William Henry Quilliam – the Victorian solicitor who established Britain’s first mosque
What do the names Abdullah Quilliam, Henri Marcel Léon and Haroon Mustapha Leon have in common? The answer is that they are all aliases of William Henry Quilliam, 19th century solicitor and convert to Islam.
William Henry Quilliam was born in Liverpool on 10 April 1856. He was of Manx descent and raised by Wesleyan Methodists. After training and working as a solicitor, he moved to the Middle East in 1887, where he converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam. He returned to England and opened Britain’s first Muslim institute and mosque at 8-10 Brougham Terrace, Liverpool, in 1889. The site was a place of worship and education, with its own science laboratory and museum.
Quilliam was given the title of sheikh-ul-Islam (leader of the Muslims) of Britain by the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II. He also found time to edit a series of Islamic periodicals, publishing frequently under the alias H. [Haroon] Mustapha Leon. A controversial figure in Victorian England, he received backlash for publicly renouncing Christianity, while Brougham Terrace became a target for vandals. After leaving the UK for a short period he lived on the Isle of Man in the 1910s, changing his name for a third time to Henri Marcel Léon.
Quilliam is the subject of British Library manuscripts collection Add MS 89684, which has just been catalogued and is now available for research. The papers in this collection were compiled by Patricia ‘Pat’ Gordon, granddaughter of Quilliam, while conducting research into her grandfather’s life history. The collection comprises correspondence, newspaper and magazine cuttings, photographs and even a ceremonial silver trowel. The trowel was presented by the United Methodist Free Churches to Quilliam’s mother, Harriet, on the laying of a memorial stone of the School Chapel, Durning Road, Liverpool, on 20 August 1877.
During the 1990s, Pat was in regular correspondence with the Abdullah Quilliam Society of Liverpool. The Society was founded to restore the location of Quilliam’s mosque at Brougham Terrace. Pat was invited by the Society to unveil a plaque outside the prayer hall on 10 October 1997, in a ceremony which was organised to commemorate Quilliam’s achievements. Photographs of this event can be found at Add MS 89684/3/2.
Quilliam died in London on 23 April 1932. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Muslim section of Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, not far from the grave of the Islamic scholar and barrister Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1872-1953). It is thanks to the work of Pat Gordon and the Abdullah Quilliam Society that William Henry Quilliam’s mosque and unique history have survived.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Quilliam, William Henry
Add MS 89684 – Papers relating to Abdullah Quilliam