Translated and annotated by Yahya Birt, Riordan Macnamara and Münire Zeyneb Maksudoğlu, Islam in Victorian Liverpool is an eyewitness account and travelogue by Yusuf Samih Asmay about Britain’s first mosque in Liverpool and its community of Muslims. Known to the world as an Ottoman intellectual, Asmay brings to life Abdullah Quilliam’s (1856-1932) life and character in a time when practising Islam was frowned upon.
With the history of Victorian Muslims largely unknown, the book does great service to the narrative of early Muslims in Liverpool. Whilst Abdullah Quilliam may be well known by some, the book also discusses other converts whose names have largely been ignored.
The author, Asmay was born in Turkey and visited Liverpool in 1895. It was throughout his stay that he visited the Liverpool Muslim Institute which was then being run by Quilliam. A place where local Muslims could practice their faith freely and openly, the LMI stood for more than this, as it was the epicentre of propagational efforts by Victorian Muslims.
Asmay has his own witty and straightforward manner of portraying the narrative, which led to many finding his words controversial. Criticising LMI and its founder, Asmay made an effort to tell the whole truth about Quilliam without sanitising the popular narrative. With Islam being infused with Christian practices, Asmay found this unpopular method of practising Islam sacrilegious. Writing about the many religious innovations Asmay observed, he also takes into account stories by non-convert Muslims – something that was missing in the newspapers and articles published by LMI.
Asmay made mention of many questionable acts performed by Quilliam which later became a reason for controversy. The author was not here to document daily life but to scrutinise and comment on what he saw. Eventually – due to the book shedding light on aspects Muslims did not want to hear about – the book was banned by the Ottomans.
The alternative view challenges the narrative already available to us, as it identifies how a convert’s identity can be complex when religion and politics are infused. Although many have requested evidence of Asmay’s claims, the truth remains that there was always another side to the Liverpool Muslim converts which has gone unnoticed in British history.
For those interested in Late Ottoman studies, this book can help bridge the gap between what we know and don’t know. With many settling on a romantic narrative of the history of Islam in Liverpool, this book challenges its readers with some ugly truths about LMI and Quilliam.
Main Image Credit: abdullahquilliam.org