Descriptions of Victorian Muslims celebrating Christmas (yes, Christmas) were recently published by the Abdullah Quilliam Society in partnership with the British Library. The Crescent, UK’s first Muslim newspaper, chronicles Christmas Day celebrations at England’s first mosque, the Liverpool Muslim Institute, which was founded in 1887 by Imam William Henry “Abdullah” Quilliam. Like many Victorian Muslims, Imam Quilliame was a convert to Islam. Here’s a description of that Christmas day in 1888:
The winter sun was yet to rise over the English city of Liverpool.A Victorian terrace house was feverish with activity. The soft glow of candlelight emanating from 8 Brougham Terrace revealed men and women busily putting up decorations and preparing food for the big celebration ahead, Christmas Day. In one corner, a familiar Victorian scene of a woman playing the piano and directing hymn rehearsals, the singers’ voices muted by the howling of a bitter northeasterly wind as it rattled the thin panes of glass. This was Britain’s first mosque and Muslim community preparing for their very first Christmas Day.
It was also reported that the mosque held a charitable meal for 100 of the city’s low income, where they enjoyed a Christmas breakfast inside what was referred to as the “Islam Church”.
Islamic scholar and author Humayun Ansari says that the Victorian Muslims were wanting to reach out to the community. “These early British Muslims were taking elements of British indigenous culture deemed acceptable within the Islamic framework and marrying them with their religious identities. In doing so, they offer a roadmap and blueprint for what an indigenous British Muslim identity might look like today.”