Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Abdullah Quilliam
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Abdullah Quilliam

as mentioned in contemporary Ahmadiyya and Woking Muslim Mission literature

Featuring historic newsreel film clips and photographs

(See below for the new material relating to his death, added on 9 March 2023.)

As is well-known and documented in several sources, William Henry Quilliam (b. 1856, d. 1932), a Liverpool solicitor, converted to Islam in the 1880s after a visit to Morocco, and upon his return began to preach Islam in the Liverpool area, gaining a small community of converts. He founded the Liverpool Muslim Institute, within whose building was a prayer room known as the mosque. This mosque is widely described as the first mosque in the U.K. He published two periodicals The Crescent Weekly and The Islamic World Monthly. This movement remained active from the early 1890s to 1908, when Quilliam left England for reasons that are not clear. The work of his mission then came to an end.

The following link on the BBC website contains information about Quilliam: BBC Legacies | Liverpool.

Quilliam in Ahmadiyya sources

Quilliam and his work is mentioned in contemporary Ahmadiyya sources of his time. The Ahmadiyya Movement, founded in the 1880s by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908) in Qadian, India, regarded it as a vital part of its mission to propagate Islam in the West. Hence it established contacts with converts to Islam in the West such as Quilliam in England and Alexander Russell Webb in the U.S.A.

The Review of Religions was an English-language monthly started from Qadian in 1902 at the direction of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who appointed Maulana Muhammad Ali as its first editor (he was later famous as translator of the Holy Quran into English, author of numerous books on Islam, and Head of the Lahore Ahmadiyya). This periodical was regularly sent to Western countries. Following are three articles in the Review of Religions with reference to Quilliam:

The Woking Muslim Mission and The Islamic Review

1. After Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din founded the Woking Muslim Mission and The Islamic Review in 1913, some persons earlier connected with Quilliam’s mission now became associated with the Woking Mission and began to write for this magazine. In The Islamic Review for May 1914 Yehya-en-Nasr Parkinson (the man mentioned near the end of the last account above) wrote an article entitled The Liverpool Muslim Movement. Parkinson had been connected with Quilliam’s movement.

2. In 1914 (most likely in October, but perhaps September) the Imam of the Woking Mosque, Maulana Sadr-ud-Din, went to Liverpool to trace the remains of Quilliam’s mission. His report is available at this link.

3. In 1929 a brief booklet Islam in England was published, written by Sheikh Mushir Hosain Kidwai of Gadia, who was closely involved in the Woking Muslim Mission. Kidwai was living in England during the latter part of Quilliam’s Liverpool activities and afterwards, and had met him.

Convert mentions attending Quilliam’s mosque

In the March 1940 issue of The Islamic Review, there is an article by a Mr. Frederick Hameedullah Bowman of Liverpool about his acceptance of Islam. He writes in it:

“When I was at school, there was a Muslim mosque in Liverpool and I attended many services there with my mother. So interested did I become that I even tried to emulate the local Sheikh, and, in a home-made robe, I mounted a box at home to address my own meeting of neighbours and spread the truths of the Muslim Faith. The mosque eventually closed, and, for some time, I was out of touch with the Faith.” (See this link for the full article.)

Quilliam as Professor H.M. Leon

Quilliam returned to England and thereafter went under the name Professor H. M. Leon. There are several articles in The Islamic Review by Prof. Leon. His initials H.M. usually stand for Haroun Mustapha, although his name appears sometimes as Henri M. Leon.

See here his address to the first meeting of the British Muslim Society, December 1914

Quilliam in photographs and newsreel film clips of Woking Mosque

1. In March 1920 Quilliam presided over a meeting at the Woking Mosque addressed by the visiting Indian Khilafat Delegation led by the famous nationalist leader Mohamed Ali Jauhar. See at this link a brief report of the visit.

There is a short, silent newsreel film clip of this occasion available made by British Pathe in which Quilliam (as Prof. Leon) can be seen, which is on YouTube at this link:

  • From 13 secs to 17 secs, Quilliam can be seen sitting behind the impassioned speaker, Mohamed Ali Jauhar.
  • From 30 secs to 34 secs, Quilliam can be seen coming out of the Mosque, along with other people.

2. There is a similar newsreel film clip of Eid-ul-Fitr at the Woking Mosque in 1924. Correlating this with The Islamic Review for June 1924, this would be the Eid-ul-Fitr on Sunday 4th May 1924. This is on YouTube at this link:

  • From 16 secs to 21 secs Quilliam is seen sitting on the ground, wearing hat.
  • From 24 secs to 35 secs, in the scene of the prayer, Quilliam is in the front row behind the Imam, three places to the right of the Imam (as you look at picture).

At this link you can read the full report of this Eid in The Islamic Review for June 1924. The Imam, according to the report, was Khwaja Nazir Ahmad, son of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din.

3. At this link Quilliam (as Prof. Leon) can be seen in a large group photograph of those present at Eid-ul-Fitr, 19th February 1931, printed in The Islamic Review, March-April 1931 issue.

4. At this link there is another large group photograph showing Quilliam (as Prof. Leon) at a function at the Woking Mosque in on 7th June 1931, printed in The Islamic Review, August 1931 issue.

5. Only a week before his death, Quilliam attended the ‘Id-ul-Adha prayers at Woking held on 16th April 1932. See report of the occasion here, which mentions in the last paragraph, “Among those present”, the name Prof. Haroun Mustafa Leon. There is a large group photograph of this occasion in which Quilliam can be seen in the background; see this link.

