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Ahad, Oktober 02, 2011

Muslim of Britain

Excerpt from: Islam Awareness Week

Islam in Europe
The Qur'an was revealed in 610CE (Common Era). Within the first century of its revelation it came into contact with Europe and Christianity. Since then Islam and Christian Europe have shared much. Each has helped shape the history of the other.

The relationship has experienced all the imaginable consequences of a meeting of two of the greatest civilisations in human history - animosity and alliance, coexistence and conquest and perhaps the greatest exchange of ideas and knowledge ever. Islam first came to Europe from the south through Spain, which was ruled by Muslims from 711CE to 1492CE - some seven hundred years!

Sicily was governed by Muslims for over two hundred years, between 831CE and 1091CE. Gibraltar (Jabal Tariq - the rock of Tariq) is even named after the Muslim general Tariq-al-Ziyad.

Over the centuries small, autonomous communities of Muslims have existed in France, Germany, Switzerland and Southern Italy. Muslims ruled the Balkans from 11th century onwards.

When the Ottoman Turkish Muslims came to power in the 14th century they consolidated Islam in most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Islam brought to these lands a new and vibrant civilisation. Many people embraced the new faith and contributed to the enrichment and preservation of Islamic culture. Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together in peace and harmony as followers of the Abrahamic faith and Europe experienced a truly golden era of tremendous prosperity and brilliant scientific achievements.

Islam in Britain
Of all the countries of Western Europe Britain has always had a “special relationship” with the Muslim world. Initially, Muslims landed on these Isles as explorers and traders. Trade was so important to King Offa of Mercia, a powerful Anglo-Saxon king of the 8th century famous for building Offa’s dyke, that his coins have the inscription of the declaration of faith of Islam (There is no god but Allah) in Arabic.
A mancus or gold dinar of Offa, a copy of the dinars of the Abbasid Caliphate (774).

Later the relationship was dominated by the Crusades and the Brits played their part. For instance, the sacking of the Muslim city of Lisbon in 1147 during which perhaps 150,000 Muslims were massacred, was largely the work of soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk. But England was the first country in Europe where medieval images of Islam were later to be challenged.

By the 14th century following the crusades and the introduction of several Muslim cultural traditions into British life, from the paisley to the arch to spices and the very concept of chivalry, the Muslim world was admired and respected for its scholarship and advances in all fields of knowledge. Muslim scholarship such as that of Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) formed the backbone of intellectual and scholarly life in Britain.

The Ottoman Empire
From the 16th century onwards, Britain was closely engaged with the Islamic world as the Ottoman Empire expanded westwards through central Europe and the Mediterranean, and Britain’s trade network expanded eastwards to meet it. By the 1620's, the Turkish naval presence had extended its reach into the waters of the British Isles and there occurred various naval skirmishes and raids inland. What was really worrying the Stuart authorities was that some of these raids were being led by Englishmen who had converted to Islam and “turned Turk”.

During the reign of Elizabeth I there were considerably more Englishmen living in North Africa than in all the nascent North American colonies: 5,000 English converts were resident in Algiers alone. British travellers in the East regularly brought back tales of their compatriots who had “crossed over” and were now prospering in Ottoman service.

One of the most powerful Ottoman eunuchs during the late 16th century, Hasan Aga, was the former Samson Rowlie from Great Yarmouth, while in Algeria the “Moorish King’s Executioner” turned out to be a former butcher from Exeter called “Absalom” (Abd-us-Salaam). There was also the Ottoman general known as “Ingliz Mustapha”; in fact a Scottish Campbell who had embraced Islam and joined the Janissaries.

In a great many cases, the Englishmen who converted to Islam were not slaves but free merchants or Servants of the Crown who were attracted by what they saw. Soon after, trade with the Ottoman Empire began to flourish, and by the end of the 17th century trade with Turkey accounted for one quarter of all England’s overseas commercial activity.

