Another New Book Out

Yahya Birt
3 min readFeb 1, 2022

I’m pleased to say that Abdullah Quilliam’s poems have been put together and published for the first time, edited by Ron Geaves and me, by Beacon Books in Manchester, under the kind offices of Jamil Chishti. It can ordered from the publisher directly, or if you don’t want to support independent publishers against the monopolizing goliath that is Amazon you can order it from them.

Affixed with a short introduction to Quilliam’s life and work as a man of letters and occasional poet, his poetry is split up into three parts: (i) a chronology of poems published individually (1892‒1926); (ii) his only standalone collection from 1916 under another pen-name of his, “Sheikh Haroun Abdullah”; and (iii) his late translations (1927‒31) or, what seems likely in some cases, his own poetic interpretations of classical Abbasid court poetry based on the prose translation of Orientalist scholars like Baron William McGuckin de Slane (1801‒78) of Ibn Khallikan’s Wafayat al-A‘yan. It is highly mixed collection with devotional poems, some of which were sung as hymns at the Liverpool Muslim Institute, didactic poems, his later spiritual poetry, which reveals a much stronger attachment and familiarity with Sufism than was hitherto suspected in his post-Liverpool years, his folkloric poetry, his nature poetry, his romantic poetry and his polemical poems on political or religious controversies of the day. While Quilliam may not be an outstanding poet, he is an important historical figure, whose poems reveal much about the inner emotional life of the man, and gets to the core of his adopted faith. It is certainly not a boring read. Some of the poems are very moving when you understand the context of his life and that of his community. Ron and I have tried to provide some context of this sort with brief footnotes where necessary, as well as to explain any obscure references.

The book came out in December, but it has been in gestation much longer than the previous book, Islam in Victorian Liverpool, which was a lockdown whirlwind team effort. This was a slower burn, as it took some time to do a thorough trawl of the disparate places where Quilliam published his poems outside of his own publications in short-run journals such as The Allahabad Review. Many of these had not been digitized and so it required several trips to the British Library to consult the originals, and the physical archives were inaccessible during the Covid lockdowns, which delayed the book further. Of course Ron Geaves and I may have missed some of Quilliam’s poems in our trawl, although we did leave out a few of the later translations that were too fragmentary or heavily context dependent. In any case, we would be grateful to readers if they alert us to any we may have missed so that they can be included in future editions.

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