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William Quilliam

Exploring the life of one of the most extraordinary Victorians- William 'Abdullah' Quilliam, who established the first community of English Muslims in Liverpool in the 1890s.

Born in 1856 he established himself as a successful and politically radical solicitor, and was active in both Unitarian and Temperance circles. In 1882 he visited both Morocco and Algeria, and he developed a deep fascination with Islam. He converted in 1887, taking the name Abdullah, and two years later he established Britain's earliest mosque.

Quilliam saw Liverpool's social ills 'poverty, prostitution, alcoholism' as a sign that Christian culture had failed. He used the mosque to provide a free Christmas breakfast for the poor, and his Temperance speeches introduced audiences to a religion that banned alcohol.

His short book The Faith of Islam (1889) became a best-seller, and his weekly paper, the Crescent, came to be known throughout the Muslim world. He even adapted Christian hymns for Muslim worship. He pulled no punches in his critique of Christian theology, which he regarded as a mixture of the sentimental and the ridiculous. His mosque, needless to say, was often attacked by Liverpool mobs.

Quilliam was recognised by Muslim rulers around the world, and the Ottoman Sultan conferred on him the title of 'Sheikh al Islam of Great Britain'. Quilliam supported the idea of world Islamic government centred on Constantinople, and he attacked British foreign policy in Muslim lands such as Sudan and the Balkans. Many came to view him as a traitor. In 1908 he was found guilty of rigging the evidence in a divorce case, and he left Britain in disgrace- eventually returning under an assumed name.

Presenter/Producer: Mark Whitaker
A Square Dog Radio production for Radio 4.

Release date:

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 20 Oct 2010 11:00