Meet the Speaker: AbdulMaalik Tailor (Ealing – A Muslim History)
By Dr. Piotr Stolarski
The London Borough of Ealing is a diverse multicultural society, comprising many different ethnic, cultural, and religious identities. Ealing’s Muslim community, thought to number some 3,000 people in the 1970s, today makes up about 16 per cent (c. 56,000 people) of the total population (350,000) of the borough. This month’s blog post features an interview with Muslim historian AbdulMaalik Tailor, and concerns the local Muslim community, which has not hitherto received much attention from researchers. Mr. Tailor shall be giving a talk at Ealing Central Library entitled ‘Ealing – A Muslim History’ on Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, at 6:15pm.
Piotr: Welcome to Ealing Local History Centre, Mr. Tailor. Can you tell me a bit about yourself please?
AbdulMaalik: My name is AbdulMaalik Tailor, I’m forty-two years’ old. I’m of South Asian heritage. When I was eighteen years’ old I actually converted to Islam, having been a practising Hindu. In terms of occupation, I’m a London tour guide, as well as a tour operator, specialising in the Muslim history of England. I live, and my offices are based, in Acton. For some strange reason, I seem to be a repeated target for Islamophobia…
Piotr: Oh dear. Well, we can talk about that in a moment. Sorry to hear that. So, you say you converted to Islam when you were eighteen. Was that in Britain and why did you decide to convert?
AbdulMaalik: I was born in Britain, in Hackney, or Hoxton, to be more precise… I was living in Walthamstow when I was eighteen and embraced Islam.
Piotr: What was the reason?
AbdulMaalik: The reason was… I went to a Church of England school, I lived in a Jewish neighbourhood (Lower Clapton)… at my school, I used to go to church, I used to belong to a Hindu group that spoke about multifaithism… a Sai Baba group, we used to celebrate all the festivals… but when it came to Islam, Eid was not celebrated, at the end of Ramadan fasting… but it was only when I moved to Walthamstow, where there was a large concentration of Pakistani Muslims, that I was perhaps more exposed to Muslims, as I was living on a road that was parallel to where there was a mosque. I remember going to college on the opposite side of London, and I used to have a dog, and take him for morning walkies [….] and used to walk past a mosque repeatedly… at first I used to take the mick out of Muslims with their big beards, long skirts, and used to think to myself: ‘can’t they afford razors?’… But then it hit me after a number of times… I realised that these guys were praying at times they were told to pray, as opposed to myself, it was more or less… when you wanted to pray. So if you went to a club on a Friday or Saturday night and you woke up afterwards with a hangover, you would… pray well into the afternoon. But the Muslims have to pray at fixed times, five times a day. So that started my initial interest.
Above: The Qur’an
And I went to my Pakistani Muslim friend several times to ask: can I read your holy book? He made up an excuse the first time; the second time he said I had to have a bath… just to read a book? It was a bit surprising! But he meant I had to do ablutions. That’s what he understood it to be, but in reality it’s not the case [….] but I went back a third time and really tried to get the Qur’an from him… but he said he had to seek permission from his mum to give it to me… so now I just thought ‘you don’t want me to read your holy book’. So I left disappointed! I actually got my first copy of the Qur’an from my Mauritian Hindu friend, with whom I had gone on a Sai Baba pilgrimage to India. He actually threw it at me… that was my first occasion of somebody debating with me about Islam. He used the example of a horse going into a barn and not coming out a dog… well, thanks very much, you see me as an animal, then! I said I had to look at the actual religion for my own self… Sai Baba had said that the Muslims would be the last people to turn to him… that increased my curiosity as well. He said… there were many paths leading up to the peak of the mountain, and it doesn’t matter which one you take… and that’s how we saw different religions. I thought to myself, that’s a bit different when it comes to Islam…
Piotr: So, in a way, you came from a multi-faith context, in London.
AbdulMaalik: I mean I had always believed in God, I wasn’t an atheist or anything like that.
Piotr: But you were curious about Islam and you decided to investigate it. You read the Qur’an. Some people do convert to Islam in Britain, many of them do not have backgrounds in countries that are traditionally Muslim. So you get white converts as well… So what kind of reasons do people have for converting?
