Standing in Southfields since 1926, the Fazl Mosque is London's first purpose-built mosque. But now, a man who runs Muslim history tours has discovered a Camden mosque dating back to 1895.
The proof came after much searching, and came as a great relief to AbdulMaalik Tailor. "Initially, I paused, feeling relieved and thinking finally the journey has come to an end," he says. "But moments afterward, this changed into me saying 'Allahu Akbar!' — an occasion of celebration and thankfulness."
Tailor had already researched a man called Haji Mohammed Dollie, who in 1895 converted a room in his house on Albert Street, near Regent's Park, into a mosque. A piece in The Daily News on 12 June 1899, on Dollie, reads:
Coming to England five years ago, he took a house in Albert Street, Regent's Park, and soon made the acquaintance of the heads of the Moslem families settled here. "Will you teach our children their prayers?" they asked, and he assented. Gradually the parents themselves took to assembling in Mr Doullie's [sic] house for worship. Gladly did he suffer the intrusion and gladly did he set apart his drawing room, first at Albert-street and now at Euston-road, for the purposes of a mosque. "If a boy of seven," said he, "has little knowledge of his faith, it is sad. But when a man of forty has forgotten how to say his prayers — Ah!" and he raised his hand expressively.
After poring over old ratebooks at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, Tailor eventually discovered Dollie's former address, confirming the exact whereabouts of the makeshift mosque:
"The opening of the mosque," says Tailor, "is also referred to by Abdullah Quilliam [a white convert who opened England's first mosque in 1887 in Liverpool] in his Islamic Review newspaper." Quilliam and Dollie became friends and would correspond with each other. Ron Geaves backs this up in his biography of Quilliam.
Though not much is recorded about Dollie, it turns out he was quite the influential figure in London's nascent Muslim community. Arriving in London in 1894/5 with his wife and two sons from South Africa he wasted little time in setting up his Albert Street mosque. He was a Hafiz (someone who has memorised the Quran) and had previously established a mosque in Cape Town.
The Muslim population of London in Dollie's time was not more than a few hundred, and venues such as the Holborn Restaurant would be used for gatherings. From his Albert Street premises, Dollie performed religious ceremonies, gave guidance to newly-arrived Muslims, and converted people to the religion.
There is some evidence to that suggest that later on, Dollie opened up a purpose-built Mosque in west London (he moved to West Ealing at that time), but so far no proof of this has been found.
Today, about 12% of London's population is Muslim, with around 423 mosques in the city. Now, on the other side of Regent's Park from Dollie's former address, stands the London Central Mosque.
Read more about Tailor's discovery on this Camden Community radio podcast. Sign up to a Muslim history tour here.