The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam
“Arabian Adventurer: The Story of Haji Williamson” is by Stanton Hope. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2022

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam
  • ‘Arabian Adventurer’ tells the story of ‘Haji’ Williamson — an early 20th-century visitor to the Middle East

DUBAI: Among the many valuable rare books at London’s Firsts Book Fair stands an orange-toned, slightly-torn biography of a gutsy traveler you’ve likely never heard of. He was something of a rebel in Victorian times, escaping family pressures by sailing abroad during adolescence and eventually leading a life of his own in the Middle East. His name was William Richard Williamson, but he became known, simply, as Haji Williamson. 

“Arabian Adventurer: The Story of Haji Williamson” was offered by the antiquarian bookseller Maggs Bros. Published in 1951, seven years prior to Williamson’s death, the book was penned by journalist and adventure-story writer Stanton Hope, who was taken by Williamson’s extraordinary life.




Haji Abdullah Fadhil Williamson aged 75. (Supplied)

 Maggs Bros.’ travel books specialist Sam Cotterell offered insight into Williamson’s jack-of-all-trades character. 

“He went to sea at 13 and had a bewildering array of jobs before turning 20, including cowboy, gold prospector and amateur boxer,” Cotterell told Arab News. “He even spent a short period as a juggler in a circus troupe.” 

Williamson was born in Bristol in 1872, where he was raised by a strict father. His voyages landed him in San Diego, the Caroline Islands, and Manila, where he was jailed for selling rifles to rebel tribesmen. 

“He was born to have a regular life somewhere in Victorian Bristol, but ended up experiencing things that would have been practically incommunicable to his friends and family in England — an experience totally removed from its initial context,” said Cotterell. “I always think stories like his are the most interesting because you learn about how different cultures interacted, and sometimes clashed, at specific points in history.” 




Haji Williamson at Kut-el-Hajjaj. (Supplied)

After escaping imprisonment, Williamson went to sea once again, making his way to Aden, Yemen to join the British police force. During the voyage, he came across a book on Islam, written by Abdullah Quilliam, an influential Briton who converted to Islam and established Britain’s first mosque in Liverpool in 1889. Reading the book was a turning point in Williamson’s life, and he eventually also converted. 

“Christianity was a consistent part of his early life, even on his first travels, such as when he stayed in California with his aunt who was a Seventh-day Adventist,” noted Cotterell. “It seems his study of Islam quickly became an obsession, which his shipmates noticed when he no longer wished to join them for football matches on land, preferring to read in the ship’s library.” 

What was considered a personal decision actually led to controversy in the establishment. “At first, he was considered a good policeman, but the British authorities became highly suspicious of his interest in the local community and Islam. And then, from the moment he converted, he was viewed as a potentially dangerous outsider,” said Cotterell. Their behavior towards Williamson shifted when Williamson took on the coveted role of inspector of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. 




Hadji Williamson (right) and Yusef in Zobair. (Supplied)

“A narrative about his life would never have been published early on, because it was only later, when his knowledge was deemed essential to securing oil concessions, that he regained acceptance from the British,” he continued. “There was a period of time in which he was completely apart from his country of birth.”  

Haji, meaning a male who performed the Hajj, became Williamson’s nickname, and indeed, he completed the pilgrimage in 1894, 1898 and 1936. 

“What’s communicated in the book — and this is not coming directly from Williamson — is that he found a clarity in Islam beyond what he’d experienced as a Christian,” noted Cotterell. 

Studying the Arabic language and culture, Williamson lived in Kuwait and an area close to Basra in Iraq, where he owned a dhow, and traveled widely in the Gulf region. He made a living through pearling, horse trading, and camel dealing. He fitted in, looking like a traditional Arab. One of the unique aspects of Maggs’ book is the curious cover, showing a large frontispiece of the eye-catching Haji Williamson.

“The portrait on the dust-jacket is memorable, showing him in his role as agent for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company,” said Cotterell.” He wears a Western suit but also a ghutrah and golden agal. It’s a kind of between-worlds image.”  


Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood
Updated 59 min 57 sec ago

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

DUBAI: Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addressed the lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood films during Variety’s recent Power of Women event in the US.

Yousafzai, who was honored at the event, said: “I’ve been doing activism for more than a decade now, and I’ve realized that we shouldn’t limit activism to the work of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) only: There’s also the element of changing people’s minds and perspectives — and that requires a bit more work.”

The 25-year-old, in her new role as a content producer, pointed out that despite Muslims making up 25 percent of the population, there was “only 1 percent of characters in popular TV series.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Malala (@malala)

Addressing A-list guests including American politician Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, US actress Elizabeth Olsen, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and the American former actress, and wife of British Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, she added: “You’re often told in Hollywood, implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are too young, too brown, or too Muslim, or that if one show about a person of color is made, then that’s it — you don’t need to make another one. That needs to change.

“I’m a woman, a Muslim, a Pashtun, a Pakistani, and a person of color. And I watched ‘Succession,’ ‘Ted Lasso,’ and ‘Severance,’ where the leads are white people — and especially a lot of white men.

“If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of color, and produced and directed by people of color, with people of color in the lead. That is possible, and I’m going to make it happen,” Yousafzai said.
 


Rapper Post Malone to perform in the UAE in December

Rapper Post Malone to perform in the UAE in December
Updated 30 September 2022

Rapper Post Malone to perform in the UAE in December

Rapper Post Malone to perform in the UAE in December

DUBAI: Nine-time Grammy Award nominee Post Malone is set to perform on Dec. 3 at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Park in celebration of the UAE’s National Day.