Above: Ablutions at Villiers Road mosque,
AbdulMaalik: Sometimes it’s a journey in itself… some do it to better their life, more structure, more guidance… you can always turn to the Qur’an and perhaps that would give you the guidance you need. If you were to supplicate: put your hands together, that would help. Some people [convert] for marriage purposes, but it’s also a common misconception people have: people think that converts convert to get married…
Piotr: Isn’t that a commonplace confusion, because these days some people can’t get married, it’s very difficult for them for whatever reason… and they might have a fantasy idea about Islam – everyone gets married there, some people have loads of wives, so I’ll become a Muslim – and they won’t get married, because of the cultural differences.
AbdulMaalik: One of the things which I know for a fact… is that converts do not have Muslim families, as opposed to born Muslims, who have Muslim families, so the network there is actually bigger than [for] a convert who perhaps lives by themselves, and for them to perhaps find a spouse has its own challenges.
Piotr: Okay, moving on now. Can you just let us have an idea of the basic tenets of Islam?
AbdulMaalik: Yes. The five pillars of Islam are: the Shahada, the declaration of faith, which would be that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, and the Prophet Mohammed… is the last and final messenger. Then we have prayer – to pray five times a day. We also have Ramadan, that’s when we fast, once a year… which at the moment is one of the longest we’ve had in about 33 years! Then you’ve also got Zakat, which is like surplus income that you have – 2.5 percent of that. Then you also have pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Piotr: So how did you get interested in the local history of Islam and Muslims?
AbdulMaalik: My initial interest in the history of Islam… went back to university days.
Piotr: What did you study at university?
AbdulMaalik: I actually studied health promotion. I was using Muslims as a focus group, as opposed to racial groups such as Pakistanis and Bengalis. And I always kept being asked why do I keep choosing what is called a faith group? […] I gave my reasons why, because there were commonalities between the people… and shared amount of inequalities as well. But for that, I had to draw upon some of the earliest [Muslim] communities, which were Woking and Liverpool. That was back in the 90s, when there wasn’t much material widely available… since then you find on the internet it’s ten times easier… then I came to Ealing 12 or 13 years’ ago, as a resident. That’s when my focus changed slightly to see if there was anything within Ealing itself. And yeah, I managed to find a few things…
Piotr: So you have done your research here at Ealing Local History Centre. Was it helpful to you and what did you find out?
AbdulMaalik: It was really helpful. I’m glad to know there are actually index cards – started by yourself, I believe… well done! Then I looked at different newspaper articles, et cetera… I think one of the earliest you had was from the 1960s: a Muslim was involved in a car accident and he couldn’t pray [anymore] and wanted compensation as a result… then there were the indexes of earlier newspapers, which I believe the Ealing History Group categorised… in one of them I found a small article about someone called Yusuf Ali. He was described as a prominent Indian man living in Acton, and then went back to India. And I thought to myself, this is the 1930s, who could this be? [….] There was only one Yusuf Ali that I knew, his name was Abdullah Yusuf Ali. So from… a small article, I really wanted to find out who this person was… the key thing was that he actually translated the Qur’an into English. And this was the first Qur’an that I was given.
Above: Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1872-1953),
translator of the Qur’an into
English, and one-time Acton
Piotr: That’s very interesting that one the earliest translations came from a person who lived in the Ealing area. Ealing is now a multicultural society, diverse socially, ethnically, and religiously. When, and why, did the Muslim presence in Ealing borough or London generally begin and increase? How has the Muslim community developed in the last 50 years or so?