The ambassador Sir Thomas Shirely warned that “conversation with infidelles doeth mutch corrupte”, and that the more time Englishmen spent in the lands of Islam, the closer they moved to adopting the manners of the Muslims. Islam overpowered the English by its power of attraction, not by the sword; in 1606, even the British consul in Egypt, Benjamin Bishop, converted and promptly disappeared from public records.

Dr Henry Stubbe

By the sixteenth and seventeenth century Islam and the Muslim world was part of the elite in society. The 1st British Muslim whose name survives in an English source, The Voyage Made To Tripoli (1583) was a “son of a yeoman of our Queen’s Guard ... his name was John Nelson." The universities of Oxford and Cambridge established Chairs of Arabic in the 1630’s, and scholars in Britain relied heavily on translations from Arabic in the fields of mathematics, astronomy and medicine throughout the mediaeval period and the Renaissance. A rendering of the Qur’an in English was produced by Alexander Ross in 1649. Although much had been said against Islam, the Prophet Muhammed and Muslims in general, in England there appeared to be the first indications of a more balanced view.

Dr Henry Stubbe is the first European Christian to write favourably of Islam. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, and worked as a physician in Warwick, and as personal physician to King James. His biographer Anthony Wood described him as “the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.” He was also a scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was fully conversant with the new critical scholarship on the Bible.

Putting all these gifts together, and thanks to his friendship with Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic in Oxford, he wrote a book, which for the nineteenth century would have been advanced, but which for the seventeenth is positively astounding. Just the title alone gives some hint of this: “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.”

The book was never published but at least six manuscripts were circulated in a more or less clandestine fashion. No fewer than three of them were preserved in the private library of the Revd John Disney, who at the beginning of the 19th century shocked the established church by publicly converting to Unitarianism.

Dr Stubbe died in 1676, after being accused of heresy, and spending some time in prison.

British India
The British East India Company, which was formed in 1600, wanted to cash in on the profitable spice trade of the East. But competition from the Dutch drove the company to India, which was ruled by a powerful Muslim dynasty, the Mughals. As a rich and sophisticated civilisation, India was at the centre of a vast network of trade.

From a few trading centres, called factories, the East India Company built up a profitable pattern of trade. This had a revolutionary effect on British economy and society. In the 18th century it became more powerful and had its own army, which it used to conquer territories.

As the Mughal empire declined, the company gradually extended British rule over a large part of India. British control of India, through trade, conquest and colonization, resulted in a gradual migration of many classes of Indians to Britain, including servants, sailors and students. The intermingling of Indian and British ideas, religions and ways of life led to a vibrant multiculturalism of the East India Company.
However, that was not to last after the rise of the Victorian Evangelicals and the coming of the Memsahibs.

The Munshi
Many young British men went to India as employees of the Company in search of fortune. They returned to Britain as a new class of rich men, the “Nabobs”, and brought their Indian servants with them. British families employed Indian nannies, called ayahs, to look after their children during the long voyage back to Britain. Once in England, the nannies were discharged and left to make their own way home. Some were able to get back, others were left stranded.

Queen Victoria became Empress of India in 1877, but she never went there. In 1887, after her Golden Jubilee, several Indian servants and their wives joined the royal household. Abdul Karim, the munshi (teacher), was the Queen’s favourite. He later became her secretary. The Queen took lessons in Hindustani from him and encouraged ladies at court to do the same.
Abdul Karim received the title of “Companion of the Indian Empire”, a great honour. All this attention given to an Indian servant horrified the court and, after Queen Victoria’s death, Abdul Karim was sent back to India.

Mahomed’s Baths
There were also a number of Muslim businesses in the nineteenth century, of which one of the best known was the fashionable "Mahomed’s Baths" on the sea front in Brighton by Sake Deen Mahomed. He was born in Patna in India in 1759. In 1784 Mahomed came to Britain with Captain Baker, an officer in the East India Regiment. He settled in Cork, Ireland, where he met his future wife, Jane, with whom he eloped to get married. His book, Travels of Dean Mahomet, was published in Ireland in 1794. It describes the conquest of India by the East India Company from an Indian point of view.

