Some Precious Photographs of Abdullah Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute
I find this first picture so inspirational. It is the only picture I’m aware of that shows congregational prayer at what we currently believe was Britain’s first mosque, which was housed at the Liverpool Muslim Institute (LMI). The imam leading the faithful in the collective supplication (du‘ā’) at the end of the congregational prayers is none other than Abdullah Quilliam Bey Effendi, appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles by the Caliph Abdülhamid II in 1894. The photograph shows the Ottoman influence at the LMI in the fezzes worn by the male congregants and the crescent-and-star flags. For those who might misconceive the LMI as a “white convert” community this picture tells a different story. In the polarising and exoticizing language of the day, the unsigned journalist writing in The Sphere describes the LMI’s congregation as “gorgeously-clad Indians, Turks, or negroes”. For his part, the Sheikh was keen to project the image of an inclusive institution for all the Muslims who visited or settled in Liverpool, then, after London, the second port of Empire. The Sheikh is attired in “magnificent oriental robes of crimson and blue”. This then is Islam in Britain at its roots: inclusive, prayerful and political, all in one.
This looks like a later picture of the Sheikh, taken, like the one above, during the Edwardian period of the LMI, i.e. after Victoria’s death but before he left for Istanbul in 1908. So he would be between 45 and 52 in this photograph. My hunch is that it would be towards the end of this period.
This photograph of “Bro. W.H.A. Quilliam”, courtesy of the West Lancashire Freemasons website, is reproduced from an unidentified Freemasonry publication, and probably dates from the 1900s. The historian Patrick D. Bowen, in a forthcoming chapter in Jamie Gilham and Ron Geaves (eds.) Victorian Muslim: Abdullah Quilliam and Islam in the West (London and New York: Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2017), shows that Quilliam joined fringe lodges that welcomed non-Christian adherents and that were connected with contemporary trends in esoterism in Britain and further afield.
This photo was published in 1906, and shows Quilliam in his formal attire as Sheikh-ul-Islam in turban and robes, and wearing the medals awarded to him by Abdulhamid.