Above: Hanwell College (est. 1832) - depicted in 1849
AbdulMaalik: One of the earliest Muslims in the borough was in the 1800s, when at Hanwell College you had an Indian teacher. And he used to teach Hindustani and Persian to students there… it was also where young army recruits who would go to India would study to get a grasp of the native language. That was the earliest example I managed to find. But then in 1906, and I only found out this one in the last year, we had someone called… Hafiz Hadji, meaning that he had memorised the Qur’an and done the Hajj pilgrimage [to Mecca], and he was called Mahommed Dollie. He [lived Glenfield Terrace in Mount Avenue and] died in West Ealing… but originated in South Africa. His father was Scottish, and they were related to somebody called Lady Duncan… and he died in 1906 in this borough. And now I’m speaking to… a fifth generation descendant in South Africa, who has the South African side of his story and I have the British side… I’ll be mentioning him as well in the presentation… about four weeks ago I managed to track down his grave as well. Then in the 1930s you find some [Muslim] families living in the borough, in Mattock Lane… Then an Indian scouts groups came in the later 1940s or early 50s and they stayed in Acton as well in the church hall; it seems there were Muslim scouts among them as well. You also had in Acton High School, the Pakistani, Iranian and Iraqi Olympic teams, staying… that was back when the Olympics was held in Wembley Stadium [….] since then it just seems to be increasing. Some people say that Heathrow airport’s [vicinity] is one reason why you had Muslims coming here… but a number of Muslim communities have settled in the borough, including the Somalian community, the Syrian community, the Afghan community… and they came here as refugees when they had internal conflicts in their countries. We also have a convert community who are not really visible, shall we say.
Piotr: You run Muslim history tours in London. Which sites do you take in, and how important is Ealing borough to London’s Muslim history?
AbdulMaalik: I actually cover Central London, City of London, Walthamstow, Camden, and Acton… then outside London, Woking and Brighton. For some strange reason Acton doesn’t get as much demand as the other ones. The others are perhaps seen as a bit more touristic if you like… Walthamstow some people like because of early examples of racism and Islamophobia… Acton is of interest to me because of Mohammed Dollie, the Imam of London’s first mosque, established in 1895. He died in this borough but people have never heard of him… we might do a tour about him and his life, taking in the first mosque, whose site we found a few months ago.
Piotr: Where was that then?
AbdulMaalik: Camden Town… near Regents Park… but it’s unconnected to the present [Regent’s Park] mosque… it was a house mosque. It relocated in 1899 to Euston Square… but [perhaps] prayers were also taking place here [Ealing]? […] So we might do a tour just about his life… And of course Abdullah Yusuf Ali living in Acton… there are connections across London with Muslim heritage, but these need to be dug out with hours spent in the archives.
Above: Central Jamia Masjid (mosque), Southall (1980)
Piotr: So in terms of origins, it’s quite significant, the local area. In terms of post World War Two, do you think Ealing’s Muslim community is rather typical of London’s Muslim community or does it add anything to the history of Islam in London?
AbdulMaalik: I think it’s just like any other location… though [the community] in east London was larger, because of relatives coming over… here [Ealing area], the number of factories and industrial areas led to people working there… but it was a common trend, people did come after the Second World War, because England, Britain, needed a work force to re-establish themselves. They came largely from the Commonwealth.
Piotr: You have also worked with the Police in a community liaison role. What sort of work have you done, and how would you describe Police-Muslim community relations today and in the past?
AbdulMaalik: The role was a completely voluntary role. I’ll explain how this happened. It initially happened because of a situation and I wanted clarification, and there was a public meeting… I went along, and I asked the panel, which consisted of an MP, someone from border security, and a senior [Police] officer from the borough, and an inspector from the Muslim Contact Unit, which was established to increase understanding and contact between the Met Police as well as the Muslim community… it does come under Special Branch… I asked them three questions: 1). The community safety officers, are they trained [to deal with] convert domestic violence? 2). Do you have any converts amongst you in your department? and 3). Do you liaise with any convert Muslim organisations? [….] The answer was no… We had a meeting afterwards, and he said to me, AbdulMaalik, you are the first person to raise the issue of the Muslim convert community… and I thought to myself, the Muslim communities that are presented to people, people are missing us out. This was only, literally, about three years ago. That’s when he said, we do have these types of forums, totally voluntary, which take place quarterly… you could actually go to them. I had a meeting with a Commander, Christine Jones, head of domestic violence, and explained that domestic violence done to the Muslim convert community can lead to radicalisation. That was obviously of interest to them… isolation and vulnerability in the convert community can lead to radicalisation…
Piotr: So, you went to these meetings. And did you in any way liaise with converts as well?
