Liverpool Mosque and Muslim Institute

Al-Rahma Mosque Plaque (wikimedia commons)

Locations

8 Brougham Terrace
Liverpool, L6 1AE
United Kingdom
Mount Vernon Street
Liverpool, L7 8
United Kingdom
Date began: 
01 Jan 1891
precise date began unknown: 
Y
About: 

The Liverpool Mosque and Muslim Institute of Brougham Terrace was officially established in 1891. Prior to this, however, from as early as 1887, its founder William Quilliam, an English convert to Islam, led a small congregation of Muslims in premises on Mount Vernon Street. The Institute expanded rapidly, encompassing, by the mid-1890s, a madrassa, a library, a printing press, a museum, schools for boys and girls, a hostel and a literary society, as well as the mosque itself, enabling Muslims not just to worship but to conduct their daily lives according to the requirements of their faith.

Quilliam was keen for the mosque to be integrated into Britain and to engage with the British public – no doubt in part in an attempt to fulfil his aim of converting the British nation to Islam. Its orphanage, the Medina Home for Children, was open to children of any faith (who would then be brought up as Muslims) and was established in response to the increase of illegitimate births in the city. Further, the Institute undertook social work beyond its congregation, within the local community. Quilliam encouraged open debate and dialogue about the mosque by writing articles in the local press, also founding and editing two journals, The Crescent and The Islamic World, both of which had an international circulation. According to Ansari, Quilliam ‘was attempting to found an indigenous tradition that would be able to connect with the religious practices of potential converts and so create a sense of receptive familiarity’ (p. 125). Perhaps as a result of this, his congregation, dominated by middle-class converts, grew, with an estimated 600 conversions taking place over twenty years. While the majority of worshippers were English converts, there is evidence that some South Asians resident in Liverpool also attended the mosque. 

Key Individuals' Details: 

Moulvie Barakat-Ullah (Imam of the LMI), William Quilliam (founder of the LMI).

Published works: 

The Crescent (1893–1908) [journal of the LMI]

The Islamic World [journal of the LMI]

Secondary works: 

Ansari, Humayun, ‘The Infidel Within’: Muslims in Britain since 1800 (London: Hurst, 2004)

Wolffe, John (ed.), Religion in Victorian Britain, Vol. V: Culture and Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997)

Example: 

Liverpool Review, 28 November 1891, p. 14

Content: 

This article was written in response to an article in the Liverpool Post and is critical of the latter for being too tolerant of the LMI’s activities. The article makes reference to an incident involving a crowd throwing fireworks and other missiles at the mosque. It defends this attack, arguing that its perpetrators had a right to feel alienated and antagonized by the presence of the incongruous presence of the mosque and its practices in an English city.

Extract: 

[I]t is not the private and inoffensive worship of Mohammed that is objectionable, but the public advertisement of him. Travellers in the East expect to hear the 'Muezzin' call the faithful to their devotions, for there is nothing unusual or incongruous in the custom there, but the warning voice that fitly sounds from the midst of Eastern minarets and mosque towers is ridiculous from the balcony of a three-storey house in Brougham Terrace. Here it is most incongruous, unusual, silly and unwelcome, and the man who stands howling on a first floor balcony in such a fashion is certain to collect a ribald crowd, anxious to offer him a copper to go into the next street, or even ready to respond to his invitation with something more forcible than jeers. Such things cannot be done with impunity, for they may be expected to interfere with the ways and beliefs of the vast majority, more than one can expect a Catholic band to go scatheless through an Orange district, or an Orange band through a Catholic neighbourhood. It is all very well to preach that the law upholds what people have a right to do, but we are governed by custom as well as by law, and if prevailing customs are not sensibly respected, hard knocks are the inevitable consequence, and should arouse little sympathy.

Relevance: 

This extract is evidence of the hostile response by the press and British public to the practice of Islam in Liverpool. It highlights the dominance of cultural racism (as opposed to colour racism), even in this early period, and resonates with contemporary demands that religion should be confined to the private sphere – demands that entrench the exclusion and marginalization of minorities within the public domain. The extract also suggests the role of space as a site of struggle. It is interesting to contrast this with the positive response on the part of government officials to plans to build a London mosque in Regent’s Park, a central location where the mosque would be highly visible.