A glimpse of Victorian Muslim London from the Ottoman Archives

Hadji Mohammed Doulie’s ornate letter to caliph-sultan Abdul Hamid II, 18 November 1899, Ottoman Archives BOA Y.PRK.AZJ.00039.00076.001, Courtesy of Dr Halim Gencoglu, University of Cape Town.

Here is a letter, written in November 1899 by Hajji Mohammed Doulie (1846–1906, also known as Dollie) who established London’s first attested mosque in December 1895, to the caliph-sultan Abdul Hamid II. Originally from Cape Town, Doulie, a hafiz of the Qur’an, was a student of the Ottoman scholar Abu Bakr Effendi (1814–80) who had been sent by the Ottoman court to the Cape to teach Islam at the request of Buckingham Palace.[1] Already a well-established community activist who had founded two mosques in South Africa, Doulie came to Liverpool in 1893 ostensibly to educate his children at Quilliam’s Islamic college (where his son Omar excelled), but then relocated to London sometime in 1895. He quickly took up a leadership role in the capital becoming a vice-president of the pan-Islamist Anjuman-i-Islamia and became a regular London correspondent for The Crescent. His two sons then pursued medicine, and his two daughters music. He converted a room in his London home to a mosque that was first opened at the end of 1895 at 97 Albert Street in Camden; later, in 1898, the mosque moved to 189 Euston Road.[1a] It remained a temporary mosque; plans to build a purpose built-mosque modelled on the Hamidie Masjid in Cape Town never came to fruition.

Hadji Doulie’s proposed mosque in west central London as advertised in the Ottoman periodical, al-Ma’lumat. (Courtesy: Dr Halim Gencoglu, University of Cape Town)

Doulie, having been struck off the rolls of London merchants, had fallen on hard times and sought the assistance of the caliph-sultan directly in this letter to relieve his financial distress. The letter provides a very interesting account of the “London Temporary Mosque”’s services and Muslim activism in the capital in the late 1890s catering to a “heterogeneous” Muslim community, and how central the Ottoman cause was to creating a unified cause and a sense of solidarity in this small community, at least that is how Doulie wanted to portray it to his potential benefactor. For more on Doulie’s life, see Abdulmaalik Tailor’s work [2], and with thanks to Dr Halim Gencoglu of the University of Cape Town for providing this precious resource that offers yet another glimpse into the early history of Islam in Britain from the Ottoman archives.[3]

An illustration of the “London Temporary Mosque” on Euston Road. Source: The Philipsburg Mail, 15 December 1899. (Courtesy: Abdulmaalik Tailor)

[p1]In the Name of the Most Merciful and Compassionate Allah

To Your Most Gracious Majesty AlKhazi Caliph Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan II

Caliph of the Muslim World, Great Defender of our Holy Faith, Illustrious Emperor of the Ottoman Empire — Amin.

May, I, Your Majesty’s most humble, obedient, sincere and true old Servant, have that honour of human beings, this my humble biography purporting to indicate what I have done to further and better the great and noble cause of our Holy Islamism, to defend and to elevate, through [the] midst of Islam’s greatest opponents, that honour which is unmistakeably & undeniably attached to the Caliphate and thus to raise my Caliph’s, Your Majesty’s dignity & prestige to the first and foremost and to an exalted rank in Christendom.

Though a South African merchant by profession I was in duty bound by my Conscience and by the love & attachment which I have always had for my Caliph (Vivre le Caliphate) to establish in London five years ago the now well-known “London Temporary Mosque” which was, during the vigorous Armenian and Cretan Agitations, and is still the centre of the Moslems in London. In the meeting of the Temporary Mosque I convened over 100 great Muslim meetings for the defence of the Caliph, Your Majesty, and our brethren, the Turks. Moreover during these terrible crises in which my life and the lives of my family were in great danger I individually wrote hundreds of lengthy articles in the English press advocating the great cause of the Caliph and explaining to the British Public the true state of Affairs. The meetings I convened, the resolutions passed protesting against the unrestrained and abusive language used by several of the English press, from the platforms and pulpits, & the letters I wrote — all [in]tended to make Islam popular in this country. By this means we gradually became successful & finally triumphed in the noble cause I undertook so that when the distinguished W. Gladstone lectured in Liverpool on the Armenian Question, mention was made of our meetings and instead of the usual abusive language emanating from the speaker’s lips, W. Gladstone indulged in unobtrusive language. Such was the effect of my works that the Society of Merchants of London to which I was a member, seeing my patriotism for the Caliph, struck me of[f] the rolls of its membership and I thus lost an income of many hundreds of pounds annually. On the Armenian and Cretan Questions I have spent for Your Majesty, my beloved Caliph’s sake thousands of pounds which were taken from my pocket and purse in the Name of Allah, the Most High. This was the money originally set aside for the education of my children — two sons for the medical and two daughters for the musical professions. The London Temporary Mosque converted the national heterogeneity of Muslims stationed in London into one homogenous religious mass and I made the different sects of Islamism unite and plea for the one and self-same cause, viz., the defence of the Caliph in this heart of Christendom. The Muslims of London have unanimously elected me their Imam and I always act to them in that capacity. We assemble together on Fridays for prayers making many Duas for the long life and happiness of my beloved Caliph. We rejoice in the celebrations of the Anniversaries of Your Most Gracious Majesty’s Birthday and Coronation on which occasions I give ot the Muslims large and costly banquets inviting representatives of the British Press as well. We celebrate with due religious rites the great Islamic festivals … and I send reports of our meetings all over the Muslim World, my object being to impress continually on the minds of those Muslims who are subjected to Christian rule the greatness of our beloved Caliph to whom we must always endear ourselves and for whom we must always pray to preserve[?]. I have spent a good deal of money for my beloved Caliph’s sake and cause. I do not regret it for Allah is Almighty, Allah is All-Powerful. Allah knows men’s minds and labours best.