AbdulMaalik: To be honest I never came across any other convert at any of these meetings. The attendance of the Muslim community was actually low. I was asked also to attend as a community representative to help interview somebody for the position of Superintendent, which I did as well.
Piotr: So on the basis of these experiences do you think that the Police have been tactful and helpful to the Muslim community, or are there problems from the past which persist until today? How do you view Police-Muslim community relations?
AbdulMaalik: It’s got a long way to go… What I also run in this borough is Ealing Muslim Converts, which is a voluntary organisation, and I try to help out converts who are experiencing domestic violence within their own family, due to their conversion specifically… it could be about how to find information, sign-posting… there seem to be some repeated occurrences in terms of how convert domestic violence in tackled. It’s not being tackled. There’s no definition of what’s called ‘spiritual abuse’. I’ve been to safeguarding courses, in Ealing Town Hall, safeguarding children… there’s nothing about it…
Piotr: Perhaps there’s a wider context we might talk about later on… is that religion is not in the public realm in this country, people have a very low level of understanding…
AbdulMaalik: The professionals recognise that an increasing number of youth are embracing Islam, but they don’t know what to do…. They grow a beard, wear a headscarf, and wear what is seen as traditional type clothing… And there is this thing from the Police point of view, that if there is a mosque which attracts a lot of youth… what could be happening there? Even when you look at Hajj, I know someone who has been helping for twenty years, and he said that when he started… it was basically the elders… over the years the makeup of the Hajj groups has been getting younger and younger and younger… so a lot more youth now are turning spiritual if you like.
Above: Acton Mosque founder Mr Haqq and AbdulMaalik (2014)
Piotr: According to my book Ealing Church History Notes, there are 14 mosques in the borough. I visited Acton mosque with you in 2014. How significant is the local Mosque in Muslim belief, identity, and culture? What outreach do Mosques do in Ealing?
AbdulMaalik: The way to look at a mosque, is that it’s a place where the Muslim community would go on a regular basis… for a unified moment of worship. If we can’t be in the mosque unified, then there’s no point in speaking about [being united] outside the mosque. The outreach work they do, sometimes they feed the homeless; you also have food being given to people at Ramadan time; we also get open days when a school might want to see inside a mosque… they can lay on exhibitions as well…. Would something like this happen twenty years ago? Not really, just here and there…
Piotr: Moving on to the next question. How diverse is the Muslim population of Ealing borough? Is it helpful to regard Ealing’s Muslims as constituting one ‘community’ or better to see them as part of multiple, perhaps overlapping, ‘communities’?
AbdulMaalik: I would say there are Muslim communities, not ‘the Muslim community’. Some people ask why do I believe that, and I say, look at various communities like the Asian, Black, White and Muslim convert community. Where are we? Are we representative of the borough? Who speaks for us? Can the key issues we experience be handled by mosques themselves? […] I give full credit to those who have established the mosques, and do mosque management, but for the issues we (converts) experience… sometimes it can be challenging. You have sign-posting, but you have counselling at the same time… these are things that are slightly different. It’s definitely communities as opposed to ‘community’.
Above: Disused industrial site in Pluckington Place, Southall,
used as a mosque by 1977
Piotr: As you said, it was the South Asians who largely established many of the mosques. But today… Acton mosque has got many people from other backgrounds, hasn’t it? You’ve got the Somalians, a very large community in Acton… Iranians… people from the Middle East rather than South Asia… Africans as well, to an extent.
AbdulMaalik: One thing you have to realise, is that at Acton mosque they do have elections, to become a member… if you don’t become a member, to influence the [mosque] committee… the make up of the committee is from South Asians. If you’re not part of it from the beginning, you’d have to go through the process…
Piotr: Do Muslims identify with Britishness?
AbdulMaalik: They do. However… it’s a common question we get asked: are we British, are we Muslim… one thing that you think to yourself is: why is the Muslim community being singled out for this? What other community keeps being repeatedly asked about this question? Do we ever hear about the British Irish community or the British Polish community?
