BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

13 November 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

I - Z

You are in: London > Faith > Communities > I - Z > Islamic London


Islamic London

Woking's Shah Jehan Mosque is the oldest purpose built Mosque in Britain and one of its most beautiful. In recent times London hosted major Islamic events Global Peace and Unity aswell as Islam Expo.

London's earliest noted Muslim communities were often based around the Dockland areas of Shoreditch and Whitechapel.

It was sailors from the Middle East and Africa that first founded Muslim communities in London. These communities grew and developed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to the five duties on every Muslim. They are
Shahadah (declaration of faith)
Salah (ritual prayer)
Zakah (alms giving)
Sawm (fasting during Ramadan),
Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah)

Although Muslim communities first settled mainly in London, Britain's first purpose-built Mosque was the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking which was opened to the public in 1889.  It was commissioned by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner to provide a place of worship for Muslim students at the nearby Oriental Institute.

Current estimates suggest over two million Muslims live in the UK. This makes Muslims the largest minority religious community in Britain and one of the largest religious communities in London with an estimated one million Muslims resident here.  It is the fastest growing religion.

Aisha and Lacky in Green Street

Aisha and Lacky in Green Street

The diversity of the community makes it a microcosm of the Muslim world. The largest single group of London Muslims has ancestral roots in the Indian subcontinent but that is not the only heritage that plays its part in shaping the community. London Muslims might have relatives in the Middle East, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, South-East Asia, Eastern Europe or the Caribbean. There are English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh Muslims.  More and more people are converting to Islam and there is an increase of the number of Muslims entering inter-racial marriages.

Muslims are to be found around the world - some two million Muslims live in Colombia. There are seven million Muslims in the Philippines. Muslims make up about one-fifth of the world's population, they are the second largest religious group after Christianity. The most often cited estimate is that there are between 1.3 and 1.6 billion Muslims world-wide. India, the world's second most populous nation with more than one billion people, is not a Muslim country, yet 11 or perhaps 12 per cent of its population are Muslims - estimates vary between 114 and 122 million.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. 
It is the ninth month of the Muslim year and marks the time when the Qu'ran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
It is a time of intense introspection and reaffirmation of one's faith.
During Ramadan Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, denying themselves food, drink, smoking, gum-chewing and sexual contact.
Exemptions from fasting are allowed for people who unwell, travelling, pregnant or menstruating as well as children under twelve.
Ramadan lasts for 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the new moon.
The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid Ul Fitr, a day of celebration.

The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to the five duties on every Muslim to abide by. These five practices are essential to Sunni Islam. Shi'a Muslims subscribe to eight ritual practices which substantially overlap with the Five Pillars.

Islam teaches that the greatest gift humanity has been given is reason, the ability to think and work out what is right and what is wrong. The terms Muslims use to express this approach to life are Halal, meaning praiseworthy, beneficial, rightful, lawful, and Haram, meaning forbidden, wrong act, injurious, unlawful.

Detail from Peacock

Detail from Peacock

If you visit an area where Muslims live such as Green Street in Newham and Turnpike Lane in Haringey you will often see the word Halal on shop signs. Halal is not a specific type of food, it is an entire approach to producing and consuming food that reflects the whole way of life of Islam. It should mean ensuring that food has been grown by responsible methods that care for the environment, without cruelty to animals, or exploitation of the workers who grow or prepare the food.

It is Haram - forbidden because it is injurious to the life of faith - to kill animals purely for pleasure, or to take life beyond the need to do so. It is Haram to waste food, or indeed any natural resource. Haram does not only apply to things that are expressly forbidden, such as Muslims not eating pork, drinking alcohol, gambling, charging interest or swearing.

Jihad, meaning righteous struggle, all out effort against injustice, is commonly taken to mean 'holy war', whereas the greatest jihad is the struggle against one's own limitations, inadequacies and wrongdoing.

The focus for London's Muslim communities is the London Central Mosque at Hanover Gate in Regent's Park. Also based beside the Mosque is the Islamic Cultural Centre. Both the Mosque and the Cultural Centre were established in 1944. Preceding the second world war there had been a recognition that Britain's and London's Muslim community needed a central Mosque.

Goodmayes Musilm Scouts

Goodmayes Musilm Scouts

The Regent's Park site was presented to the Muslim community as a gift from the British Government and the funds for the Mosque and Cultural Centre was raised through donations from several Muslim countries. It was not until 1977 that the main Mosque and Culture Centre were completed. The Mosque and Cultural Centre remain to this day a hub for Muslim right to across the country.

Since the 9/11 bombing in New York and the subsequent 7/7 bombing of London Muslims have faced many political, social and personal challenges.  The majority of Muslims abhor these bombings especially as suicide is prohibited in Islam.  Well known Muslims such as Inayat Bunglawala, Salma Yaqoob and Baroness Pola Uddin have spoken publicly against the bombings.  However Islam and Muslims have still come under pressure to take a more active role to counter the influence of Islamic fundamentalists. In some cases Muslims have been threatened and physically intimidated in the growing tide of Islamphobia. 

The Union Jack veil

The Union Jack veil

Events and celebrations such as Global Peace and Unity, held every year aim to bring an understanding of Islam to the rest of the world and to encourage Muslims to be part of the overall society in Britain.  Other projects such as Islam Expo and The Muslim Writers Award are working towards recognition of the positive contribution made by Muslims in society and to alleviate Islamophobia. 

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam

In 2006 Jack Straw's comments on the veil sparked off a controversial debate about whether Muslim women were becoming more and more segregated from the rest of society.  The case brought by Luton girl Sabina Begum, who wanted to wear her Islamic dress Jilbab in school, also brought the choices Muslims make about their clothing under the spotlight.  Recently the well-known Muslim photographer Peters Saunders exhibition The Art of Integration was a beautiful and timely reminder that Muslims have been a part of British life for well over a century. 

East London Mosque

East London Mosque

Former singer Cat Stevens converted to Islam at the height of his fame in 1977 and came to be known as Yusuf Islam.  He now sings Nasheeds (Islamic-oriented songs) and spends most of his time on education and charity projects particularly related to Muslim and education issues.  Realizing there were few innovate materials to educate children about Islam, Yusuf wrote and produced a children's album in 2000; A Is for Allah, and subsequent albums followed.

Today there are hundreds of Mosques and Islamic cultural centres across London serving a young and growing Muslim community in the capital. 

last updated: 11/09/2008 at 13:50
created: 01/06/2005

You are in: London > Faith > Communities > I - Z > Islamic London

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy