Barakatullah on Quilliam (1892)

Yahya Birt
4 min readSep 8, 2023
Original caption: "This sketch depicts a muezzin issuing the call to prayer in both Arabic and English."

The famed pan-Islam activist, Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali (1854–1927) first came to London in his early thirties. By all accounts, his first years in the imperial metropole were ones of financial struggle, and he had not yet become a radical anti-imperialist. To make ends meet, he often took to writing. Among the journals he wrote for was the illustrated Urdu magazine, Aine-e Saudagardi (The Mirror of British Merchandise), published from London, a propagandistic publication designed to promote British imperial political, commercial and cultural interests. A.M.K. Dehlavi writing in The Indian Magazine and Review lauded Barakatullah’s writing in the magazine, saying that he had “a masterly hand” in Hindustani, as Urdu was then commonly called. Among Barakatullah’s published articles in the magazine were “Our Ladies”, an entreaty for Muslim women to follow the intellectual pursuits of British upper-class women, and another was a sketch on “London Shops”. Promised in 1892 was a series of articles on Barakatullah’s journey from Bombay to London to provide useful information to Indian travellers following in his footsteps.[1] It is not known if these were published.

Barakatullah would spend 1893–6 in the employ of Abdullah Quilliam, serving as an imam and teacher in Liverpool, although his main role was to conduct a letter-writing campaign in Urdu, Arabic and Persian to rulers and philanthropists in the Muslim world on behalf of the Liverpool Muslim Institute. He scored his greatest success with the Afghan Court, shown through the visit of the Crown Prince to the mosque in 1895, when he donated £2500 for the construction of a purpose-built one.

Barakatullah had already visited Liverpool before taking up employment there [2], which is attested to in this sketch, the details of which are corroborated in other sources, such as the external signage in the sketch for “The Church of Islam”, an early appellation. However, the inclusion of a balcony is a part of the sketch artist’s imagination.

Two things stand out from the piece. The first is that Barakatullah was seeking support from the Indian associations for his own Islamic magazine in London, a cause he saw in 1892 as more urgent than supporting the Liverpool Muslims. This speaks to his dire financial straits. The second is his biting description of Quilliam as “a solitary figure with a thousand irons in the fire”, on a par with his observation in correspondence with the Ottoman traveller Yusuf Samih Asmay in 1896 that “Islam in Liverpool is a strange and negligible matter, but its presence is better than its absence.”

Thanks to Samee Siddiqui for providing the reference and to Maulana Hamid Mahmood for the translation from Urdu.

The Only Mohammedan Church in England

Mr. Quilliam, a Liverpool resident, embarked on a journey to various Muslim nations and embraced Islam due to his deepening admiration for its principles. A number of English men and women have benefitted from his religious sermons. However, it should be noted that he lacks a comprehensive familiarity with the Islamic literary corpus. Furthermore, he is a solitary figure with a thousand irons in the fire, making it impractical for him solely to familiarise the people of England with all the principles of Islam. If there is to be a concerted effort to disseminate the comprehensive principles of Islam within this country, then this pursuit will aptly be served by the establishment of an Islamic newspaper in London. To ensure the effective expression of Islam, it would be prudent to appoint an ‘alim (Muslim scholar) as the newspaper’s editor, specifically tasked with writing articles on Islam. The community in Liverpool, and indeed others as well, will also derive advantages from this development, leading to a better acquaintance with the verity of Islam. Currently, there is a lesser urgency to actively seek financial support for the establishment of a mosque or the procurement of land for a cemetery.

Source: Aine-e Saudagardi (The Mirror of British Merchandise), London, August 1892, p. 827.

Notes

[1] A.M.K. Dehlavi, “The Mirror of British Merchandise and Pictoral News”, The Indian Magazine and Review, 1892, pp.581–2.

[2] “A Mahommedan Marriage in Liverpool”, Liverpool Mercury, 20 April 1891, p.6. Barakatullah as well as Rafiuddin Ahmed, the LMI’s former Vice-President, are listed among a number of attendees from outside Liverpool including LMI members at the wedding of Mohammad Ahmad, a barrister-at-law in London and the son of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s chancellor, with a Miss Charlotte Fitch.

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