THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF BRITISH ISLAM
British Muslims today have a rightful sense of familiarity with their surroundings.
The encounter of Islam and the British Isles goes back a long way. Just as under
the surface of Britain's handsome landscape there is a complex geological interplay,
similarly our cultural topology has been fashioned by diverse forces and interminglings,
including the Muslim encounter for over millennium. What better indication then
the English language itself. The philologist Richard
Derveux has uncovered 600 loan words from Arabic. Far from being an alien
deposition in the topsoil, Islam in Britain has deep historical roots.
• Eighth- Fifteenthth Centuary– 1988-91
• Sixteenth & Seventeenth Century
• The Colonial Period
• 1950 - 1975
Eighth - Fifteenth Century
Muslim cartographers were well aware of British Isles. Muhammad bin Musa al-Khwarizmi
in his 'Surat al-Ard', written around 817 mentions a number of places in Britain.
Offa of Mercia (died 796) was a powerful Anglo-Saxon King who had coins minted
with the inscription of the declaration of Islamic faith (There is no god but
Allah) in Arabic.
The Ballycottin cross, found on the Southern coast of Ireland and dated around
the 9th century also bears an Arabic inscription. At the centre of the cross
set in a glass bead in Kufic Arabic script is the phrase 'Bismillah' (in the
name of Allah).
It is generally believed that the first Englishman known for certain to have
been a scholar of Arabic was Henry II's tutor, Adelard of Bath (c, 1125) who
travelled in Syria and Muslim Spain and translated a number of Arabic texts
In the Twelfth Century, King John was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III and
was excommunicated. Matthew Paris, a contemporary monk, gives details of an
emissary sent by King John in 1213 to the North African Amir, Mohammed An-Nasir.
King John offered to help Muslims in their campaigns in Spain against the Catholic
king of Aragon.
Muslim scholarship was well known among the learned in Britain by 1386, when
Chaucer was writing. In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, there is among
the pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury, a 'Doctour of Phisyk' whose learning
included Razi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Ibn Sina's canon
of medicine was a standard text for medical students well into the Seventeenth
Following Adelard's footsteps, others too sailed from Britain in the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries in quest of Arabic learning and returned to enlighten
their fellow countrymen. This included Danel of Morley and Michael Scotus, whose
translations of Aristotle from Arabic were of great value during the Renaissance.
The first book ever to have been printed in England by Caxton in 1477 is considered
to be 'The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers', which was a translation
of a popular Arabic compilation entitled 'Mukhtar al-Hikam Wa mahasin al-Kalim',
by Abul Wafa Mubashir Ibn Fatik.
`Acknowledgements- 'The Quest for Sanity', published by The Muslim Council
of Britain, 2002)