Loyal Enemies

British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950

May 2014 9781849042758 256pp
EU Customers


Loyal Enemies uncovers the history of the earliest British converts to Islam who lived their lives freely as Muslims on British soil, from the 1850s to the 1950s. Drawing on original archival research, it reveals that people from across the range of social classes defied convention by choosing Islam in this period.

Through a series of case studies of influential converts and pioneering Muslim communities, Loyal Enemies considers how the culture of Empire and imperialism influenced and affected their conversions and subsequent lives, before examining how they adapted and sustained their faith. Jamie Gilham shows that, although the overall number of converts was small, conversion to Islam aroused hostile reactions locally and nationally. He therefore also probes the roots of antipathy towards Islam and Muslims, identifies their manifestations and explores what conversion entailed socially and culturally. He also considers whether there was any substance to persistent allegations that converts had ‘divided’ loyalties between the British Crown and a Muslim ruler, country or community.

Loyal Enemies is a book about the past, but its core themes—about faith and belief, identity, Empire, loyalties and discrimination—are still salient today.


Loyal Enemies is a carefully researched and fascinatingly detailed investigation of the British individuals who converted to Islam during the century-long territorial apogee of the British Empire. … It is time to celebrate the pantheon of Anglo-Muslims to allow Muslims in contemporary Britain to feel part of an older indigenous tradition.’ — Barnaby Rogerson, Times Literary Supplement

‘In this meticulously researched and pioneering study, Jamie Gilham brings to life the struggles of the courageous (and often eccentric) British individuals who converted to Islam during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. Theirs was a difficult choice and the lives of these converts raise broad questions about integration and religious and national loyalties. Some converts had international reputations, though others were much more obscure, but, taken together, all their lives shed an unexpected and fascinating light on the grander events which provided the context for their embrace of Islam, including the Indian Mutiny, the Eastern Question, the Great War, the abolition of the Caliphate, the growing popularity of Sufism in the West and, finally, the mass immigration of Muslims from the former British Empire after the Second World War.’ — Robert Irwin, Senior Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and author of Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties

‘This is an excellent text on the history of Muslim converts in the Victorian and Edwardian period up until the arrival of post-Second World War migrations, and appears at a time when young British Muslims are rediscovering or uncovering their shared history in the UK. Jamie Gilham’s research is exemplary, shedding light on the motivations for conversion and the processes of situating Islam in a new European environment. Loyal Enemies should be required reading for anyone interested in the creation of a Muslim presence in the UK.’ — Ron Geaves, Professor of Studies of Religions, Liverpool Hope University, and author of Abdullah Quilliam: The Life and Times of a Victorian Muslim

‘This is a well-researched and extraordinary account of British converts to Islam, ranging from my great-grandfather’s elder brother Henry Stanley, first Muslim peer of the realm, to ‘Harry’ St John Philby, uncritical fan of Ibn Saud and Wahabism. They all swam resolutely against the tide of public opinion of their day.’ — Lord Avebury, Liberal Democrat Peer

‘Gilham explores how from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century a small stream of Britons, in the face of public criticism, converted to Islam. They ranged from the aristocratic Lord Stanley of Alderley to the middle-class Abdullah Quilliam to the working-class wives of lascars in the port cities. It is a fascinating story which demonstrates how, before the large Muslim migrations of the 1950s, Islam already had firm roots in British society.’ — Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘Based on rigorous research and analysis, this study excavates the “hidden” history of a unique group of British Muslim converts, who found themselves lampooned as infidels and traitors, and whose allegiances and identities were frequently questioned. It is indispensable reading for anyone seeking insights on the genealogy of Islam in Britain today.’ — Humayun Ansari, Professor of the History of Islam and Culture, Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of ‘The Infidel Within’: Muslims in Britain Since 1800

‘This is a well-written and masterly analysis of one of the most interesting aspects of the foundations of British Islam. Set in the cultural, social and political context of the height of empire, the author provides lively and well-researched accounts of prominent personalities and their path to Islam.’ — Jørgen S. Nielsen, Hon. Professor of Islamic Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen

‘[T]his is a timely study of considerable significance for scholarship of Islam in Britain. … Gilham has pored over innumerable sources, ranging from learned journals and archival materials to more popular publications and full-length academic studies, … to produce this meticulously researched and invaluable volume. … [A] pioneering study that for the first time pieces together this story, portions of which are better known but much of which sees light for the first time as part of a cohesive, historical account.’ — Journal of British Studies

‘Not only is Gilham’s study fascinating and very readable, but he provides a great deal of documentation to primary and secondary sources, so that his book will be a starting-point for any future work in this field.’ — Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies Bulletin

Loyal Enemies is a well researched book and brings out the fact that there is nothing new or alien about Islam in Britain.’ — Asian Affairs


Jamie Gilham is a historian of Western Islam whose books include Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850–1950, also published by Hurst, and The British Muslim Convert Lord Headley, 1855–1935.

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