Britain's first mosque archives launched by Mayor of London
- 26 November 2017
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Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, launched the country’s first ever mosque archives on Wednesday by opening East London Mosque’s new strong room and telling British Muslims “familiarity with our history frees us from false narratives”.
At the country’s first-ever mosque archives, Britain’s most powerful Muslim remarked, “familiarity with our history frees us from false narratives”. Britain’s Muslim heritage, he said, proves that being Muslim as well as British is not a problem.
“For 110 years now, there have been Muslims in East London, and this demonstrates that you can be Muslim and you can be British, you can be a Westerner and you can follow the faith of Islam,” said the Mayor, speaking exclusively to My Salaam.
He then added that Britain wouldn’t be the free nation it is today were it not for Muslims. “One of the reasons that World War I and World War II ended with the allies as victors was because of the contribution made by Muslims around the world.”
As the guest of honour at the launch in the city’s East End, the Mayor was asked to unveil a plaque before going on a brief tour of the new fire- and flood-resistant strong room where the archives are held.
Mr Khan told My Salaam that he hopes the East London Mosque will become a source of inspiration for other British mosques to develop similar systems. “I’m hoping the East London Mosque shares some of their knowledge with other mosques and cascades down that knowledge of how they did this.”
In total, the archive collection contains about 250,000 documents linked to the Muslim heritage of Britain, with the earliest ones dating as far back as 1911. These include documents that detail functions and activities at the Mosque and London Muslim Centre through photos, minutes and annual reports. There are marriage and conversion records, press cuttings and architectural plans.
Some of the especially interesting documents include a collection of letters written by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, the famous Quran translator and Muslim convert, and the records of the Indigent Moslems Burial Fund, a pot of money set up to support poorer British Muslims who did not have the financial means to bury their dead.
The team behind the pioneering collection hope the archives will not only be an invaluable resource for academics and researchers but also help to normalise the Muslim story within wider British society. “The archives are important because they allow the Muslim experience to be woven into the tapestry of British social history,” said Dr Jamil Sherif, Chair of the East London Mosque Archives Project’s Steering Committee. “Without that narrative, Muslims are always going to be considered as the ‘Other’, and their contribution will never be appreciated.”
The project, which was completed over a period of five years in partnership with The National Archives, has already benefitted some Muslim Londoners. “We used the archives to establish our Muslim heritage tours for the London borough of Ealing, Acton and our Central London tours,” said Abdul Maalik Tailor of Muslim History Tours, which offers guided tours across London highlighting the capital’s Muslim history. “We found several letters in the archives with addresses of numerous people from all over the city. This indicated there was an early Muslim community in different locations, not just in East London.”
(This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk)