Of all the countries of Western Europe, the UK has always had a “special relationship” with the Islamic world. Initially, Muslims landed on Foggy Albion as explorers and traders.
Trade played a big role under King Off of Mercia, the famous Anglo-Saxon ruler of the 8th century, famous for building a dam. His coins were engraved with the Muslim testimony of faith “There is no god but Allah” in Arabic.
The era of the Crusades and the Renaissance
Later, relations with the Islamic world were overshadowed by the Crusades, in which the British took part. So, in 1147, the Muslim city of Lisbon was destroyed, while 150 thousand Muslims were killed. The main role in this was played by the soldiers of Norfolk and Suffolk.
However, England was the first country in Europe to experience a renaissance after the Middle Ages, largely due to the influence of Islamic culture.
By the 14th century, after the Crusades, thanks to the introduction of some Muslim traditions into the cultural life of Great Britain, from architectural details and spices to the so famous English gallantry, the Islamic world began to enjoy great respect in this country.
Such names as ar-Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) formed the basis of the intellectual and scientific life of Great Britain.
Influence of the Ottoman Empire
Beginning in the 16th century, Britain developed close ties with the Islamic world and especially with the Ottoman Empire, which at that time extended westward through central Europe and the Mediterranean. London expanded its trade to the East.
By 1620, the naval presence of Istanbul began to be felt close to the British Isles, which often resulted in skirmishes. The representatives of the Stuart dynasty were most concerned about the fact that the Ottoman fleets were often led by the British, who converted to Islam and “became Turks.”
During the reign of Elizabeth I, more English people lived in the countries of North Africa than in the emerging North American colonies at that time. In Algeria alone, there were about 5,000 Britons, most of whom converted to Islam. British travelers going to the East often brought back stories about their “changed faith” comrades who entered the service of the Ottoman Empire.
Thus, one of the most powerful Ottoman nobles of the late 16th century, Hasan Agha, was formerly the British Samson Rowley. The famous executioner of the ruler of Algeria was previously an executioner from Exeter, nicknamed “Absalom” (Abd us-Salam). And the famous Ottoman general, nicknamed “Inglis Mustafa” (Mustafa the Englishman), was actually a Scot who converted to Islam and joined the Janissaries.
Ambassador Sir Thomas Shirely believed that the more time an Englishman spends in Islamic countries, the more he begins to imitate the manners of Muslims. Islam had a stronger influence than the English way of life, and it was this, and not at all conquests, that explained its growing popularity. In 1606, even the British consul in Egypt, Benjamin Bishop, converted to Islam. There is no further information about his life.
Also at that time, London’s trade with the Ottoman Empire flourished. By the end of the 17th century, it accounted for a quarter of the British foreign trade turnover.
Dr. Henry Stubb
By the 16th and 17th centuries there was a certain vogue for Islam in Britain. The first British Muslim whose name is preserved in a historical source – the book “Journey to Tripoli”, written in 1583 – was the son of the Life Guards of Her Majesty’s Guard, John Nelson.
In the 30s of the 17th century, chairs of the Arabic language were established at Oxford and Cambridge universities, because at that time British scientists experienced a great need for translations from Arabic of scientific works in various fields: mathematics, astronomy, medicine, etc. The Renaissance began.
In 1649, Alexander Ross translated the Qur’an into English. Despite the fact that even in that era Islam and Muslims in Europe were subjected to quite strong criticism, a balanced approach prevailed in England.
And Dr. Henry Stubb became the first European Christian to write favorably about Islam. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, worked as a physician in Warwick and was the court physician to King James.
His biographer, Anthony Wood, describes him as “the most famous man of his era.” In addition, he was a researcher who spoke Latin and Greek, as well as Hebrew, and a biblical scholar – a representative of a new school that tried to critically comprehend it.
Thanks to all these talents, he wrote a book that could be considered progressive even for the 19th century, and for its time – simply stunning. This can be judged by the title itself: “The story of the emergence and development of Mohammedanism and evidence of the groundlessness of the accusations of Christians against this religion and its Prophet.”
