Abdulla Quilliam and his preaching of Islam

Europe Contributor
Today's Focus
Abdulla Quilliam

It may surprise many today, but practicing Islam came to England very late. Indeed even, let’s say, 150 years ago there was no mosque in Britain. The first functioning mosque, not even a purpose-built one, which came even later, was housed within the Liverpool Muslim Institute, and opened on December 25, 1889. The institute was founded couple of years ago. And the remarkable man responsible for both was William Henry Quilliam, who converted to Islam and become Abdulla Quilliam and eventually Haroun Mustapha Leon.

Birth of Abdulla Quilliam 

Born a Christian in the mid-19th century in a society totally removed from Islamic culture and religious thoughts, what prompted Henry Quillliam to take such a revolutionary personal decision? On August 9, 1928, Quilliam gave a major speech in Cairo, the title of which was “Half a Century of Islam in England”. This phenomenal address has answers to the question about his conversion to Islam.

Regarding what interested him in Islam for the first time it is best to listen to a description of a touching event in his own words,

“60 years ago, my doctor advised me to take a rest for the sake of my health and to spend some time in Gibraltar. After I had arrived in Gibraltar, 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.”

Life changing trip in Morocco

This interest was deep. He pursued it long enough to be convinced, in his own words, “Prophet Mohammed… came with a clear message inviting people to what is good and beneficial.” This life-changing trip to Morocco, therefore, happened around 1868. He was only 15 years old at that time. He however didn’t rush into the decision but probed into the area of his new-found interest in Islam at great length, and it actually took him nearly two decades to convert to Islam in 1887.

Abdulla Quilliam was born on April 10, 1856 in Liverpool in a wealthy family. Much of his childhood was spent in the tiny Isle of Man, where he was brought up as a Methodist. After being educated at the Liverpool Institute and the Manx King William’s college, he became a solicitor, with a speacialisation in criminal jurisprudence. He began practicing law at Liverpool.

Abdulla Quilliam’s contribution

After his conversion to Islam Quilliam received a large donation from Nasrullah Khan, the crown prince of Afghanistan, which he used to purchase a large property in Liverpool’s Brougham Terrace. It is in this building that the Muslim Institute was founded. Sadly, it didn’t function for long. Quilliam’s son disposed off the property soon after he left Britain for six years in 1908. On return to Britain in 1914, with the name of Haroun Mustapha Leon, he passed most of his remaining life in the Isle of Man. Quilliam passed away in 1932 in London.

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