Piotr: I’m British and Polish…
AbdulMaalik: Yeah… I know, you are… Do you get asked whether you are British or Polish or whether you should be asserting your British side more than your Polish?
Piotr: I suppose, from my perspective, as someone who does identify with being Polish and British, there’s an interest in whether other ethnic minority groups also identify with Britishness… you’ve got different words for it: assimilation, integration, appropriation…
AbdulMaalik: Yes, but it’s not asked of any other community. In historical perspective, this question was asked of the Jewish community in the 1930s, et cetera… then it was the Irish, the Blacks, and now is the Muslims…
Piotr: The reason is, some people… perceive Muslims to be separate from themselves, therefore, does that reflect reality?
AbdulMaalik: In the era of ‘Paki-bashing’ (the 1950s-1980s) the elders said that they lived with people of the same background as them for protection. We were constantly being beaten-up, you saw Skinheads coming down… what would you do? You were chased, you were bottled, you were stabbed…
Piotr: But that could have been racism as well as Islamophobia couldn’t it? Would the average hoodlum have known much about Islam back then?
AbdulMaalik: They would, they would… there were direct attacks for ‘turning Turk’ or ‘Mohammedanism’… researchers are now making public that [Islamophobia] did exist… But that’s what the [early Muslims] said, that they lived amongst themselves for their own protection. Nowadays, people are said to live in ghettoes, but you have to remember that… it was a two-way thing. You had the white communities moving out, so how were the two communities supposed to live alongside each other?
Piotr: So do some Muslims identify with Britishness?
AbdulMaalik: Looking across the whole of Europe, for Muslims, Britain is the safest country… at the moment [some] European countries ban the niqab; there’s the ban by the French on the burkini… I have a British passport, and my parents had British passports… I’ve never come across any Muslims saying that they don’t want to be British…
Piotr: Okay. Moving on to a more controversial question. Muslims believe in a God who is ‘al Rahman, al Rahim’ (‘most merciful, most compassionate’). Yet since 9/11 many people have associated Islam with Islamist terrorism, given the self-identification of many terrorists with Islam. Apart from the horrific nature of these attacks on both non-Muslims and Muslims, both in the UK and abroad, what has been the impact of terrorism and its consequences on Muslims locally and in the UK more broadly?
AbdulMaalik: One thing we do know is that the number of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims has increased. Also against those who are perceived to be Muslims, such as the Sikhs… they have increased. The media has been at fault, for the terminology they use, such as Islamic terrorism… there’s been a discussion of whether to call Islamic State [by that name] or Daesh… this is not helpful, by the media… Is there a two-tier system when it comes to reporting, by the media? In Europe, I remember reading, the number of atrocities done by Muslims is a minority compared to those done by others… Monitoring Islamic State on the internet, is the same being done for white supremacists as well?
Piotr: Well, people would argue, that it’s all Muslims doing it, isn’t it? There’s no other people doing it…
AbdulMaalik: In the 1970s, a woman called Leila Khalid, who was an Arab Christian committed a hijacking on a plane and was brought to Ealing Police station, but it was portrayed as… a Muslim.
Piotr: Yeah, but factually speaking though, there have been tens of thousands of attacks which people did, people who called themselves Muslims and thought they were doing the right thing…
AbdulMaalik: Historically though, is it just people from the Muslim community doing this, or are other communities involved? Another thing to remember is that 800,000 Indians took part in the war… I keep hearing that Britain stood alone in the face of the Nazis, but that’s not quite true, because there were people from the Commonwealth who helped…
Piotr: But do you think that since 9/11 apart from Islamophobia rising…
AbdulMaalik: Also since 9/11 the copies of the Qur’an have sold out… people have wanted to read and find out about Islam themselves. People are reading about Islam for themselves as opposed to what the media is telling them and… become Muslim now…
Piotr: Well, some of them are. Do you think though that this backdrop of both terrorism and Islamophobia has caused any changes in the Muslim community?