Writings by Quilliam in The Islamic Review

We find learned articles by Prof. Leon regularly appearing in early issues of The Islamic Review. A list of his first few articles and the issues in which they appeared is as follows:

  1. Acrimu-al-Hirrah! — Respect the cat. A poem. December 1914 issue, p. 546–547.
  2. Islam, A Rational Faith. January 1915, p. 24–25.
  3. The Prophet and the Jew. A poem. February 1915, p. 73–74.
  4. The Second Pledge of Akaba. April 1915, p. 182–187.
  5. Review of Leaves from Three Ancient Qurans. May 1915, p. 239–250.
  6. In praise of the Prophet. A poem. June 1915, p. 286.
  7. Islam and Temperance. A lecture delivered in London on 10th April 1915. Part 1 in June 1915 issue, p. 310–321.
  8. Islam and Temperance. Part 2 in July 1915 issue, p. 368–378.
  9. Id-ul-Fitr in England. Report of Eid at Woking in August 1915, in the September 1915 issue, p. 445–447.

The article The Second Pledge of Akaba listed above, in the April 1915 issue, is headed by a note from the Editor containing some biographical details about the author. Its scanned image is displayed below:

The Islamic Review, April 1915, p. 182

— From The Islamic Review, April 1915, p. 182

It is evident from the biographical details provided in this note that Prof. H.M. Leon was the same person as Quilliam.


This section ‘Death’, added 9 March 2023

Quilliam died on 23 April 1932. His funeral took place on 28 April. A report of it appeared in The Surrey Advertiser and County Times, Saturday 30 April 1932, p. 6, col. 5 (2nd from last item in column), under the heading Muslim Funeral at Woking. It reads as follows:

The funeral took place at the Muslim burial place in Brookwood Cemetery on Thursday of Professor Henri Marcel Leon, Dean of the London College of Physiology, whose death was announced on Monday. Professor Leon was well known among Muslims who are connected with the Shah Jehan Mosque at Woking, and a gathering of about 30 attended the funeral, which was conducted by Aftab-ud-Din Ahmad, the Imam of the Mosque. Lord Headley, president of the British Muslim Society, was among those who attended.

(Note: Maulana Aftab-ud-Din Ahmad was, in fact, Assistant Imam of the Shah Jehan Mosque at the time.)

A lengthy obituary appeared in The Liverpool Echo, which we have made available at this link.

Report of death of Quilliam in Lahore Ahmadiyya Urdu organ Paigham Sulh

The Urdu organ of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, Paigham Sulh, published in
Lahore, also used to carry Woking Muslim Mission news. The issue for 27 May 1932 carries the news of the death of Quilliam as the main news on the front page.

Click here to view that page as a pdf file.

The translation of the article is given below:

Death of Shaikh Abdullah Quilliam
Famous English Muslim convert who used a different name for 24 years

It is learnt by post from England that Shaikh Abdullah Quilliam has died at Newton Street, Gordon Square, Holborn, London.

Forty years ago the whole of the Islamic world was echoing with the fame of Shaikh Abdullah Quilliam. His original name was Mr William Henry Quilliam. He was born on the Isle of Man and was educated in Liverpool. In 1878 he became a solicitor. After becoming a Muslim, he went to Iran in 1879, where the Shah treated him as his own guest. In 1890 Sultan Abdul Hamid called him to Constantinople and later the Amir of Afghanistan invited him. In Liverpool he served as vice-consul of Iran. He visited Turkey several times. He had such close relations with Sultan Abdul Hamid that during the war someone said that if the Sultan had not been deposed, the efforts of Abdullah Quilliam would probably have prevented the war. He had comprehensive knowledge of eastern religions. Usually he dressed very simply. During his lectures he was like a river of knowledge and learning.

He knew the French, Spanish, German, Arabic and Turkish languages. He was a specialist in theology, physiology and ornithology.

Change of name

Probably in 1908 a revolution occurred in his life and he changed his name. He became Dr Henry Marcel Leon. It is not known why he changed his name. Some say it was to benefit from a will. Some say that Dr Leon was the name of a French friend of his, who died in his arms, so in memory of his friend he took his name. Anyhow, during the past 24 years no one heard the name Quilliam and it came to be generally believed that Quilliam had died. In fact, Quilliam had become Dr Leon. At the time of his death, Shaikh Quilliam was the Dean of the London School of Physiology.

Islamic work

The News of the World writes that during the war Quilliam conveyed top secret information to the British government. The accuracy of this report is not known. The Shaikh was a fervent Muslim. As Quilliam he regularly led prayers in the mosque in Liverpool, and brought about two hundred English persons into the fold of Islam. After becoming Dr Leon too, he continued to take part in Islamic activities. He maintained connection with the Woking Muslim Mission, and participated in Islamic lectures and prayers. He had an intense interest in reading. He was one of the permanent readers of the world famous British Museum Library.

The Shaikh had a wife named Maryam, an elderly, dignified lady. We have no information about her.

It is our heart-felt prayer that Allah the Most High grant the late Shaikh a place in His mercy. 

Footnote by Website Editor: The “war” referred to in the above article was the First World War, 1914–1918.

This website is created and published by the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore (U.K.), Wembley, London,
the successor of the Woking Muslim Mission.