This work was never published, but at least 6 copies were secretly in circulation. Of these, at least three are preserved in the private library of His Reverend John Disney today. The latter is famous for the fact that at the beginning of the 19th century he shocked the traditional church by publicly announcing his conversion to Unitarianism, i.e. rejected the dogma of the Trinity and recognized Monotheism.
Dr. Stubb died in 1676 after being accused of heresy and spent some time in prison.
The British East India Company, founded in 1600, sought to extract maximum profit from the spice trade with the East. However, in the course of the competitive struggle, Holland forced it out of India, a country where at that time the influential Muslim Mogul dynasty ruled. At that time, India was the center of a highly developed culture and civilization and attracted merchants from all over the world.
Nevertheless, the East India Company managed to play a big role in the development of the British economy and society. In the 18th century, the company regained its enormous power. She even had her own army, used to seize territories.
As the power of the Mughals waned, the East India Company became the vehicle for extending British rule over much of India. British control of India through trade, conquest and colonization led to the gradual migration of part of India’s population to Britain.
Among the migrants were mainly servants, sailors and students. This process contributed to the interpenetration of the English and Indian way of life, to the mixing of cultures. However, after the coming to power of Queen Victoria, which was accompanied by the strengthening of the Protestants, it came to an end.
Queen Victoria and her Muslim teacher
Among the young English there were many who went to India in search of fortune. Some returned home rich and gradually formed a new class – “Nabobs”.
These people brought Indian servants with them. Many British families, going from India on a long journey to their homeland, took with them nannies who looked after their children on the road. Only a few of these nannies had the money to return home, while the rest settled in the UK.
In 1877, Queen Victoria proclaimed herself Empress of India, but she never visited this country. In 1887, after her jubilee, several Indian servants appeared at the royal court along with their wives.
The Indian Muslim Abd ul-Karim was the royal favourite. He later became Queen Victoria’s secretary. She took Hindi lessons from him and encouraged her ladies-in-waiting, who also showed a desire to learn this language.
Later, Abdul-Karim was awarded the title of “Companion of the Indian Empire”, which was considered very honorable. The attention the Queen paid to her Hindu servant shocked the court, and after Victoria’s death, Abd ul-Karim was sent back to India.
“Baths of Magomed”
In the nineteenth century there were quite a lot of Muslim businessmen in Great Britain. Among them, one of the most famous was the founder of the famous “Magomed’s Baths” on the coast in Brighton, Seik Din Muhammad.
He was born in India, in Patna, in 1759. In 1784, Muhammad came to Britain with Captain Baker, an officer in the East Indian Regiment. He settled in the Irish city of Cork, where he met his future wife, Jane.
The young married in secret from the bride’s parents. His book, The Travels of Dean Mahomed, was published in Ireland in 1794. It tells the story of the seizure of India by the East India Company from the point of view of an Indian Muslim.
From Cork, Muhammad moved to London, where he opened a coffee shop. Later, he happened to go to Brighton, a popular resort. There he opened his famous steam (massage) baths in 1815.
At first, medical circles reacted to the innovation with prejudice, and patients were afraid to resort to new procedures. Then Muhammad offered to use the baths for free, and they helped some of those patients who tried in vain to be treated by other methods.
Baths soon became popular. Not only British residents, but also Europeans came to the resort, and doctors prescribed “Magomed’s baths” to their patients. In 1822, King George IV appointed Magomed “personal massage therapist”, a position he retained under William IV. Muhammad was a generous man and treated the poor for free.
In 1822, his medical book, The Massage or Use of Indian Medical Steam Baths, was published. The success of the book encouraged other entrepreneurs to open massage baths in Brighton as well.
Joseph Salter was a missionary living on Chapel Street, London (now Edgware Road) in 1853. He helped many Muslims and became interested in their religion and culture. In the late 50s of the 19th century, he became friends with representatives of the Indian Muslim elite. He learned much about Islam both from them and from the many merchants and medical and law students who came to London.
In 1857, Joseph was assigned to the Strangers Home. It was here that sailors began to flock, unloading their goods in Glasgow and Liverpool. Over the course of 16 years, about 16 thousand people visited the house, of which about 1300 were able to find here not only shelter, but also food and clothing.
For 39 years, Joseph Salter served the Lascar community as an assistant and teacher. Some idea of his life can be gathered from his diaries “An Asian in England”, as well as “East and West”. One of the streets in East London was named after him.
