William Henry Quilliam, a local Liverpool solicitor and resident embraced Islam in 1887 (aged 31), after returning from a visit to Morocco, and took on the name Abdullah. He claimed that he was the first native Englishman to embrace Islam. His conversion led to a remarkable story of the growth of Islam in Victorian Britain. This history is now beginning to emerge and has important lessons for Muslims in Britain and around the world.
After embracing Islam, Quilliam began a campaign of Dawah, which in the circumstances of Victorian England, has to be described as the most effective in the UK to date. He became an Alim, an Imam and the most passionate advocate of Islam in the Western world. In 1894 Sultan Abdul Hamid ll (shown on the left), the last Ottoman Caliph, appointed him Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles. The Emir of Afghanistan recognised him as the Sheikh of Muslims in Britain. He was also appointed as the Persian Vice Counsel to Liverpool by the Shah. He became a prominent spokesman for Islam in the media and was recognised by Muslims around the world. He is the only Muslim in Britain to have officially held the position of Sheikh Ul Islam of Britain. He issued many Fatwas in his capacity as appointed Leader of Muslims in Britain. These fatwas are relevant even today.
He established the Mosque and Liverpool Muslim Institute at No. 8 Brougham Terrace and later purchased the remainder of the terrace, and 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, and agreed to for them to be raised in the values of Islam. In addition, the Institute operated educational classes covering a wide range of subjects that were attended by both Muslims and non-Muslims, and included a museum and science laboratory.
In 1893 the Institute published a weekly magazine, named ‘The Crescent’, and later added the monthly ‘Islamic World’, which was printed on the Institute’s own press and distributed to over 20 countries. The Crescent was published every week and was effectively a dairy and record of Islam in Britain and the around the world. There are hundreds of archive copies of these magazines in the British Library. Without this unique weekly record we would not know of the existence of this native Muslim community of around 200 people in Liverpool, and many other parts of Britain. These offer the first attempt at Muslim journalism in the UK and offer a unique insight into a British Muslims view of events and issues in Liverpool, the UK and the Muslim world, at a crucial period of Muslims living under colonial rule.
He also wrote and published a number of books. In particular his “Faith of Islam” had three editions translated into thirteen different languages, and was so popular that Queen Victoria ordered a copy and then re-ordered copies for her grandchildren. The Institute grew, and at the turn of the century held a membership of 200 predominantly English Muslim men, women and children from across the local community. Quilliam’s dawah led to around 600 people in the UK embracing Islam, many of them very educated and prominent individuals in British Society, as well as ordinary men and women. His efforts also led to the first Japanese man embracing Islam.
Quilliam eventually had to leave England after facing hostility and persecution, the first Muslim experience of “Islamophobia” in the UK. He eventually returned to the UK and adopted the name Haroun Mustapha Leon, and passed away in 1932 near Woking, and was buried in Brookfield Cemetery where Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall and Lord Headly are also buried.