Above: Mosque in Montague Way, Southall, c. 1990s
AbdulMaalik: I think people are more now, especially on social media, prepared to speak about [Islamophobia]… Personally, I have given up reporting incidents of Islamophobia to the Police, they just don’t get anywhere… I am London’s only professionally tour guide and I do wear what is called the Fez hat… the Ottoman hat, which was the headgear of the Victorian Muslims… and I get called comments as well, people basically take the mickey… online as well, and on one occasion I was physically attacked as well… to me, it’s got to the stage where there’s no point in reporting it… I’m the founder of an Ealing Muslim convert organisation as well, but I don’t let out what has happened to me, sometimes people ask me, but what can you do?
Piotr: Would you say there is much Islamophobia or hate-crime against Muslims locally? How good are inter-community relations right now?
AbdulMaalik: It’s hard to tell. I actually tried to enquire of the Met Police in this area [about statistics]… but they just didn’t respond. I made another enquiry but didn’t get a response. I went directly to the community safety unit, dealing with hate crime, and they said, ‘no, we don’t give out the figures’. I applied under the freedom of information act, they said no, and that I had to try again…
Piotr: Anecdotally, have you seen, say graffiti against Muslims, or have people been ganged up on in the street in the local area?
AbdulMaalik: It has happened, yes. I’ve seen a mosque attacked as well.
Piotr: Which one was that?
AbdulMaalik: The one in Acton… it was a verbal attack, with gestures as well.
Above: AbdulMaalik Tailor outside Acton Mosque (2014)
Piotr: Apart from the targeting of Muslims, how good are inter-community relations in the streets?
AbdulMaalik: I think people are okay in terms of getting on… people do come in to see the mosques and they can be shown around… projects locally are also featuring Muslims now as well, such as ‘a day in the life of a Muslim’ – I was approached two or three times… so people are more prepared to be open… as to what goes on inside a mosque, sometimes people think we pray all day! But it’s selected times only! […] One thing that I have noticed is that local Ward meetings – I do attend them – and sometimes I could be the only non-white person there… so in certain ways the Muslim community do need to take a bit more of a active participation… but with regard to Ward meetings, sometimes people just generally haven’t heard of them…
Piotr: The mosque is one thing, but there are different manifestations of Islamic culture, aren’t there? Because people see: clothing; secondly, people work with Muslims in their jobs… thirdly you go to businesses run by Muslims, say chemists, or grocers… barbers; so there are other ways… people who may not know anything about Islam may have their hair cut by a Muslim… buy food in a Muslim shop…
Above: Somali businesses, Crown Street, Acton (2014)
AbdulMaalik: It’s not as if they live totally separate an alien to the society… but perhaps, what kind of interaction do people want? For example at Ward meetings… political participation…
Piotr: Moving on to inter-faith relations. How would you describe inter-faith relations in Ealing? (Acton mosque, for instance, is right next door to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church. Both are large faith communities.) How do Muslims view other religions? Are Muslims and members of other religions coming into contact, relating to one another, and trying to work together in the community?
AbdulMaalik: They do work together… in various projects. It does happen, it depends on how much of that do people expect. How is it received? It might just be as an article, with people’s names [mentioned]…
Piotr: What kind of initiatives have they done together?
AbdulMaalik: Recently a Muslim chap in Greenford tried to get the local mosque involved in a homeless project… but when he came to the meeting, it turned out to be the churches more, and they turned up, so that case was a bit different… In general, I don’t know what projects are taking place…
Piotr: Some people, critical of Islamic culture, have suggested that Islam needs a Reformation, similar to the kind which occurred within Christendom in the 16th century. Do you think Islam needs to be reformed, or perhaps reinterpreted, or simply lived more authentically?
AbdulMaalik: I think people need to have a better understanding of it… I would say lived more authentically. How did Muslims interact with people in other countries, and how they did it… What happens in Islamic schools, what happens in Sharia councils… those are seen as major question marks, there are major inquiries taking place… did people not know what these stood for… how much can you open these up… is it media driven? But does it mean a reformation? I would say, no. As it is, it’s okay, it’s just that people need to get a better understanding of it, that I would say is key, it’s central.