In the 90s of the 19th century, politicians and industrialists began to think about the difficult lot of sailors. In 1911, Havelock Wilson united the sailors into a single union and went on strike demanding better working conditions for them.
The influx of cheap labor from abroad had a negative effect on the wages of the British. In the end, in 1912, about 9 thousand foreign sailors were fired. Thus, the trade union tried to protect the interests of the rest, to achieve for them an increase in wages and better working conditions.
After that, most of the foreign sailors went into small business. Their communities appeared in Liverpool, Cardiff, etc. Most of them were Arabs from Yemen.
By 1948 there were hundreds of Muslims living in British cities. Many of them married English women, some of whom converted to Islam. They took care of the house and children while their husbands worked – usually in small shops or workshops, where they had a lot to communicate with the local population.
As Muslim families grew, so did their need to perform religious rites. Many of them adhered to Sufism.
They contributed to the construction of small mosques (zawiyas) where every Muslim could pray. Typically, a similar analogue of a modern Islamic center occupied part of the house and could accommodate up to 50 worshipers.
Rituals of marriage, naming, circumcision and burial were also held here. It was in the zawiyas that Muslims gathered during religious holidays. Both children and adults studied Islam here.
Zawiyas have become a true center of life for the Muslim community. Here, bonds of friendship and kinship were often born and strengthened.
Women brought stability to the life of the community. Often they had to leave their own family to marry a Muslim. The imam of the zawiya in Cardiff was Sheikh al-Hakimi. One of the women said about him: “Before the Sheikh came here, we felt like just “Arab wives”, but with his arrival everything changed. We got better. We realized that we have our own religion and our own spiritual leader, whom we are proud of.” The sheikh often visited institutions for Muslim sisters.
For them, zawii became a source of comfort and inner strength, which they transmitted to the entire community. And such care paid off: there were cases when the children of English mothers went to the Egyptian Al-Azhar University to study Islam.
Sheikh al-Hakimi died in Cardiff in 1934. He was replaced by Sheikh Ahmed. The latter showed considerable activity in the field of politics, he established contacts with the British government and discussed with him the question of the future of the Arab world.
At the same time, in the middle of the 20th century, numerous Muslims from all over the world began to arrive in the country, and zawiyas gradually lost their former importance.
William Henry Quilliam of Liverpool had the largest legal practice in the North. One of his ancestors, John Quilliam, fought in the victorious Battle of Trafalgar.
In 1882, Henry Quilliam decided to take a break. He went to southern France, from where he went to Algiers and Morocco. There he learned about Islam and in 1887 became a Muslim. He returned to Liverpool in 1889 and, under the name of Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, began to actively propagate Islam.
Among the newcomers were his sons, as well as well-known scientists and prominent specialists. His mother was active in the Methodist Church until 1893, but she eventually converted to the new religion. At that time, she was 63. Local Muslims named her Khadija in honor of the Mother of the Faithful.
Together with members of his family, Quillian founded a prayer house and center for Muslims on Mount Vernon Street. He also published three editions of The Islamic Faith, which was subsequently translated into 13 languages. Quilliam became a prominent thinker in the Muslim world.
The Ottoman Sultan will give him the title of “Sheikh-ul-Islam of Great Britain”. And his son became the British Consul General in Istanbul. He became famous throughout the Muslim world.
The ruler of Afghanistan, on the other hand, sent Quilliam a generous donation of money, which he used to establish an Islamic institute and build a mosque in Liverpool that could accommodate a hundred Muslims. Friday sermons in this mosque were read in both Arabic and English. In addition, the printed publication “Crescent” began to appear, acquainting its readers with the events taking place in the Islamic world.
At that time, a lot of illegitimate children were born in Liverpool – almost 2 thousand annually. Many women turned to the Islamic Institute for help. In 1896, Quilliam founded the House of Medina charity center to address this problem, which took care of illegitimate children and found them foster families.
A Muslim college was also opened at the Islamic Institute, where both Muslims and non-Muslims could study sciences, arts and law. Among his teachers were Prof. Hashem Wild and Prof. Nasrullah Warren.