From Cork, Mahomed moved to London, where he ran a coffee house. Later he went to Brighton, a popular health resort. Mahomed opened his Vapour Baths and Shampooing (massaging) Establishment in 1815. At first he was met with prejudice and medical opposition and patients stayed away. He then offered free treatment to some patients and they found that his remedies worked where others had failed. Soon, the rich and fashionable from all over Britain and Europe flocked to Mahomed’s baths, and doctors sent their patients to him. King George IV appointed Mahomed as his personal “Shampooing Surgeon” in 1822, an appointment which William IV continued. Mahomed was a generous man and even treated the poor free of charge.

In 1822, Mahomed’s medical book, Shampooing or Benefits Resulting from the Use of Indian Medical Vapour Bath, was published. His success influenced others to set up shampooing baths in Brighton.


For many centuries Arabs traded by sea with China, Malay, India, African and Mediterranean coasts. They established communities from Zanzibar to Bombay. In the course of conquering and colonising these territories, Britain hired many people from foreign seafaring communities - Arabs came from Yemen and Indians from Bengal, Gujarat. Punjab and Sind. They were called Lascars and by 1842 some three thousand of them visited British ports annually. Between 1830 and 1903 some forty thousand foreign seamen sailed with British war and merchant ships, most spending some time in British ports, either in transit or discharged. They stayed with those of the same nationality and language in authorised boarding houses.

Seamen of all nationalities often worked for low pay and long hours in terrible conditions. Lascars often suffered under cruel officers and became distraught and diseased. Many did not brave the journey home and sought better and safe jobs on shore. Some worked in the booming dockyards or opened small shops while the new railways led others to industries in the North. However most were illiterate and became street sweepers, beggars and peddlers in London's dockland areas of Shadwell, Wapping and Poplar. Living conditions were deplorable - often eight to a room, with many dying of starvation and exposure.

Thomas Clarkson fought against slavery and in 1822 he investigated the plight of the Lascars. Writing to the government achieved little, and Christian charities could not afford to provide refuge until 1855 when Maharaja Dulup Singh became a Christian and donated £500. More donations followed including £300 from Queen Victoria and £5,000 from visiting Indian princes.

On June 3rd 1857 the Strangers home was opened on West India Dock Road, Limehouse, and London. It sheltered two hundred and became a centre for the rehabilitation of destitute Lascars.

Salter Street
Joseph Salter was a missionary in the Chapel Street district of London (now Edgware Road) in 1853. He helped many Muslims and became interested in their religion and culture. In the late 1850s he befriended the Nawab of Surat in Paddington and the Queen of Oude (India) in Marylebone. He learned about Islam from them and from the many merchants and students of law and medicine visiting London.

In 1857 he was appointed to the Strangers Home. The home became a national institution and seamen disembarking in Glasgow and Liverpool

would travel straight there! In sixteen years some sixteen thousand Lascars visited the homes and over thirteen hundred were fed and clothed. The home survived until 1935, when it was converted into flats and named West India House by Stepney Borough Council.

For thirty-nine years Joseph Salter served the community of Lascars as helper and teacher. Glimpses of his life can be obtained from his diaries “The Asiatic in England” and “The East in The West”. All that remains however, is a street named after him in the East End of London.


By the 1890s politicians and industrialists began to be concerned with the plight of seamen. In 1911 Havelock Wilson led seamen into a national union and strike action against their deplorable conditions. Cheap foreign labour was attacked for costing British jobs and by 1912 some 9,000 foreign seamen lost their jobs. The unions insured that those remaining had better pay and conditions.

More foreign seamen settled down and started small businesses. Small communities began to grow in Liverpool, Cardiff and Tyneside. They were mainly Arabs from Yemen. By 1948 there were some 850 Muslims in Tyneside. Many married local women some of whom converted to Islam. They looked after their homes and children while their husbands were at work or at sea. They worked in shops and improved understanding with the local people.

Within increasing stability and growing families the Yemenis tackled their Islamic needs. Many followed the Sufi traditions of the Allow and Shadhilli Tariqas. They made contributions from the community to set-up Zawiyahs (small mosques) for all. A Zawiyah occupied part of a house where around fifty Muslims could pray together. Here the rites of Nikah (marriage), aqikah (birth,), khita (circumcision) and janazah (funeral) were performed and the festivals of Eid celebrated. Islam was taught to the old and young in small classes. Needy Muslims found shelter in the Zawiyahs which became the heart of the community. Bonds of friendship and kinship were formed there and some intermarriage also took place.

Women brought stability and family life to the community. They were often outcasts from their own families for marrying Muslims. Shiekh Al-Hakimi was the imam of the Cardiff Zawiyaha. One woman said, " ... before the Sheikh came we felt we were only Arab wives, but after his arrival we felt differently. We felt better. We had our own religion and priest and we are proud of it." The Sheikh set up visiting and nursery facilities for women. The zawiyah was a source of strength and comfort for them and they returned that strength to the community. They raised their children as good Muslims and helped them adjust to the wider community. Three children by English mothers went to Al-Azhar in Egypt to study Islam - the community paid their expenses!

Sheikh Al-Hakimi died in 1934 in Cardiff and was succeeded by Sheikh Ahmad. He became politically active and had much contact with the government over the future of Yemen. His local community supported him but refugees and expatriates, who placed politics before religion, undermined him. He finally left the country.

The two world wars broke up the close-knit communities of Cardiff and Tyneside as many Yemenis went to work in the munitions factories of Sheffield, Birmingham and elsewhere. In the 1950s many Muslims arrived from other countries with different traditions and slowly zawiyahs declined in importance.

William Henry Quilliam of Liverpool had the largest advocacy practice in the North. His ancestor, John Quilliam, was at the helm of the victory at Trafalgar. In 1882 he visited Southern France to recover from overwork and crossed over to Algeria and Morocco. There he learned about Islam and in 1887 he became a Muslim. He returned to Liverpool in 1889 to spread Islam as Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam. Converts included his sons, prominent scientists and professionals. His mother was a Methodist activist until 1893 when at the age of 63 she converted. Local Muslims called her Khadijah (Mother of the Faithful). With them Quilliam set up a prayer and meeting room in Mount Vernon Street.
He published three editions of the Faith of Islam, which was subsequently translated into thirteen languages. He became famous throughout the Islamic world.

The Sultan of Turkey made him Sheikh-ul-Islam of Britain. and his son became British Consul General in Turkey. The Sultan of Morocco made him an Alim and the Shah of Persia appointed him a Consul.

The Sultan of Afghanistan sent him a gift of £2,500. Quilliam used this to set up the Islamic Institute and Liverpool Mosque in Broughton Terrace, Liverpool. A hundred Muslims could pray there. The khutbah (sermon) was in Arabic and English. A printing press started publishing The Crescent, a weekly and the monthly Islamic Review.

At the time there were almost two thousand illegitimate births annually in Liverpool and many women turned to the Institute for help. In 1896 Quilliam founded the Medina Home to care for children and find them Muslim Foster families. The Institute started a Muslim College with courses for Muslims and non-Muslims in arts, science and law. Teachers included 
Professor Haschem Wilde and Professor Nasrullah Warren. A weekly Debating and Literary Society attracted non-Muslims. They were also invited to the Institute for prayers and sermons on Sunday. 

There was singing from Quilliam’s collection of Hymns for English speaking Muslims. These meetings brought a hundred and fifty non-Muslims to Islam by 1896. Quilliam always faced opposition, arguing for, amongst other things, muezzins and the cessation of British interference in Sudan. As his success increased, the level of harassment worsened. Parts of the Church and media were quite antagonistic. Finally he left for the East in 1908, and his absence led to the decline of the Institute and Mosque.