Piotr: Okay, well some people say, obviously, you’ve got the central beliefs of Islam, and then the cultural baggage, which might come from Pakistan, Persia, Egypt, whatever, or Britain even, and that impinges… there’s a mutual interaction…
Above: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)
AbdulMaalik: One example, which is historical, is someone from Acton, - Lady Montagu, who lived in Montagu House [Berrymead Priory], near where Acton Town Hall is now in the 1700s… she understood that Muslim women were oppressed and so on, because of what she had been exposed to, however when she travelled abroad to Istanbul, she realised from interaction with Muslim women, that it wasn’t true… she actually said that [women] out there had more freedom than over here… she travelled round Istanbul dressed in Turkish clothing… she is an example of someone who was exposed to a particular perception of Muslim women but when she herself engaged in interaction, it was totally different. The niqab is the main issue here, but for some reason it’s men that are more worried about the niqab… why are they wearing it, is it because their husband is telling them to? I know a white convert, and she isn’t even married, and she chooses to wear it…
Piotr: Moving on, now. The UK is by and large a secular country. Is the marginal importance of religion, theology, and spirituality, in the public domain and media, one cause of ignorance about Islam and other religions, since these matters are rarely aired and discussed openly?
AbdulMaalik: Well sometimes they are discussed, like on Sunday morning television… but it often happens in an informal setting, when people have open discussions… there was an initiative by [some London boroughs], they had ‘community questions’ with representatives from, like, a specialist Police officer… that in itself was a good platform, and people could actually exchange their views, raise their concerns… but then they stopped. And I was like, why have they done that for? […] It was a time for engagement and it was a two-way thing…
Piotr: Coming to the end of our interview, slowly. Ealing Libraries have a diverse workforce. I have Muslim colleagues and co-workers, most of whom observe Ramadan. The borough also permits the Muslim community to use Ealing Common for Eid-al-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan. Can you describe your Ramadan experiences and tell us a bit about how Muslims in Ealing observe this period of fasting?
Above: Villiers Road mosque, Southall (1994)
AbdulMaalik: My personal experience of Ramadan is… different. It’s currently the longest of 33 years… [observed for] thirty days… We have a set routine […] people give more in charity, they try to do extra prayers, they would read more of the Qur’an as well, generally be helpful to everyone. The night time is currently shorter, that’s when you say your night prayers – during the winter it is longer, so more prayers would be said… We come together at sunset when we break fast. At the mosque there would be a gathering, or you would be invited round to your friend’s house… if you feed a fasting person, you’d get a reward for it as well… Sometimes special events are organised as well, because some people can be isolated…
Piotr: While probably hard to generalise, how do Muslims feel about living in Ealing and what is their opinion of this society? (What is your personal view?)
AbdulMaalik: They seem to be okay living in Ealing, just concerned like any other community would be – house prices are rising, rental prices are rising – so that’s a concern have. There may be environmental concerns as well… people are leaving the borough as well, due to house prices…
Piotr: What about the society in general, in terms of is it easy for Muslims to accommodate their beliefs and what they see around them in this society… obviously some people are more critical than others about Western society in general… does that ever get raised or discussed in the Muslim community?
AbdulMaalik: Sometimes it does. People do wonder about foreign policy. Some people have said that could be a source of radicalisation. You also have people who don’t want to leave the country… some have gone to live in Muslim countries and they’ve actually come back here, realising that perhaps here they had a better experience, where they’ve actually developed their faith even more.
Piotr: In other words, a Western society might give them the freedom necessary to actually become a more authentic Muslim?
AbdulMaalik: I think there’s also this question about Islam and the West. One a faith and one’s a landmass, and you think to yourself, why does in need to be separated like that?
Piotr: So, what would you say has been the contribution of Islam and Muslims to the society and culture of Ealing or London in general?
