“An Englishman entered, dressed in the traditional robes and turban of an Ottoman Aalim. Five Hundred Indian troops who had arrived in Liverpool in 1902 stood and shouted “Allahu Akbar”.
When the Abdullah Quilliam Society approached me to create a website about a man called Abdullah Quilliam little did I realise the significance of this Victorian English convert to Islam. The more material that was given to me, the more fascinated I became with this forgotten champion of Islam.
William Henry Quilliam was born in 1856 and was part of a respectable family and a religious background in Christian Methodism. Originally from the Isle of Man, he moved to Liverpool at an early age. He became a well-known criminal lawyer and was involved in many high profile cases in Liverpool at the time.
He embraced Islam in 1887 and changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam.
The question is; what prompted this English Victorian gentleman from a strong Christian family to research Islam and become a Muslim? He explains this in his famous Cairo speech:
“…I boarded a ship to Tangier to see the lands of Morocco. While I was on the ferry, I saw some Moroccan Hajjis scooping up water from the sea and using it carefully and scrupulously to wash themselves. The ship set sail and as soon as it left the port, these Hajjis stood neatly together in a line and started to do the prayer, in full submission and tranquillity – they were not at all troubled by the force of the strong wind, or by the swaying of the ship. I was deeply touched by the look on their faces and their expressions, which displayed complete trust and sincerity. I was intrigued and became very interested to acquire knowledge and learn about their religion and those who believe in it.”
When he arrived back in England, did this new convert shy away from the public the fact that he had embraced Islam? On the contrary, he established England’s First Mosque – The Liverpool Muslim Institute. This fact was very surprising to me and in no doubt will be for many who had previously considered Woking Mosque in London to be the first in the UK. The mosque was used by worshippers of all nationalities including Indian sailors. Part of the building was known as Madina House: an orphanage and a centre for feeding the impoverished and children from the local community.
We learn that Abdullah Quilliam was extensively involved in Politics. Due to his strong defence of Muslims in the international arena coupled with his Islamic work in England, the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hameed II, gave Abdullah Quilliam the title and position of ‘Sheikh of The British Isles’: a position that has not been held by anyone since.
Abdullah Quilliam produced many publications. Islamic World was a monthly journal published by Abdullah Quilliam that had world-wide circulation. The Crescent, a weekly record of Islam in England, edited by Abdullah Quilliam represents Muslims in England between 1893 and 1908. These unique documents are a historic record of the situation of Islam and of a growing convert community in British colonial times.
The result of Abdullah Quilliams Da’wah resulted in almost 600 converts to Islam in Britain alone. One of the converts was called Elizabeth Murray Cates. Abdullah Quilliam gave a copy of the Quran to her in 1887. She says:
“I accordingly took it home and commenced carefully reading it. My mother on perceiving this asked me what I was reading. I answered The Muhammedan Bible”. She replied, angrily, “How dare you read such a vile and wicked book? Give it to me this minute and let me burn it…” I answered, “No… How can I know whether it is wicked book or not until I read it?” She tried to take the book from me, but I escaped to my bedroom and locked myself in it, and went on reading what I now consider the most precious book that could be bought”.
Thereafter she became a Muslim and changed her name to Fatima Murray Cates.
On the 23rd April 1932, Abdullah Quilliam died. He was buried at Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, close to other famous personalities like Lord Headly and Marmuduke Picktall.
Muslims, especially those who reside in countries like Great Britain yearn for a role model who can represent them. This person has to be honest and just; does not dilute the principles of Islam or apologise for them. Equally, he does not call for isolation or segregation from the non-Muslim population. I believe that Abdullah Quilliam was such a person.
You can find more information about Abdullah Quilliam and the Abdullah Quilliam Society by visiting: