Abdullah Quilliam – BBC World broadcast and book review

by britishmisk

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (aka Tim Winter) recently did an excellent feature on Abdullah Quilliam (which after listening to it, I realised the ‘u’ isn’t silent) for the BBC world service. You can find it here:


Also featured in this programme was Ron Geaves, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool who recently published a book on the life of Abdullah Quilliam and the state of Muslims and Islam in Britain during the Victorian era. I actually read this book last year, but for some reason never got round to reviewing it, so here goes:

The book is very insightful and interesting for anyone who knows about and is interested in the life and work of ‘Shaykh al-Bri6annia'(sic) William Abdullah Quilliam. It reveals a number of things about his life that many people who purport to be his admirers from many different circles would find very surprising (Anyone heard of the Quilliam Foundation?). For example the fact that he was a Zionist and supported the Jewish diaspora of the world to have a homeland in the Middle East. Albeit under the authority of the Ottoman Sultan as protected dhimmis. I think he would have a much different opinion today if he had seen what the Jewish homeland would eventually go on to become. Or the fact that he was patriotic royalist and supported both the Queen and the Ottoman Sultan. Or the fact he was a practising polygamist. One of the most surprising things the book reveals is after Shaykh Quilliam had to leave his Liverpudlian community, he went on take the persona of Henri de Leon, who I always thought was a completely separate person altogether. Monsieur Leon would go onto become involved with the Mosque at Woking, the oldest surviving in the country.

What is the most important aspect of the book however, is not the life of the man himself, but the legacy he and his community left behind for British Muslims today. The power and courage this man had would put the Muslim community to shame today. Looking back on his achievements, and what he and his compatriots had to put up with, in a time when racism and bigotry was common, when multiculturalism was an era away, he stood up for his faith and never lost his conviction in the face of pure hatred. For us today who are given halal meals in public buildings, literally served on a plate, prayer rooms in every hospital and airport, it’s people like Shaykh Quilliam who laid the foundation for the cushy lifestyle we take for granted as British Muslims today. He literally suffered for us, and we have done very little to repay his legacy. Recently the media made a show of a survey that gave an estimate of the number of British reverts to Islam. When I first read the article, I thought two things, one I’m not surprised, and two, that’s nowhere near how many there should be. For those of us from the immigrant communities, we have done next to nothing to support the converts in our community. Our mosques continue to cater for an archaic older generation, who in the very near future will cease to exist. The services in these mosques continue to be neither in English nor Arabic, but the language of the community who founded it, of which the younger generations of that community have very little understanding of. We continue to spew out incessant amounts of ‘literature’ for the service of ‘dawah’, forgetting that the only real piece of reading that has every historically brought people to our faith was the Eternal, Uncreated Word of Allah that is the Qur’an. (I’ve never heard of anyone becoming interested in Islam by reading a random pamphlet they get given on the street). Though progress has been made, it is slow, all of what we are doing, and what we have yet to achieve, was done by Shaykh Quilliam well over a century ago from the very beginning. The fact that we have so many people coming to the One True Faith is testimony to its greatness, and not because we have done very much to facilitate it.

If we had carried on the old traditions of Shaykh Quilliam, Shah Jalal, Moinuddin Chisti, the Arab traders who travelled to the African coast/Southern Indian/the Pacific archipelago, who knows what the state of Islam would be right now today in this country. Shaykh Quilliam, for British Muslims, stands as a reminder of what we need, and hope to achieve, something we should have done a long time ago. Recommended reading for anyone who wants to make a difference for Muslims and Islam in this country.