The death has been announced, at the age of 92, of Liverpool’s Dr.Akbar Ali MBE. He was a great man and a good friend – to me personally and to the city of Liverpool at large. Dr Ali, a member of the Liverpool Muslim Society, was one of the most respected religious figures in the city.
He combined a love of his faith with a profound belief in tolerance and co-existence; a wonderful example to us all. His work in building respectful interfaith relationships on Merseyside will be an enduring legacy and one which should give his family great pride. In the context of so much visceral hatred leading to so much violence in too many parts of the world it is so important not to forget everything that Akbar represented – combining intelligence and tolerance with his faith. A small voice of calm which will be greatly missed.
For some years, during my time as a Member of Parliament, representing a Liverpool constituency, Akbar Ali served as my constituency association chairman. He also stood as a parliamentary candidate and I was privileged to speak for him during that contest. His wisdom and understanding of what matters most in life was invaluable to me and gave me strength in the midst of some fierce battles.
In July 2005 he and I planted an olive tree together on some land in the heart of Toxteth. We had both agreed to be patrons of a Habitat for Humanity project I this under-privileged part of Liverpool. The olive tree to symbolise peace and reconciliation in an area where the infamous Toxteth riots took place.
Habitat said at the time that “The planting of an olive tree symbolised the start of a new era for the people of Granby/Toxteth in Liverpool who are being offered the chance to buy a house – by helping to build it.”
The ceremony took place after Liverpool Habitat for Humanity (LHFH) had been given a 2.2 acre site in Granby/Toxteth. The land was generously donated by the Liverpool Roman Catholic Archdiocese – the first time the Catholic Church has donated land to HFH.
The site was designated to build 32 homes for local families. But instead of paying a hefty cash deposit, families will use ‘sweat equity’ to make the down payment on their own home.
the inspiration behind the project was the Reverend Dr Canon Shannon Ledbetter, Chair of Liverpool Habitat for Humanity.
Dr Mohammad Akbar Ali had also set up the Abdullah Quilliam Society in 1997, with the intention of restoring the Grade II listed building in Brougham Terrace, Low Hill (the area which I represented as a City Councillor and which was later a part of my parliamentary constituencies), to its former glory.
Work began in 2009 and the mosque re-opened at the end of June of this year.
The Abdullah Quilliam Heritage Centre, recognised as the birthplace of Islam in Britain, now includes the restored mosque, a new mosque, a courtyard, museum, art gallery, learning centre for interfaith work, library and cafe.
The mosque in Brougham Terrace was originally opened on Christmas Day 1889 by Henry William Quilliam, the son of a wealthy watchmaker. It originally included an orphanage and a basement printing press, which printed The Crescent – an Islamic magazine distributed in more than 20 countries.
The mosque had a congregation of around 200, but it closed in 1908 when Abdullah Quilliam decided to travel overseas.
During a private visit to England, The Sultan of Turkey was so impressed with Abdullah Quilliam’s work that he conferred upon him the prestigious title of “Sheikh – ul – Islam of the British Isles”, which was confirmed by the Amir of Afghanistan.
The building became a birth, deaths and marriages registry office, which closed in 2000.
One of his final wishes was to see the historic mosque built by Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam re-open and he lived to see this on June 27th.