Woking Mosque
Before 1914 the chief centres of organised British Islam were Liverpool, London and Woking. London’s transient community of Muslims, mainly students from India, was growing. An Islamic Society existed from 1907. This was the successor to the Pan-Islamic Society which itself had taken over from Anjuman-i-Islam, founded in 1886. The Society issued a monthly journal, Light of the World, and reprinted Dr Stubbe’s Rise and Progress of Mohammadanism. A fund was set up for Muslim soldiers, widows and orphans of the wars. Its patrons included Balfour, Lloyd George and Chamberlain. A central mosque was planned based on the mosque which served thirty thousand Muslims in Paris. The Nizam of Hyderabad donated £60,000 but sadly the project was not completed.

In 1884 Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, an Orientalist and traveller born in Budapest in 1840, left his post as Principal of Punjab University, where he had been for 20 years and came to England. As a linguist, his great ambition was to create an institute for Oriental learning and literature in the form of an Islamic University. In 1889 Professor Leitner built the mosque with money from Her Highness the Begum Shah Jahan, ruler of the Bhopal State, after whom the mosque was named. Publicly he denied that its purpose was to promote Muslim activity though it became a major centre for Muslims and helped many come to Islam.

After his death in 1899, it declined in importance until the arrival of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, a brilliant scholar and barrister from what is now Pakistan who was inspired to spread Islam. In 1912 he came to Richmond, Surrey and started publishing the Islamic Review. In 1913 he repaired and revived the Woking Mosque and started the Woking Muslim Mission, a body set up to aid new Muslims. 

In that same year, in December, a member of the House of Lords, the eleventh Baron Headley, announced that he was a Muslim. Headley was not the first peer to do so. Lord Stanley of Alderley, an uncle of Bertrand Russel, had become a Muslim half a century earlier. Headley was a civil engineer and had worked in India. He had learnt about Islam in 1896 and converted, taking the title Sheikh al-Farooq, remarking, "The intolerance of one set of Christians towards the other sects holding some different form of the same faith disgusted me." He threw himself into the activities of the British Muslim movement. He wrote frequently in the Islamic Review and performed the pilgrimage with Kamal-ud-Din in 1923.

Headley’s conversion drew the attention of the curious British public to Islam, not as the wild religion of half-civilised mullahs and mahdis, but as a faith that might be personally relevant to British individuals.

The Mission and Mosque brought many to the fold of Islam, especially from the middle and upper classes of British society. Converts included Professor Mustafa Leon, Stanley Musgrave, Khalid Sheldrake and Yeha en-Nasr Parkinson. Lectures and discussions were held in hotels and homes with prominent Muslims and non-Muslims. On the birthday of Muhammad (pbuh) a hotel was hired for a lecture on his life (seerah). Due to the World Wars political activities were avoided and those difficult times led many to search for a higher meaning of life.

By 1924 there were an estimated one thousand converts. In 1935 the Mosque refuted suggestions of Ahmadiya or Qadiyani breeding and declared itself of the Hanafi tradition. (Ahmadiya atau Qadiani diharamkan di Malaysia)

Woking became a social centre of British Islam, an essential port of call for foreign Muslim dignitaries. Visitors included Indian princes, King Abdullah of Jordan, the Sultan of Sokota (Nigeria) and the family of King Saud of Arabia. The Islamic Review gave regular news of conversions with reports from the press on Islam. It kept its readers informed of activities, religious and social. Articles explained points of the faith and of Islamic law. It was also around this time that two of the most widely used English translations of the Qur’an were written.

Marmaduke Pickthall was born in 1860, the son of a Reverend, in Suffolk. His immediate family background was solidly professional middle class. He went to Palestine, Syria and Egypt as a young man, where he learned Arabic. Everywhere he travelled he identified with the people of the country through language and dress. During his two years in Palestine he was unimpressed by the European Christian community there, whom he found too frequently snobbish and sectarian, but he was tempted to embrace Islam. He was dissuaded by the Shaykh al Ulama of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. "Wait till you are older", the old man advised, "and have seen again your native land. You are alone among us, so are our boys alone among the Christians. God knows how I should feel if any Christian teacher dealt with a son of mine otherwise than as I now deal with you".

Pickthall was a novelist and between 1903 and 1921 he published nine novels set in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Turkey. He also wrote six novels set in England, and short stories mainly about the Near East published in three collections. E.M. Forster wrote of him in 1921 that he is “the only contemporary English novelist who understands the Nearer East”. Pickthall also travelled to Turkey, where he learned Turkish from the Imam of Goztepe. He met with progressive Imams and saw that there was no conflict between modernization and Islam. He saw Turkey as the hope of the Islamic world and suggested that the Turks should recognise their Islamic heritage rather than attempt to pose as Europeans and that Arabic not French should be their second language.

Upon returning to England Pickthall was getting more and more involved with eastern politics Pickthall was against the evangelical propaganda that was hostile to Turkey and was angry that European powers were taking advantage of her. The Treaty of Berlin was supposed to uphold Turkish territorial integrity. Turkey was made to honour her obligations under the Treaty but the European powers made no effective protest when Bosnia and Herzegovina were annexed by Austria, Bulgaria declared her independence, Italy invaded the province of Tripoli and the Balkan Christian states invaded European Turkey.

Pickthall wrote frequently against the injustices done to Turkey and became an active official of the Anglo-Ottoman Society, founded in January 1914. In August that same year Britain went to war with Germany and throughout the war he wrote articles advocating consideration for Turkey’s case, stressing the tradition of tolerance in the Ottoman Empire; although a patriotic Tory this stance alienated him from his fellow countrymen somewhat. He also repudiated the idea that Balkan Christians could claim special protection from Britain by virtue of their being Christians. His talents as a linguist and as an authority on Syria, Palestine and Egypt could have been used but his reputation as “a rabid Turcophile” prevented him from being offered a job with the Arab Bureau in Cairo, a job that went instead to T.E. Lawrence.

During the war he became aware that the cause of Turkey was the object of Muslim concern everywhere as the collapse of the Turkish Empire threatened the Khilafah. He knew that Islam was the basis of the Ottoman Empire and he was impressed by the Young Turks who were inspired by a reforming Islam that demanded education, social improvement and improving the status of women. He saw that this was all in accordance with the Prophet’s example and teaching.

In the summer and autumn of 1917 he gave a series of talks to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London, on “Islam and Progress”. During the last talk of the series, on 29 November 1917, he declared openly and publicly his acceptance of Islam. The lecture hall was crowded. He argued that Islam alone was a progressive religion. Other religions were unfit to claim that their tenets countenanced progress. Pickthall took on the name Muhammed and immediately became one of the pillars of the British Islamic community. He was Acting Imam of the London mosque, the Muslim Prayer House in Camden Hill road, Notting Hill for a while. He led the prayers at Woking for Id al Fitr in June 1919. At the same time he pursued his Islamic political concerns and in October 1919 chaired a day of Prayer for the Khaliph at the Muslim Prayer House. In his address he attacked the Western powers for presuming to decide who should be the Khaliph.

He felt a special responsibility as leader of British Muslims and was even critical of the behaviour of foreign Muslim students in England. He wrote prolifically on different aspects of Islam in the nineteen years between his public embracing of Islam and his death. In the course of his sermons and addresses he recited verses of the Qur’an in Arabic. He also rendered them into English. This piecemeal translation became the fragments from which he constructed his last major work.

He shifted his political interests from Turkey to India after the First World War. During the war he came into contact with young Muslims, mainly from India, who worshipped at the mosque in London. In 1920 he went to India with is wife, initially writing for the Bombay Chronicle and then later in 1925 he went to work for the Nizam of Hyderabad. India was to be his home for the next fifteen years and true to form he studied Urdu in his spare time.

