Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Abdullah Quilliam

Article on Quilliam in The Islamic Review by Yahya-en-Nasr Parkinson, 1914
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The Liverpool Muslim Movement

An article in The Islamic Review, May 1914

by Yahya-en-Nasr Parkinson

In the Moslem World for April the Rev. H. U. Weitbrecht, D.D., refers to the Muslims in Liverpool and the “Mosque” which existed there for some years. He writes:

“A Liverpool solicitor, Mr. W.H. Quilliam, having first adopted Deism and then Islam, had rented a house in the West Derby Road, in the ground floor rooms of which he arranged a sort of Muhammedan worship. One service was held on Fridays, and two, at eleven and seven (not Moslem hours of prayer), on Sundays. The room was furnished with chairs, the Koran was read in English, and hymns were sung to a harmonium; in fact, the whole was a farrago of Moslem and Christian elements. Nothing was done to erect a real mosque, though many Muhammedan seamen and traders visit Liverpool. In 1891 Mr. Quilliam claimed thirty English adherents, including children, but since his repudiation by Indian leaders little has been heard of his “mosque” in Liverpool, and if we may give credence to a recent correspondent in the Daily Sketch it has disappeared.”

Before any person writes on a subject he ought to take the trouble to learn at least the rudiments of the subject he intends writing upon; as a matter of mere justice the general facts ought to be ascertained. In the above case it was certainly not difficult to do so. I first came into touch with the British Muslim Association in 1901, and since then have followed its career very closely. In place of “little being heard of it” after 1891, as stated, from 1893 its activity increased. During the years following the President, Mr. W.H. Quilliam, delivered lectures in all the large cities in England, and on several occasions even travelled to Glasgow. In 1893 the weekly organ of the Association was started under the title of The Crescent, and continued to be issued regularly down to 1908, the last number in my possession being under date May 28 of that year. The various volumes, fourteen of which are in my library, contain a record of the doings of the body, of the work accomplished, financial statements, of meetings held, both for prayer and instruction and business, and of public lectures given by the members. There is nothing in the whole history of the Association that is in any way discreditable to the members, or of which they need be ashamed.

In regard to the reverend gentleman’s remarks on the services, it is evident that if he reported in India as stated, then he distorted the facts in the interests of his own religion. The facts are as follow: All the members who were in a position to do so met for Juma prayers on Friday at the correct hour, Mr. Quilliam, or a distinguished visitor or other member leading the usual prayers in Arabic, just as in Muslim countries in the Juma Mosque. The name of the Imam will be found in The Crescent. I give a few entries as examples:

No. 521, January 7, 1903 —
Jumma prayers were celebrated as usual … on Friday last. His Honour the Sheik-ul-Islam of the British Isles led the prayers and recited the Khutba, the Azan being given by Brother Hassan El-Arculli (Hong Kong).”

No. 557, September 16, 1903 —
“The usual Jumma prayers … The Azan was given by Brother Mahmoud Abdul-Latif, and the prayers were led by Brother Hassan El-Arculli.”

The key was left so that any member or members who wished could obtain admission for prayers at any time, the Association not being rich enough to maintain a regular caretaker on the premises. During my connection one meeting only was held on Sunday, at seven, to which the public were admitted. It was held in the lecture hall. It was opened by the Chairman reading a portion of the Holy Kuran, in English, of course, a few short comments being made thereon. A hymn was sung, selected from a list of Unitarian hymns specially compiled for the purpose. If a copy can be obtained, those hymns will, I think, be found to be purely Islamic in word and spirit. A lecture followed, given by one of the members. All the principal lectures were published in The Crescent, a reference to the files will show a few of my own amongst them, delivered during my rare visits to England. Others in the monthly periodical of the Association, the Islamic World. The lecture hall was furnished with seats, that was necessary, but not the room behind the platform, specially reserved for prayers; that was bare of furniture, although only a curtain separated it from the hall. Quranic texts were placed on the wall, also an inscription explaining how the “Mosque” was purchased. A special carpet was kept on the premises for prayers. No special Mosque was erected, because the majority of the members, if not all, were working men, not millionaires.

The West Derby premises were purchased W.H. Quilliam with a sum of money given to him as a personal gift by the then Ameer of Afghanistan, specially presented to him in person by H.H. Prince Nasrullah Khan when on a visit to England. The sum, if my memory does not fail me, came to something like £2,500 sterling, and was, to again emphasise the point, a personal gift to Quilliam. The building was probably purchased in his name and legally would be his property. The reason of Mr. Quilliam’s leaving England in 1908 I need not enter into, the Liverpool papers made plenty of it at the time, and full reports will be found in them. His various properties were disposed of by his son, W.H. Quilliam (Billal Bey), the West Derby property as well. The exact details of the purchase and sale can only be supplied by Mr. Quilliam or his sons, and I do not know if they are called upon to give an answer. No meeting of the members of the British Muslim Association has to my knowledge been held since 1908, although, when in Birkenhead in 1910 after my return from the East, I called upon a few of them. I have no desire to attach any blame anywhere regarding the cessation of Muslim activity at Liverpool, and simply make this statement to save further random writing on the subject by people who seem indifferent as to whether their statements are or are not in accordance with the actual facts so long as they serve the purpose of telling against the other side, even when the facts are easily obtainable, as in this instance.

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