It is probably surprising to many that the first convert to Islam in Britain was William Abdullah Quilliam, born William Henry, the son of a Methodist preacher. Converting after a trip to Morocco, William went on to open Britain’s first working Mosque and was just one of many Christians to convert to Islam during the Victorian period. These early British Muslims suffered persistent allegations of ‘divided’ loyalties and were considered to be torn between the British Crown and the Ottoman Empire.

Join acclaimed historians, Jamie Gilham and Ron Geaves, and writer, Myriam Francois-Cerrah, as they delve into the past to reveal the fascinating story of Muslims in Victorian Britain. The panel will consider how these early converts shared many of the same anxieties and faced much of the same hostility, experienced by modern Muslims in Britain today.

This event, chaired by journalist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, will consider the experiences of Muslim converts in Victorian Britain and in doing so provide much needed context and a unique insight into the past, present and future of British Islam.

About The Speakers

Myriam Francois Headshot

Myriam Francois

Dr Myriam Francois is a Franco-Irish journalist, filmmaker and writer. Her credits include documentary “City of Refuge” examined the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the 2019 “We need to talk about whiteness” podcast and Myriam’s writing are featured widely in the British press, including the Guardian, TIME, Foreign Policy, the Telegraph, CNN online and Middle East Eye, among others.

Myriam is a former Research Associate at the Centre of Islamic Studies (CIS) at SOAS University. She completed her PhD (DPhil) at Oxford University, focusing on Islamic movements in Morocco in 2017. She holds an MA from Georgetown University (USA) and a BA from Cambridge university (UK).

She was nominated as part of the “40 under 40” European Young Leaders (EYLs) class of 2017and was awarded ‘Woman in Media Award’ at the Muslim Women Awards 2021.

Headshot of professor of religion Ron Greaves

Ron Geaves

Ron Geaves is an Honorary Visiting Professor in the School of History, Archaeology, and Religion at Cardiff University. He held a Chair in Religious Studies at the University of Chester (2001-2007) and a Chair in the Comparative Study of Religion at Liverpool Hope University (2007-2013). An author of nineteen books on religion, his research interests focus upon the transmigration of Islam into the UK. In recent works he has been arguing for the revival of Sufism globally and, also, the history of the Muslim presence in the UK, culminating in his ground-breaking book Islam in Victorian Britain: The Life and Times of Abdullah Quilliam. He was Chair of the Muslims in Britain Research Network (2007-2010) and instrumental in the creation of BRAIS (British Association of Islamic Studies), and still remains on their advisory board.  

Jamie Gilham

Jamie Gilham is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950.

About The Chair

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist, broadcaster and author. This year she was named columnist of the year at the National Press Awards. She has written over a dozen books, including The Settler’s Cookbook and Exotic England. She is Professor of Journalism at Middlesex University.