In 1928 the Nizam gave Pickthall special leave of absence on full pay for two years in order to complete his translation of the Qur’an. It was the first translation by a Muslim whose first language was English. During his leave from Hyderabad he consulted scholars in Europe and in Egypt.

The title of the work he finally published in 1930 was “The Meaning of the Glorious Koran” as he said, " ... the Qur’an cannot be translated. That is the belief of old fashioned shiekhs and the view of the present writer". It was published by A.A.Knopf of New York in December 1930 and Allen and Unwin published it in England in 1939. It was itself to be translated into Turkish, Portugese, Urdu and Tagalog.

During the 1930s he suffered from malaria and in 1935, after ten years in the Nizam’s service, Pickthall retired and returned with his wife to England.

He died on 19 May 1936 and was buried at the Muslim cemetery in Woking. His translation of the Qur’an, first printed in the United States in 1930, has since been reprinted several times in the UK, the USA, India, the UAE and Libya.

Yusuf Ali
Abdullah Yusuf Ali was born in 1872 to a Bohra family of Surat, his father was a local police chief ennobled by the Raj for his services. He was educated first in a Bombay Muslim school set up along semi-modern lines, and then in a Scottish missionary college. A remarkable academic aptitude allowed him to take his first degree at the age of 19, whereupon he won a scholarship to study law at Cambridge. Three years later, with is second degree in his pocket, he triumphed as one of the few “natives” to pass the examinations for the elite Indian Civil Service. He returned to India where he was appointed a magistrate in Saharanpur in the United Provinces and then at Bareilly. He met the likes of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan who impressed upon him the need for young Muslim leaders of calibre.

He returned to Britain in 1900 and married an Englishwoman, Teresa Shalders. He grew in popularity as a spokesman for Indian Muslims, winning a medal for his lectures to the Royal Society of Arts, and being hailed in the Times as a “very talented member of the Indian Civil Service and a representative of the great Mohammedan community.” The Muslim Literary Society was started in 1916 with Yusuf Ali as president. Very much a child of his time, he was very loyal to the British Empire. During the first world war he volunteered for service with the Crown, and was sent on various propaganda missions to whip up support for the Allied cause, and to publicise the thousands of Indian Muslims who were then being mown down on the Somme and Vimy Ridge. The result was a CBE awarded in 1917.

The War ended with the Versailles Conference, whose British delegation included Yusuf Ali. He then took up a position of lecturing firstly at SOAS and then at the new Osmania University in Hyderabad, and practised as a barrister in Lucknow. He churned out several books on India, and in such spare time as he enjoyed also threw himself into the campaign against independence and partition, becoming an arch-rival to his old Bombay school friend, Jinnah. He later accepted Iqbal’s offer of headmastership of Islamia College in Lahore, after Muhammed Asad apparently withdrew his application. In this great Muslim metropolis, Yusuf Ali was able to pull together his thoughts on the Qur’an, jotted down in his cabin during his innumerable sea voyages. The distinguished scholar and printer Shaykh Muhammed Ashraf, was delighted to become his publisher, and in 1934 the first instalment of his Quranic translation appeared in the bookshops of Lahore.

Yusuf Ali represented Islam at the World Congress of Faiths in Oxford in 1937 and wrote extensively on the need for religious harmony and understanding. He spent his declining years in London defending the Allied cause for the Ministry of Information, and speaking at interfaith gatherings. But the institutions that Yusuf Ali supported were collapsing around him. The refusal of the Western dominated League of Nations to defend Ethiopia against Mussolini’s invasion, and the growing militancy of Zionism, finally opened Yusuf Ali’s eyes. The case for Muslim autonomy in India seemed increasingly compelling in the light of the growing Hindu chauvinism of the Congress party.