Among non-Muslims, the society of literature and disputes, which met weekly, was especially popular. They were frequent guests of the Islamic Institute, where they could listen to prayers and Sunday lectures. Thanks to this activity, by 1896, about one and a half hundred Englishmen had converted to Islam.
Quilliam was not afraid to defend his point of view, which was manifested, among other things, in his speeches for an end to British interference in the affairs of Sudan. However, as his success grew, so did the hostility of the ruling circles and the church. Quilliam was eventually forced to leave for the East in 1908, and after his departure both the Institute and the mosque fell into disrepair.
Mosque in Working
Before 1914, the main centers of “organized Islam” in Great Britain were Liverpool, London and Working. There was a growing community of Muslims in London, mostly Indians.
Since 1907, the Islamic Society began to operate. It became the successor to the Pan-Islamic Society, which in turn grew out of Anjuman-e-Islam, founded in 1886. The Society published a monthly magazine called “The Light of the World” and republished Dr. Stubb’s book “An Account of the Origin and Development of Mohammedanism”.
A special fund was created for Muslim soldiers, as well as widows and children of war veterans. Among his patrons were Balfour, Lloyd George and Chamberlain. It was planned to build a central mosque in the city, modeled on the Parisian one, which served the 30,000 Muslim community. Unfortunately, the last project was never implemented.
In 1884, Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, an orientalist and traveler born in Budapest in 1840, left his post of dean of the University of the Punjab, where he had worked for 20 years, and came to England. As a linguist, he cherished the dream of creating an institute for oriental studies and oriental literature, which could be an Islamic university.
In 1889, Professor Leitner built the mosque with funds from Her Highness Begam Shan Jahan, the ruler of Bhopal. She was named after her. Publicly, the professor denied that his goal was to promote the development of Islam, although the mosque he built led many people to this religion.
After the death of Professor Leitner in 1899, the importance of the mosque began to decline, and so it continued until the emergence of Kwaj Kamal-ud-Din, a brilliant scholar and barrister from the region now part of Pakistan. He did a lot to spread Islam.
In 1912 he came to Richmond and began publishing his articles in the Islamic Review. In 1913, Leitner restored the mosque in Working and breathed new life into it. At this mosque, he created a special mission, whose task was to help the newly converted Muslims. In December of the same year, the adoption of Islam was announced by a member of the House of Lords, the Eleventh Baron Hadley.
However, Hadley was not the first peer to convert to Islam. Half a century before him, Lord Stanley, Bertrand Russell’s uncle, became a Muslim.
Hadley was a civil engineer and worked for some time in India. After studying Islam, he adopted this religion in 1896, while taking the title of Sheikh al-Farouk. He soon became active in the British Muslim movement. He wrote many articles for the Islamic Review and in 1923 performed the Hajj.
Headley’s acceptance of Islam helped awaken the interest of the curious British public in the religion, as it demonstrated that Islam was suitable not only for the semi-civilized mullahs and self-proclaimed Mahdi, but also for the educated citizens of Britain.
Both the mission and the mosque have contributed to the acceptance of Islam by many British people, especially those of the middle and upper classes of society. New converts included Professor Mustafa Leon, Stanley Musgrave, Khalid Sheldrake, and Yeha al-Nasr Parkinson.
Lectures and discussions took place in hotels, as well as in the homes of prominent Muslims and non-Muslims. On the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), a hotel was hired to give a lecture on his life path. During the two world wars, political life died down, and people turned to the search for a higher meaning for their lives. By 1924 there were, according to various estimates, about a thousand new converts in Britain.
The mosque in Working was also a socially significant center of Islam in Great Britain. Honored guests from abroad were often met here. Among them were Indian princes, King Abdullah of Jordan, the Sultan of Sokota (Nigeria) and the family of King Saud (Saudi Arabia). The Islamic Review, on the other hand, regularly published news about people who converted to Islam.
He provided his readers with information about the religious and social life of Muslims. It was during this period of time that two translations of the Koran into English were published, which received the greatest distribution.
Marmaduke Pickthall was born in Suffolk to a preacher’s family. He was one of the representatives of the middle class, high professionals in his field. As a young man he went to study Arabic in Palestine, Syria and Egypt. He tried to look like a resident of every country he visited, in everything, including language and clothes.