With the kind permission of Your Most Gracious Majesty, I shall also feel greatly honoured to draw my Commander’s attention to the works I have done in my native land for the honour and love I felt for Your Majesty, the greatest Caliph, the Pride of the World, the King of Kings.

On the Accession of Your Most Gracious Majesty to the very distinguished and [p2] exalted Throne of the Ottoman Empire, in commemoration of this important and conspicuous event in the annals of Muslim history, I founded the beautiful mosque known as the “Nourie Hamidia” in Long Street, Cape Town.

Shortly after this, I planted another Mosque but smaller in size at Sommerset in Cape Colony.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 I again distinguished myself for my activity and patriotism and attachment to my great and beloved Caliph by forwarding the Red Crescent Society of Turkey large sums of money in aid of the Turkish wounded and suffered families. The Red Crescent Society acknowledged my support with a written Arabic receipt in which were quotations from our Holy Koran, one of which quotations is as follows: “He who giveth one, receiveth ten”.

These works clearly indicate that for the defence of the dignity and for the maintenance in Christendom of the prestige of Your Most Gracious Majesty, the Caliph of all the Muslims, the Victorious, the Conqueror, our Lord and Master, I have worked for Your Most Gracious Majesty ever since Your Majesty’s Accession to that Illustrious Throne of the Ottomans and that in consequence I have spent all my fortune for your Majesty, my beloved Caliph’s cause.

Now in the name of the Most Merciful and Compassionate Allah, in the name of Allah, the Most High, the Almighty, the All-Powerful, I am financially bound & compelled to submit my case for the consideration of Your Most Gracious Majesty! Petty as these works may seem to my great Caliph, my Lord and Master, my works have, however, placed me in this position of life and death. Any remuneration, which Your Gracious Majesty, Caliph of the Muslim World, Guardian of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, Protecter and Defender of our Holy Faith, the Light of the World, the Successor of the Apostle of the Lord of the Universe, our Lord and Master, Illustrious Emperor and Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan of the Two Shores, the High Kind of the Two Seas, the Crown of Ages, the Pride of all countries, the Shadow of Allah on Earth, the Victorious, the Conqueror

AlKhazi Caliph-Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan the II, Amin, Amin.

Vive le Caliph! Long live the Padishah! God save the Sultan!

I have the honour to subscribe myself,

On behalf of

Your Gracious Majesty’s

Most Humble and Obedient Servant

Hadjie Mohammed Doulie

November 18th 1899.

The Temporary Mosque

189 Euston Road

London NW

England

Notes

[1] See Gencoglu, H., Ottoman Traces in Southern Africa: The Impact of Turkish Emissaries and Muslim Theologians (Istanbul: Libra, 2018), p82; H. Gencoglu has amassed quite a bit of primary documentary evidence to show that Buckingham Palace was involved in making the request to the Sublime Porte, presumably as a matter of protocol.

[1a] Gilham, J. and Geaves, R. (eds) Victorian Muslim: Abdullah Quilliam and Islam in the West (London and New York:Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2017), pp125–6; Ottoman State Archives Y. PRK. TKM. 0040.0023.001.

[2] See Tailor, A., “Hadjie Mohammed Dollie — The Man Who Founded London’s First ‘Mosque’”, Ilmfeed, 17 February 2018, https://ilmfeed.com/hadji-mohammad-dollie-man-founded-londons-first-mosque/; Tailor, A., “A Tour Guide Has Discovered London’s Oldest Mosque”, The Londonist, 23 February 2017, https://londonist.com/london/history/a-tour-guide-has-discovered-london-s-oldest-mosque.

[3] Ottoman Archives, BOA Y.PRK.AZJ.00039.00076.001, Courtesy of Dr Halim Gencoglu, University of Cape Town.

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Community historian of British Muslim life

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Yahya Birt

Yahya Birt

Community historian of British Muslim life

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