Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Book Review by badshah.net: Islam in Victorian Britain: The Life and Times of Abdullah Quilliam by Ron Geaves


Abdullah Quilliam was a giant of a man by any standards. He was the quintessential Victorian British gentlemen. Solicitor by profession, defender of human rights, orator and lecturer on geology and numerous other sciences and an advocate for sobriety at a time when the consumption of alcohol far out weighted today's levels. This was the man even before Islam. After his return form North Africa where he embraces Islam he grows vastly over the following years, and becomes the leader of a multi cultural community of Muslims (both born and British converts, over 200 in number) from all walks of life in Liverpool (the main international dock of the British Empire at the time), along with heading a Muslim school and orphanage he is titled the Sheikh-ul-Islam of Britain by non other then the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (Abdul Hamid II). No other Muslim has and in all likeliness (due to the lack of an Islamic state) will ever be given such an honour. 

I first heard about Abdullah Quilliam many years ago in passing conversation, and was intrigued, and when I saw this autobiography, I had to read about this interesting character. For me the pull towards this great personality was the fact that he was a proud Brit, but above all a Muslim. And I wanted to see what this 1900's gentleman a true British Muslim in every sense of the term balanced his loyalties to Queen and country, and by his own compulsion the 'True Faith' (as Quilliam often referred).  While the biography starts a tad text book like I feel this section is important as it lays the settings in which these events in the Sheikh's life are occurring. Victorian Britain during the industrial revolution was the centre of a vast Empire which had colonies across the globes and a greater number Muslim subjects then the Ottomans had. The emerging might of the Russian region, Germany, France and her colonies, as well as the established Ottoman empire all tragically manoeuvring in what eventually where to become the alliances of the first World War. International snapshot of history covered. We move onto Liverpool at this time which was a hub of immigration from Muslim lands and closer to home. (Ireland, Scotland, & Wales) and had its own religious conflicts before Islam enters the equation as the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants often erupting into violence.

But the book after a slow start gets to the main course. Abdullah Quilliam the man, the ideals and his experiences. Most interesting and influential for me being the challenges he often but not always overcame with the duality of being a British Muslim, and these are truly the insights I fell the majority of British Muslims (Muslims in Britain regardless of race, country/ religion of birth, social class) can learn a great deal from.

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