During his two years in Palestine, Pickthall was disappointed by the European Christian community that lived there, which seemed to him too snobbish, which even then pushed him to the idea of converting to Islam.
Pickthall was a writer. Between 1903 and 1921 he published nine novels set in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Turkey. He also wrote six novels about life in England, and three series of short stories focusing mainly on the Middle East. In 1921, Forster referred to him as “the only modern English novelist who understands the Middle East.”
Pickthall also traveled to Turkey, where he learned Turkish. He met progressive imams and saw that there was no contradiction between Islam and modernization. He considered Turkey the hope of the Muslim world and wanted the Turks to stick to their Islamic roots rather than strive to become like Europeans, and that the second language of this country should be Arabic, not French.
After returning to Europe, Pickthall became increasingly interested in Middle Eastern politics. He was against the evangelical propaganda in Turkey and complained that the European powers were using it to their advantage.
After World War I, Pickthall’s political interests shifted from Turkey to India. During the war, he established contacts with young Muslims, mostly from India, who performed prayers in the London mosque. In 1920, Pickthall and his wife went to India, which became his home for the next 15 years. There he devoted his free time to the study of Urdu.
In 1928, thanks to a paid vacation, Pickthall was able to complete his translation of the Qur’an. This translation was the first by a Muslim whose native language was English. In the course of his work, Pickthall consulted with scientists from Europe and Egypt, where he made short trips while living in Hyderabad.
The final title of Pickthall’s work, published in 1930, was “The Meanings of the Holy Qur’an” because, as he stated: “The Qur’an cannot be translated. This is the point of view of the traditional sheikhs and the author.” The book was published in 1930 and later in 1939. Since then, it has been reprinted several times in various countries, including the UK, USA, India, UAE, Libya, and has also been translated into Turkish, Portuguese, Urdu and other languages.
Pickthall died on 19 May 1936 and was buried in Woking Muslim Cemetery.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali was born in 1872 in Surat. His father was the chief of the local police, honored by the Raj for his services. He was educated at a Muslim school in Bombay and then studied at the Scottish Missionary College. The love of knowledge allowed him to receive his first diploma at the age of 19, after which he was able to receive a scholarship to study law at Cambridge.
Three years later, having received his second diploma, he successfully passed the exam and entered the prestigious civil service of India. He was appointed as a Member of the Saharanpur Magistracy. In carrying out his official duties, he met with such eminent figures as Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, who made a deep impression on him.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali returned to the UK in 1990 and married an Englishwoman, Teresa Shalders. He enjoyed great popularity as an advocate for the rights of Indian Muslims, won a Royal Society of Arts medal for a series of lectures, and was recognized by The Times as “a very talented civil servant of India and a representative of the great Mohammedan country.”
When the Muslim Literary Society opened in 1916, Yusuf Ali was elected its president. In many ways a child of his time, he was devoted to the British Empire. During the First World War, he went to serve as a volunteer and carried out various assignments for the Crown, mainly related to propaganda among the Allies. In 1917 he was awarded a government award.
During the World Congress of Religions in Oxford in 1937, Yusuf Ali represented Islam. He talked a lot about the need for understanding and harmony between followers of different faiths.
He spent his advanced years in London, often speaking at interfaith gatherings. However, the initiatives that Yusuf Ali supported fell into decay one after another. The refusal of the League of Nations to defend Ethiopia against Mussolini, as well as the connivance of Zionism, finally opened Yusuf Ali’s eyes to the real state of affairs. The need for Muslim India to gain independence became obvious to him.
In 1953, Yusuf Ali died in London in extreme poverty. He was buried in Woking Muslim Cemetery near Pickthall.
Muslims in Britain today
There are between 1.5 and 2 million Muslims living in Britain today. In some cities of the country – Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, etc. – adherents of Islam make up a tenth of the population.
There are 2,000 mosques in Britain, hundreds of madrasahs, and several Islamic universities. Adherents of Islam in this country are united in various organizations, distinguished by activity and a high level of professionalism. London at the end of the 20th century actually became one of the centers of the Islamic world.
The number and influence of the community is growing not only due to immigrants, but also thanks to those who accept Islam from among the indigenous people. The bill goes into the thousands.