Yusuf Ali died in extreme poverty in London in 1953, and was buried near Pickthall in the Muslim cemetery in Woking.

A second edition of his Quranic translation appeared almost at once, and then a third in 1938 in both Lahore and New York. The text rapidly outstripped Pickthall’s rival version, perhaps because of its extensive notes.

A Growing Community

The whole of Europe was occupied with the massive task of reconstructing after the war, and there were labour shortages everywhere. The school leaving age had been raised, and women who had worked in factories during the war were encouraged to return to being housewives and mothers. The government positively encouraged immigration initially from Europe but then also from Ireland and the New Commonwealth.

Following partition in 1947, many people were uprooted. Millions of people crossed the border between Pakistan and India and many were made homeless. Some young men were attracted to the many new jobs in industry and services in Britain and often came at the invitation of employers in line with Government policy. From the 50s to the 70s, there was a tremendous influx of Muslim immigrants.

The decline of Britain as the seat of power and wealth in the colonies was rapid but the relationship with former colonies had grown over many years and remained strong. Hence immigration was a natural activity, especially in these prosperous years. Most immigrants came with the intention of returning though many stayed on.

The majority came from rural areas of the subcontinent, their main motive for immigrating was economic - many jobs paid thirty times as much as in Pakistan and India. However it is important to note that most came from areas with a long tradition of migration. From Pakistan they came from Azad Kashmir, the Northwest Frontier and parts of Punjab, areas that the British Army and merchant navy had long recruited from.

Most Indian Muslims came from three districts in Gujarat - Baroda, Surat and Bharuch. These migrants did not come from the scheduled castes or tribal peoples. They were highly literate and included traders and professionals. They too had a long tradition of migration, especially to British colonies in East Africa. Almost 95% of Bangladeshis come from the north-eastern district of Sylhet. Many of them came to Britain via Calcutta in West Bengal as cooks and galley hands on merchant ships. There were Sylheti restaurant workers in London as early as 1873. Over the years Sylhetis have come to dominate the market for South Asian cuisine and run the majority of the seven thousand outlets where customers spend hundreds of millions of pounds.

Another group of South Asians fled from oppressive nationalist regimes in East Africa. Entire communities were expelled especially from Kenya and Uganda. Many uprooted families came to Britain as refugees and settled. In 1981 there were a hundred and fifty thousand South Asians of East African origin of whom 15% were Muslims.

Doctors found work in the newly established NHS. Others worked on the buses and railways. Many more obtained jobs in textile mills, foundaries and factories, which required a supply of cheap low-skilled labour, especially for night shifts. This explains why large Asian communities developed in London and in the industrial towns of the Midlands like Wolverhampton and Coventry, and the textile towns in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Strathclyde like Bradford and Glasgow. Here, their much-needed labour helped to rebuild industries and keep services going.

There are also older established communities of Turks, Egyptians, Iraqis and Yemenis (who date as far back as the 1880s). During the 1950s and 1960s Iranians, Palestinians and Sudanese also arrived. Many Arabs have congregated in and around London, but the majority came in the 1980s. 

Many Malaysians now study and work in Britain and they contribute much to the Islamic life on this isle. And as we have seen there are many Muslims of European descent some of whom have played a leading role in the Muslim community. Together this ethnic mix has played a full part in shaping the British Muslim identity of today.

Islam in Britain: 1558-1685
 Nabil Mattar
 Cambridge University Press
Marmaduke Pikthall, British Muslim
Peter Clark
 Quartet Books
Searching for Solace, A Biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali Interpreter of the Qur’an
M A Sherif
Islamic Book Trust
Roots of the Future, Ethnic Diversity in the Making of Britain
Commission for Racial Equality
Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: Indians in Britain 1700-1947
Rozina Visram
Pluto Press
The History of the Asian Community in Britain
Rozina Visram
Wayland Publishers
Discovering Islam, Making Sense of Muslim History and Society
Akbar S. Ahmed
Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd
back issues 1993-2000 
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