I thought I’d start a collection of ‘Unexpected Muslims’ – living or late, converts or born into the faith, whose lives challenge our preconceptions of what a Muslim ought to be. The collection will include people who’ve done something unexpected, unusual or outright eccentric with their lives – like deciding to become Muslim in 19th century England.
Our first unexpected muslim is Henry the brother baron, born in 1827. Or to give him his full title, Henry Edward John Stanley, 3rd Baron Stanley of Alderley and 2nd Baron Eddisbury (11 July 1827 – 10 December 1903). He may have adopted the name Abdur Rahman.
Henry could have lived an unremarkable life as just another member of the Victorian British aristocracy. Instead in 1862, aged 35, he converted to Islam. Incidentally, his sister was the mother of Bertrand Russell, the Nobel prize-winning philosopher and agnostic anti-war activist.
“Henry, the eldest son became interested in the East from an early age and asked for an Arabic grammar as a birthday present when a boy. He converted to Islam and in 1862 he married Fabia, daughter of Santiago Frederica San Roman of Seville, charmingly described by Peter Stanley in The House of Stanley from the 12th Century as a man of uncertain antecedents. It later transpired that she was married already. Henry delayed telling his family of the marriage for seven years and announced it after the funeral of his father.” (1)
In 1869 Lord Stanley became the first Muslim member of the House of Lords, and took a controversial step to discourage alcohol consumption on his patch.
“As Henry was a Muslim he closed down the public houses on the estate which included the Wizard on the road running on top of The Edge, the Eagle and Child on what is now the A34, and The Iron Gates at Monks Heath.” (1)
However, he also funded the restoration of several old churches. He was described as being regular in his five daily prayers, as well as tahujjad night prayers; humble and sincere in his faith and he spoke of the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) with great love and respect. Although he was married three times (to the same lady), he didn’t have any children.
Brother Henry Abdur Rahman died on the 21st of Ramadan and was buried in unconsecrated ground in the woods on his family’s estate. The janazah was read by the imam of the Turkish Ottoman embassy, and Abdullah Quillium also prayed a janazah at the Liverpool mosque. May Allah bless Henry Abdur Rahman with His mercy and forgiveness and grant him jannatul firdous.
In the February 1904 issue of the Review of Religions, Lord Stanley’s obituary read:
“Death of a Muslim member of the House of Lords
That the late Henry Edward John Stanley, third Baron Stanley of Alderley, was a sincere and devout Muslim, was known to very few men. Readers of the Safwat-ul-Itbar (Travels of Sheikh Muhammad Bairam Fifth of Tunis), however, knew very well that Lord Stanley had long been a sincere believer in the principles of Islam. But his faith was not limited to a profession by word of mouth. The author of the Safwat-ul-Itbar relates incidents which show how deeply Islam had entered into his heart. He found him not only regular in the five daily prayers, but also constant at tahajjud (the midnight prayers); and what is still more wonderful, he found him very humble in his prayers, and far above most born Muhammadans. When he talked of the Holy Prophet, it was with profound love and deep respect that he mentioned or named him. He found him also very well versed on the principles of Muslim theology, and in his conversation with him he found that the deep conviction of his mind was the result of a comprehensive knowledge of the principles of Islam. This was about the year 1880. Who could imagine that such a sincere and devout worshipper of the true God was living in the heart of Christendom?” (2)
The Crescent gave the following account of his janazah:
“On Tuesday, the 25th Ramadan (15th December) his mortal remains were laid silently to rest in a secluded plantation in Alderley Park, his late lordship’s ancestral home. The interment took place at an early hour, and was conducted strictly according to Muslim usage, in which Holy and Imperishable Faith his lordship lived and died (Alhamd-o-lillah!) The corpse was inclosed in a plain deal coffin, and borne from the hall by workmen on the Alderley estate. Following it on foot were the successor to the title (the Hon’ble Lyulph Stanley), his wife, their two sons, and other relatives. By the late Lord Stanley’s special direction there was also present as chief mourner his Excellency Hamid Bey, Premier Secretaire to the Ottoman Embassy in London. The Islamic prayers were recited over the grave by the Imam to the Turkish Embassy. A Janaza service in memory of the deceased was held at the Liverpool Mosque, and was conducted by His Honour Abdulla Quilliam Effendi, Sheikh-ul Islam of the British Isles.”(2)
1)http://www.thornber.net/cheshire/htmlfiles/netheralderley.html (scroll down the page for the Stanley family tree)