Above: Women and children at Eid-al-Fitr celebrations,
Ealing Common (2013)
AbdulMaalik: I think nowadays, we’re a lot more visible. More people are prepared to wear what is deemed Islamic clothing, you also have Eid festivals as you rightly mention… taking part in Ealing Common, a location where all people can see [it] and you also have nonMuslims who go there… I think 20-25 percent [of attendees] are non-Muslim… so that’s quite high… I’m actually in favour of these events taking place outdoors, as opposed within a mosque, something that is recommended within Islam that they take place in open grounds as well; people have more curiosity, and say ‘what’s all this… let’s find out’ sort of thing, to learn about it. In terms of the borough… the [Muslim] population is increasing, it’s at 16 percent…
Piotr: What about contribution? Obviously [Islam is] becoming more mainstream, more visible and larger, but, we have had a Muslim mayor, Muslim councillors, I think the general population, about 55 percent of Ealing is now ethnic minorities, not all of them Muslims obviously, but… do you think that with things like restaurants, businesses, an awareness that… Islam is coming to be accepted…
AbdulMaalik: It brings in money…[more fast food] restaurants are halal, according to a documentary, but when it comes to saying why they are, they don’t want to say… Another thing to bear in mind is that Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister, wanted to make Britain the hub for Islamic finance… in the West… Muslims buying up property has increased, people see [Britain] as a nice place for investments.
Above: Mosque in East Acton, on grounds of the Saudi-owned
King Fahad Academy, which opened in 1985, on site of
old Faraday School
Piotr: I suppose people forget there are very rich Muslims, poor Muslims, and everything in between… so it’s a cross section of society, it’s not just ‘Muslims over there’, actually they are everywhere in society, also different types of Muslims, different backgrounds, ages…
AbdulMaalik: They’re all part of society, you could say. Sometimes people say there are glass ceilings you could say, but is there a profession where there’s no Muslims? I don’t think there is.
Piotr: Okay. Now finally, how do you see the future of Islam locally and nationally? Will there ever be a distinctive ‘British Islam’? Or does the primacy of the Arabic language within the religion make such a prospect remote?
AbdulMaalik: From a religious point of view, which was an attraction for me as well, was the idea that Allah would protect the Qur’an in its original format… in the Arabic language. A comparison with the Hindu religion, the Sanskrit language is basically a dead language, nobody actually uses it: scholars might use it, but it’s not an everyday language that’s being used… you’ve also had changes within the English language, but the Arabic language has stayed the same… that’s not something I actually think the Muslims would actually give up… it’s part of our prayer as well… prayer would not be accepted if it’s done in another language… Arabic is what it has to be done in, and it helps keep us together as well.
Piotr: But some people would say that due to the Reformation in Christianity, local languages became prominent, people could read the Bible in their own language… in a way it made it more accessible to people. I’ve heard somewhere that the majority of Muslims do not know Arabic, although they’re reading it in other languages, it hasn’t got the official stamp of Arabic, so… it’s seen as not as good. Do you not think that the language of ‘revelation’ is secondary to its truth… couldn’t people be authentic Muslims and worship in English or whatever? Would that be a good idea?
AbdulMaalik: No. I think that the Muslim community need to go back to the source. Learning the Arabic language, to have a better understanding of the Qur’an… most kids go to the madrasa, learnt the alphabet, and progress from words into sentences, and read the Qur’an to get understanding. The other thing is, if you wanted to change it completely, to English, you would lose the meaning… In terms of local languages yeah, you can have translations… but you [need] to go back to the Arabic Qur’an as well.
Piotr: But, I mean, Arabic is quite a difficult language isn’t it? It’s quite hard to learn?
AbdulMaalik: Ha ha! Well think of my position, I was a convert, I didn’t go to madrasas, I had to learn it from scratch… also I’m dyslexic, so reading from right to left, I was a bit baffled… In beginning, for me, it was a personal challenge, but I had to… give it good quality time…I went away to an institute in mid Wales and spent a month there, and that’s where I actually got a better understanding. Then I went to Egypt… so there are avenues that you can take to advance your Arabic… it depends on what you want to do to learn Arabic, it has to remain in its original format. It can be translated to the nearest meaning, but there are some things for which there will never be an understanding…
Piotr: Well, thanks for your time, and thanks very much for coming in.
AbdulMaalik Tailor’s talk, ‘Ealing – A Muslim History’, will be given at 6:15pm on Tuesday 25 October at Ealing Central Library’s Green Room. Talks in Black History Month are free of charge. Please book a seat in advance – in person or by telephone, at: 0203 700 1052 or 0203 700 1055.