Forgotten champion of Islam in Britain

Today’s Indy carries a story of William Quilliam:

Number 8 Brougham Terrace in Liverpool is a derelict semi-detached house. Its whitewashed facade is filthy, its front door scratched and swollen and its rear gates are covered in graffiti. Pigeons have made the roof their home. The condition of the interior is even worse. Large, orange rings of dry-rot fungus cling to the walls. Pieces of the roof are scattered across the floor.

There is little to suggest that No 8 Brougham Terrace is anything special. But underneath the dust and the mould is a building of extraordinary historical and social significance. This was Britain’s first true mosque.

And following years of neglect, it could finally be about to receive the restoration treatment that, given its place in the nation’s history, it surely deserves. The Bishop of Liverpool has called for action. The Saudi and Kuwait governments are interested in helping to fund a project that would cost £2.4m.

With Liverpool gearing up to be European Capital of Culture next year, the plight of the forgotten mosque is attracting attention again. That, in turn, has shed light on the astonishing character who founded it on Christmas Day 1889.

William Quilliam was a solicitor. But in late 19th century Britain there was no other solicitor quite like him. He is said to have appeared in court wearing Turkish ceremonial dress. Others claim he travelled through Liverpool on a white Arab horse, or that he was descended from a first lieutenant who fought with Nelson at Trafalgar.

Such stories may well be apocryphal, yet Quilliam was a man whose life needs no embellishing. Few religious figures have championed their faith the way the man who became Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam did. He did so despite often facing hostility from his own countrymen. He was made the Sheikh of Britain by the last Ottoman emperor, converted hundreds to his religion, and was honoured by the Sultan of Morocco, the Shah of Persia and the Sultan of Afghanistan. The mosque at 8 Brougham Terrace was his crowning achievement.

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