[Given the interest sparked in Abdullah Quilliam by the Quilliam Foundation, it is pertinent to know the history and views of their adopted namesake and his relevance for today]

William Henry Quilliam was the son of a watch manufacturer Robert Quilliam, and a descendant of Captain John Quilliam RN, who was First Lieutenant on HMS Victory with Nelson.

He qualified as a solicitor and established the largest advocacy practice in the North. In 1882 Quilliam visited southern France to recover from overwork and crossed over to Algeria and Morocco. There he learned about Islam and at the age of 31 proclaimed himself to be Muslim.

He returned to Liverpool in 1889 to spread Islam as Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam. Converts included his sons, prominent scientists and professionals. His mother was a Methodist activist until 1893 when at the age of 63 she converted. Local Muslims gave her the title Khadijah (Mother of the Faithful). After accepting Islam, Quilliam was reported to have attended court dressed in full Turkish regalia and as travelling on a white Arab horse!

Quilliam set up a prayer and meeting room with the community in Mount Vernon Street. He managed to publish three editions of The Faith of Islam which was subsequently translated into thirteen languages. Quilliam became famous throughout the Islamic world. The Sultan of Turkey made him Sheikh-Ul-Islam of Britain and his son became British Consul General in Turkey. The Sultan of Morocco made him an Alim and the Shah of Persia also appointed him as Consul. A gift of £2,500 was donated to the community by the Sultan of Afghanistan. This was used to establish the Islamic Institute and Liverpool Mosque in Broughton Terrace, Liverpool.

A hundred Muslims could pray there. The Friday Prayer sermons were both in English and Arabic. In the basement the group set up a printing press and commenced publishing The Crescent weekly and a monthly journal, The Islamic Review which was later distributed to over twenty countries worldwide.

Nearly two thousand illegitimate births occurred annually in Liverpool during this period and many women turned to the Institute for help. To counter this growing problem, Quilliam founded the Medina Home to care for children and to find them foster families. The Institute also started a Muslim College with courses for Muslims and non-Muslims in arts, science and law. Teachers included Professor Haschem Wilde and Professor Nasrullah Warren. A weekly Debating and Literary Society attracted many non-Muslims. They were also invited to the Institute for prayers and sermons on Sunday. There was singing from Quilliam’s collection of hymns for English-speaking Muslims. These meetings brought a hundred and fifty non-Muslims to Islam by 1896!

Quilliam continually faced opposition, arguing for everything from the right to make the public call to prayer to British interference in the Sudan. As his success increased – so did the level of harassment. The muezzin of the mosque was often pelted with snowballs, stones and dirt. Firecrackers were thrown at the mosque and glass was ground into the carpets to cut the feet of the worshippers. The Church and elements of the media in particular were quite antagonistic.

On one occasion a group of local Baptists stood up in the middle of one of Abdullah Quilliam’s sermons to preach in what they referred to as the ‘heathen temple’. The leader of the band said that Quilliam was “…a man sent by the devil to deceive you and lead you into the eternal fire where the worm dieth not” and pointing to the fez caps on the heads of the members of the congregation, stated “and these are the regimentals worn by his soldiers.” In a Christian journal, ‘The Crusader’, Quilliam was described as “this arch -infidel and renegade from the Christian faith” and was pronounced as proof of possession by the devil.

Quilliam had the courage and the audacity to openly criticise the imperialist policies of the Government and denounced the colonisation and suppression of foreign territories:-

“An American explodes a bomb in the crowded streets of Constantinople and slays innocent women and children and , because he calls himself a Christian he is extolled in England as a hero and as a patriot! An Afghan fights for his fatherland in the Khyber Pass, and because he is a Muslim he is denounced as a traitor and a rebel, and his land is to be raided and his wives and children slain. Such is the British Christian logic at the end of the 19th Century in the diamond jubilee year of the reign of the Queen Empress.”

The group suffered indignities because the adoption of Islam implied a rejection of Queen and country in the eyes of the wider community – especially at a time when the Empire was at loggerheads with the Ottoman Caliphate. As well as having the ability to write authoritatively on Christianity and Judaism, Quilliam was a remarkable visionary:- “At the present time union is more than ever necessary among Muslims. The Christian powers are proposing a new crusade to shatter the Muslim powers, under the pretext that they desire to civilise the world. This is nothing but hypocrisy, but armed as they are with the resources of Western civilisation it will be impossible to resist them unless Muslims stand united as one solid phalanx.”

Within 30 years of this statement, the Khilafah was destroyed. Quilliam left for the East in 1908 and in his absence the Mosque and the Institute declined. The mosque on Brougham Terrace is now the Registry for Births, Deaths and Marriages.

On October 10 1997, Patricia Gordon, the granddaughter of Shaykh Abdullah Quilliam unveiled a plaque in the building to honour the founding of the oldest mosque in Britain and to celebrate the events that happened there. In an emotional address she recalled: ‘My greatest memory of him, is being compassionate at all times, a man of great courage and way ahead of his time, and a credit to Islam. He gave me an understanding of human emotions and frailties, in fact a catalogue of everything of everything one would wish to see in us all.’

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