There are between 1.5 million to 2 million Muslims in Britain today, mainly in the large metropolitan conurbations of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. The majority are British-born with family origins in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. There are significant numbers of Cypriot, Turkish and Yemeni Muslims, together with more recently settled refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia and Albania. There are also a growing number of Muslims of Afro-Caribbean and European origin.
The mercantile and commercial links between Britain and the Muslim world stretch back a very long time. The first records of Muslims from Britain commence in the Sixteenth Century. By the Nineteenth Century there were Muslim seamen’s settlements in most of the ports of England and Scotland. There was also a transitory Muslim student population from the Colonies. However a significant British Muslim presence is comparatively recent, with its roots in the immigration of Muslims particularly from the Indian sub-continent since the 1950s.
The First Contacts
Offa of Mercia (died 796) was a powerful Anglo-Saxon King who had coins minted with the inscription of the kalimah in Arabic, indicating commercial ties with Muslims in Spain, France and North Africa.
Sixteenth & Seventeenth Century
The first British Muslim whose name survives in an English source, The voyage made to Tripolis (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 1630s, and scholars in Britain relied heavily on translations from the Arabic in the fields of mathematics, astronomy and medicine throughout the medieval period and the Renaissance. A rendering of the Qur’an in English was produced by Alexander Ross in 1649, and this edition had two imprints – attesting to its wide circulation.
(Source: Islam in Britain 1558-1685, N. Matar, Cambridge University Press, 1998)
The Colonial Period (to the 1940s)
In 1897 a map of the British Empire would include Nigeria, Egypt, India and Malaya, all large territories with significant Muslim populations. Muslim lands provided the manpower and material resources that contributed to the prosperity of Victorian and Edwardian England.
The colonial encounter first brought Muslims to Britain as seamen, soldiers or students. The seamen, known as 'lascars', established the first communities in the
main ports of England and Scotland. By the turn of the Century there were also several hundred Muslim peddlers, who even ventured to the remoter parts of Scotland with their wares and medicines.
Organised activities in London owed much to the Indian Muslim Justice Syed
Ameer Ali, who came to live in England after his retirement in 1904 and died in 1928. The former Indian Civil Servant, barrister and Qur’anic scholar, Abdullah Yusuf Ali (died 1953) also settled in London in 1914, and the pair became effective advocates of British Muslim concerns at home and abroad.
1830s: Sheikh Deen Mohammed established his 'Shampooing Baths' in Kemp Town, Brighton. Born in Patna India in 1750, Sheikh Deen died in Brighton on 24th February 1851, where he is buried at St Nicholas Graveyard, Dyke Road Cemetery. His baths in Brighton were famous for their massages and cures for asthma and rheumatism. His patients included Robert Peel and King George IV. It is said that he was the first Indian author to publish a book in English 'Travels of Deen Mohammed', in Cork.
1860: Existence of a mosque at 2 Glyn Rhondda Street, Cardiff, recorded in the Register of Religious Sites (now maintained by the Office of National Statistics)
1886: Founding of the Anjuman-I-Islam in London later renamed the Pan-Islamic Society.
1887: William Henry Quilliam (Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam) embraced Islam and led a small community in Liverpool. In 1891 the community rented a house in Broughton Terrace, West Derby, to serve as a prayer hall.
1889: Establishment of the Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking, with an adjoining student hostel.
1910: Syed Ameer Ali convened a public meeting at the Ritz Hotel for the establishment of the London Mosque Fund for "a mosque in London worthy of the tradition of Islam and worthy of the capital of the British Empire".
1913: First issue of the journal ‘Muslim India & The Islamic Review’, later renamed the ‘Islamic Review’, Woking. The journal was published for sixty years.
1914 : Friday prayers held under the auspices of the London Mosque Fund, first in Lindsay Hall, Notting Hill Gate, and later at 39 Upper Bedford Place. The venue then shifted to 111 Campden Hill Road, where prayers were conducted till October 1928.
1916: British Muslim Lord Headley (Al-Haj El-Farooq) writes to Secretary of State Austen Chamberlain for allocation of state funds for the purchase and construction of a mosque in London "in memory of Muslim soldiers who died fighting for the Empire".
1928: Formation of the London Nizamiah Mosque Trust Fund by Al-Haj El-Farooq; these funds were subsequently transferred to the London Central Mosque Fund (present day Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park).
1930: A branch of the Western Islamic Association was formed in South Shields by Khalid Sheldrake. In 1936 there was also a sufi zawiya in South Shields at 45 Cuthbert Street. By 1938 the Muslim community was 700 strong.
1933: Muslim Society of Great Britain, under the presidency of Ismail de Yorke, organises Islamic events at the Portman Rooms, Baker Street.
1934: Formation of the Jamiat Muslimeen, East London, under the presidency of one Dr. Qazi.
1937: The Peel Proposals for the partition of Palestine stirs British Muslims and Abdullah Yusuf Ali addresses meetings in London, Cambridge and Brighton to draw public attention to these concerns.
1940: Churchill, at a war cabinet meeting on 24th October, authorises allocation of funds for the acquisition of a site for the London mosque.
1941: East London Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre opened by the Egyptian Ambassador, Dr Hassan Nahjat Pasha. The Mosque was subsequently managed by the Jamiat Muslimeen.
1943: Formation of the Jamiat Ittihad Muslimeen, Glasgow. The Jamiat's first mosque was at 27/29 Oxford Street, Glasgow.
1944: King George VI visits the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park for its official opening.
Recent times - 1950 onwards
If the main emphasis of Muslims in the earlier period was the establishment of proper prayer facilities, the emphasis would shift towards the establishment of social, educational and welfare institutions. ‘Impact International’, the authoritative Muslim news magazine, has been published in London since May 1971. The 1990s has seen the emergence of British Muslim community newspapers, represented by the The Muslim News and Q-News.
1962: First meeting of the Federation of Students Islamic Societies (FOSIS) in Birmingham, bringing together Muslim student organisations from a number of British universities. The same year saw the publication of the student Islamic magazine Risalatul Akhbar, later The Muslim.
1970: Formation of the Union of Muslim Organisations (General Secretary: Dr Syed Aziz Pasha)
1971: Jamiat-ul-Muslimeen, Manchester, commence work on a purpose built mosque in Victoria Park.
1973: Establishment of the Islamic Council of Europe, with headquarters in London (Secretary General: Salem Azzam)
1973: Establishment of the Islamic Foundation, Leicester (subsequently relocated in 1990 to Markfield) and now a major publisher.
1974: Opening of the Dar-al-Uloom, Holmcombe Hall, Bury
1974: Publication of the 'Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning', by Dr Kalim Siddiqui
1977: Belfast Islamic Centre established; it is estimated that there are about 3000 Muslims in Northern Ireland
1978: Completion of the new markaz of the Tableegh Jamaat in Dewsbury.
1982: Opening of the Dar-al-Uloom, Saville Town, Dewsbury
1983: Yusuf Islam starts the Islamia School in North West London.
1997: M. Sarwar (Govan, Glasgow) elected first Muslim MP (Labour).
1997: Publication of the Runnymede Trust’s report on Islamophobia
1998: First General Assembly Meeting of the Muslim Council of Britain at Brent Town Hall (Secretary General: Iqbal Sacranie)
1998: Two Muslim peers appointed - Lord Nazir of Rotherham and Baroness Polla Uddin
2001: National Census includes a question on religion for the first time since 1851
[Copyright The Muslim Council of Britain, 2001]