Sheikh al-Islam of the British Isles, Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam

By Amjad Dajani
Submitted to Session P4972 (Transactions of Knowledge and Power: East-West and West-East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Islamic World;
Islamic Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
I propose a presentation about the political advocacy of the first and last Grand Sheikh of the British Isles, Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, during the 1890s. Sheikh Quilliam was appointed to this position by Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1894. He established a Pan-Islamic movement in Liverpool during the 1890s, where he spearheaded the Liverpool Muslim Institute’s political propaganda on British-Ottoman relations. The Institute published a monthly Islamic World from 1893 to 1908, which was sent to two-hundred cities in Europe, Asia, Middle East, and the United States.

The problem addressed by this presentation is the confusion regarding the nature of Sheikh Quilliam’s activities and the lack of studies on pro-Ottoman propaganda in Victorian Britain. I argue that Sheikh Quilliam was a political activist regularly engaging in the political debate about Britain's relationship with the Ottoman Empire. He particularly defended the Sultan’s regime against foreign interference and criticism of Ottoman policies. His advocacy shows that there was a political dimension to the publishing activities of the Liverpool Muslim Institute that went beyond the promotion of Islam in Britain.

Although at first sight Sheikh Quilliam’s publications may look less overtly political alongside the big political papers of the period, his work was in fact very much political. To date, there are no works that illuminate his work’s ideology or contribution to the debate on nationalism and Pan-Islamism in Britain during the Victorian period. Scholars today assume that the purpose of Sheikh Quilliam’s work was to promote the Islamic faith in Britain, which is not true.

By focusing on Sheikh Quilliam and his publications, we gain insight into the political concerns of the Muslim Quilliam movement in Britain during the 1890s, which went beyond the objective of converting British citizens as Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Humyane Ansari, and Ron Geaves have suggested. Sheikh Quilliam’s advocacy provides us with an example of the officially sanctioned Pan-Islamism that was supported by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, which was different from that of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani’s Pan-Islamism.
The significance of this study reflects the relative neglect of the contribution of Sheikh Quilliam’s to the debate on Pan-Islamism, nationalism, and British Ottoman relations.