Contemporary Islam

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 179–193 | Cite as

‘The first registered mosque in the UK, Cardiff, 1860’: the evolution of a myth

  • Sophie Gilliat-RayEmail author


This paper describes how a simple transcription error ‘created’ what appeared to be the earliest recorded mosque in Britain. Research in 2008/9 for a project about the history of Muslim settlement in Cardiff included a check of mosque registration data that revealed the origin of the factual inaccuracy. However, the paper does not simply concern itself with debunking the myth that has evolved concerning a mosque, said to have been registered in the Cathays district of Cardiff in 1860 (which in fact was not registered until 1991). Rather, it seeks to explore its contemporary resonances. The broadcast of the ‘first mosque in the UK’ story and its multiple repetition and embellishment has satisfied a growing need to articulate ideas about the longevity and legitimacy of Muslim settlement. As such it has created an important symbolic ‘space’ for framing contemporary Muslim experience in Britain. The paper contemplates the independent life that this myth has taken on, and the way in which its promotion has been useful for politicians, academics, tourism promoters, and indeed British Muslims themselves. However, there is an important contrast between the promotion of a story about a supposed historic mosque, and the lived reality of actual Muslim community building. The latter has much more substance—and ultimately more relevance—than the ascription of dates to buildings. It is the story of community struggle and achievement that the current Cardiff research is uncovering, and this paper argues that the debunking of the myth has provided an opportunity (and a responsibility) to disseminate awareness of the historic settlement of Muslims in the city.


Mosque Cardiff History Britain Islam Myth 



I am grateful to my colleague, Dr Jody Mellor, for checking archive dates in Cardiff and in Merseyside. Further thanks are also due to the Innovation and Engagement Committee at Cardiff University for funding the research upon which this paper is based. I would also like to acknowledge the support and engagement of other colleagues with an interest in the history of Muslims in Britain and the establishment of mosques in particular: Prof Humayun Ansari, Dr Richard Gale, and Professor Ceri Peach. Particular appreciation must be extended to Dr Abdalla Yassin OBE from the Muslim Council of Wales, who enabled the video-recording of a series of interviews with Sheikh Said, and Mr Ibrahim Harbi from the Somali Integration Society, for inviting the Islam-UK Centre to collaborate with the ‘Four Generations Project’. The research project in Cardiff University has also depended upon the time and cooperation of many local Muslims in the city, for which I am extremely grateful.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, School of Religious & Theological StudiesCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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