in his society as well as the lowest; more on that later inshaAllah.
William fell ill one day. His doctor had advised him to go to a warm place to make his recovery quick. William Quilliam decided to go to Gibraltar (Some say it comes from ‘Jabal Tariq’ the ‘Mountain of Tariq’ after the Teenage conqueror Tariq ibn Ziyad). From Gibraltar he would see the mountains of Morocco and wonder what was on the other side. So one day he got a boat and finally went over to Morocco. He was amazed by the Moroccan people, the culture, but more importantly the religion followed by the Moroccan people; Islam. He was very impressed by Islam and the character of the people that he eventually embraced Islam.
Upon his return to UK, having changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam, he founded a Masjid in 8 Brougham Terrace, Liverpool on 25th December 1889. Alhamdulillah many people embraced Islam at his hands, some say around 400-500 people!
Abdullah Quilliam began a few activities and services at the Masjid. It was not a normal Masjid like we see in a few places today. They had:
- Orphanage called Medina Orphanage
- Education- Scholars and intellectual would come in to teach various topics, including Science, Mathematics etc…
- Feeding Homeless people, Muslim or Non
- Free legal representation by Shaykh Abdullah
- Fed the poor and needy on Christmas Day in the Masjid
- And more
- He was given the rank of Shaykhul Islam of the British Isles, by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who he would represent at events. He was known as an Alim by the Islamic authority of Morocco.
- Abdullah Quilliam sent Queen Victoria some books on Islam. She replied back to him telling him how she enjoyed the books and wanted more for her grandchildren!
- Shaykh Abdullah moved down to London in the Woking area
- There he went under the name Henri Marcel Leon or Haroun Mustapha Leon
- Passed away on 28th April 1932
- More about his life and teachings can be found in Islam in Victorian Britain: The Life and Times of Abdullah Quilliam by Ron Geaves
The Masjid Currently
- The Masjid closed down due to racist attacks with the Muslim community moving away
- The building was bought by Liverpool City Council.
- Birth, Marriages and Deaths used to be registered in the building where the Masjid was; staff used to refer to it as ‘the little mosque’. The Muslim community then found out about the history and significance of the building.
- Liverpool City Council sold the Masjid back to the Muslim community for just £1, on condition it be turned into a heritage centre so everyone can understand about the Masjid, about Abdullah Quilliam and the community.
- The Masjid is now open and holds five daily prayers and Jumuah.
- They hope to revive the services that Abdullah Quilliam once ran in Liverpool
May Allah reward Shaykh Abdullah Quilliam and bless the community of Liverpool to continue in the service of each other, Aameen.
- Shaykh Abdullah William Henry Quilliam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0yhNDpo3h8
- One man and his Da’wah (Abdullah Quilliam) – Adam Kelwick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQp5JSVCIJA
- Yusuf Chambers; Abdullah Quilliam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf9uShihPd8
Adam Kelwick Lectures
Islam in Victorian Britain: The Life and Times of Abdullah Quilliam by Ron Geaves
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