Early Arab and Muslims

  1. Brief history

    The earliest evidence of Muslim life in Britain comes from artefacts from the time of King Offa of Mercia. A coin issued by the king in approximately the year 794 - known as a mancus - bears in Arabic the Shahadah, or, Islamic declaration of faith. This, alongside the Ballycottin Cross of Ireland, leads academics to speculate on the early connections between the British Isles and Islam.

  2. What's available

    Directories show that by 1798 there were four Arab trading houses in the city - drawn by the cotton trade. By 1838 the Balta-Liman commercial treaty was signed between Britain and Turkey and it was reported that the Ottoman Sultan was importing more 'piece goods' from Manchester than from the rest of Europe. There was enough trade in the 1850s between Manchester and the Middle East to warrant an Ottoman Consul, Abdullah Ydilbi, in the city (Hayes, Louis M., 'Reminiscences of Manchester: And Some of its Local Surroundings from the Year 1840' (1905) p.305, Local Studies 942.733081 HA). We also discovered an Absalom Ben Abdallah was living here in 1852. By 1890 business directories show that the number of Arab trading houses in the city had grown to over 400. By the late 19th century there was also a number of Armenian and Sephardi Jewish merchants from Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa living here. 

    Lascars were sailors from a variety of different countries in the Middle East and South Asia. They are documented in the Manchester area in the 19th century. For example, at the 'Asiatics Lodging House' in Salford, c.1850. See Salter, Joseph, 'The Asiatic in England: Sketches of Sixteen Years' Work Among Orientals' (1873) p.224, (we don't have a copy at the moment).

    Moroccan cloth traders were a feature of life from the 1830s onwards. Near their homes they established an impromptu mosque, halal food shop while they established offices in and around Market Street. The Moroccan author Abdul Majid Bin Jilloun (1919 to 1981) spent part of his childhood living at 47 Parkfield Street, Rusholme. In his posthumous childhood memoirs he describes his family's experiences of life in the city (Bin Jilloun, Abdul Majid, 'Fi At-Tafoulah', 1993), (we don't have a copy at the moment). Many of the Moroccan immigrants took British citizenship but most had returned to Fez by 1936. An article published in the Manchester City News, 2 October 1936, laments the return of this small but vibrant Muslim community and its great contribution to the economic prosperity of the city.

    Syrians in Manchester came as Ottoman subjects and were a mixture of Muslims, Jews and Christians. The Manchester Syrian Association was established at the outbreak of the First World War. Two mosques in the city were established by the Syrian community: the former detached house which stood on the site of the purpose-built Central Mosque in Victoria Park in the late 1940s, and the Burton Road Mosque in 1962, which was a disused Methodist church.

    Robert Rachid Stanley (1828 to 1911), a Muslim convert, was born in Cardiff, to a family of tea merchants. He moved to Ashton-under-Lyne and joined the Christian Israelites. He served twice as Mayor of Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, and his career is profiled in The Crescent, 3 Apr 1907. Stanley's great-great-grandson also converted to Islam - before he even knew about his ancestor's conversion.

    Records show evidence of individual Punjabi traders in Manchester in the 1930s. Asian restaurants started to appear around this time. They likely catered initially for migrant South Asian sailors and students. This early presence had grown by 1948 to number 'a few hundred' migrant workers.

    The Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962, and particularly the 18-month period before the Act was passed, transformed the South Asian community south of the city, with many new arrivals. The 2001 census shows the Muslim population to be 136,000 people in the city at the time.

    See also, Fred Halliday's 'The Millet of Manchester: Arab Merchants and Cotton Trade' (British Society of Middle Eastern Studies, BRISMES, vol. 19, no.2, 1993), (we don't have a copy at the moment).

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