The rapper, who sold 95 million singles and 13 million albums in the US alone, is expected to sing a selection of hits from his catalogue, including “Rockstar,” “Psycho,” “Sunflower” and “Better Now,” as well as new tracks from his latest album “Twelve Carat Toothache.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by @postmalone

“I’m excited to be returning to Abu Dhabi and performing for the incredible audience there again,” said Malone, whose real name is Austin Richard Post, in a released statement. “The crowd for my last show there were electric and I can’t wait to take to the stage and perform for my fans in the Middle East. Together, we’re going to enjoy a fantastic weekend.”

The 27-year-old singing sensation performed in Abu Dhabi in 2018 for the Formula 1 Yasalam After-Race concerts.

Malone, who is the eighth best-selling digital artist of all time, rose to fame for his unique blend of hip hop, pop, R&B and trap genres and subgenres.


REVIEW: ‘Andor’ might test ‘Star Wars’ fans patience, but it could just be worth it

REVIEW: ‘Andor’ might test ‘Star Wars’ fans patience, but it could just be worth it
Updated 30 September 2022

REVIEW: ‘Andor’ might test ‘Star Wars’ fans patience, but it could just be worth it

REVIEW: ‘Andor’ might test ‘Star Wars’ fans patience, but it could just be worth it
  • New show is short on lightsabers and spaceships, but big on color and atmosphere

LONDON: For all the “Star Wars” universe’s recent movie missteps, its TV storytelling has never been in a better place — recent shows such as “The Mandalorian,” “Visions” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” have been some of the most enjoyable material to slot into the galaxy far, far away since George Lucas originally put pen to paper in the 1970s.

But that comes with an added layer of pressure too, like that hanging over “Andor” — the latest show to be added to the growing pantheon of “Star Wars” small-screen entries. The series is a prequel to a prequel, in fact: “Andor” charts the origins of Cassian Andor, the (then) haunted Rebel soldier who sacrificed his life to help steal the plans to the Empire’s first Death Star in “Rogue One.”

In “Andor”, Cassian — played again by Diego Luna — is a wayward soul, angry at the universe for reasons (presumably) yet to be revealed, and desperate to find a way to fight back against the growing tyranny sweeping across the galaxy. That is, until he meets Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), a member of the Rebel Alliance who believes that Cassian may be a key addition to the burgeoning resistance.

Of the first three episodes, there’s little more to say than that, largely because “Andor” is redefining the notion of a slowbuild show. We’re treated to flashes of Cassian’s youth, and reasons why he hates the Empire so much, and we learn about his life on the planet Ferrix, which finds itself under the heel of an authoritarian regime in a drawn-out introduction that has little action. 

But what we do get is the “Star Wars” universe painted in detail more intricate than we’ve seen before. There are no Jedi, no sprawling space battles or (cough) trade disputes to drive the story forward, so “Andor” treats us to a gritty, realistic look at what it might actually be like to live in this fantastical universe. 

For “Star Wars” fans, it’s a wonderful tour through a level of minutiae never glimpsed before in live action. And while the lack of fireworks early on might deter casual viewers, or those not familiar with the franchise, that level of expectation that surrounds new “Star Wars” outlets will probably be enough to buy the show the time to realize its true potential. 


South Asians in UK honored for their outstanding achievements

South Asians in UK honored for their outstanding achievements
Updated 30 September 2022

South Asians in UK honored for their outstanding achievements

South Asians in UK honored for their outstanding achievements
  • Pratik Dattani, the director of the Asian Achievers Awards, said: ‘The aim of the evening is to recognize changemakers from across the South Asian community in the UK’
  • This year’s awards were presented in 12 categories, one of which, the Woman of the Year Award, was renamed as a tribute to the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON: Influential and inspirational South Asians in a range of fields in the UK were honored recently, during a prestigious ceremony in London, for their outstanding achievements.

Established in 2000, the Asian Achievers Awards, one of the most prominent and long-established celebrations of its kind, returned for its 20th edition after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers chose to pay tribute this year to the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8, and renamed the Woman of the Year Award in her honor.

“The aim of the evening is to recognize changemakers from across the South Asian community in the UK,” Pratik Dattani, the director of the awards, told Arab News. “It really is the cream of the community and everyone really worth celebrating.”

This year’s awards were presented in 12 categories: art and culture; business leadership; community service; entrepreneur and professional of the year; media; sports; health; innovation; uniformed and civil service; women of the year; and lifetime achievement.

The proceeds from the event, held at JW Marriott Grosvenor House in London, will go to Pardada Pardadi Educational Society UK, a charity that helps underprivileged children across India and South Asia. (AN Photo)

“It means a lot to have South Asians in prominent positions because it’s about leadership in the community, mentorship, and having visible role models,” Dattani said.

He added that the current mayor and the deputy mayors of London come from South Asian backgrounds, the UK cabinet during the past 12 years has included, on average, four ministers of Indian or Pakistani origin, and the richest person in the UK is of South Asian origin.

“This just shows the immense contribution we make to the cultural, social and economic fabric of the country, he said.

“South Asians in the UK are here to stay but the growth, the economic success and the community success of the South Asian community will grow and the awards will continue to be the place in the UK, and across Europe, where we recognize South Asian excellence.”

This year’s awards paid tribute to the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8, and renamed the Woman of the Year Award in her honor. (AN Photo)

Dattani said that the proceeds from the event, held at JW Marriott Grosvenor House, will go to Pardada Pardadi Educational Society UK, a charity that helps underprivileged children across India and South Asia. In all, he said, it raised more than £150,000 ($165,945), with additional commitments of more than £100,000.

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman received the newly renamed Queen Elizabeth II Woman of the Year award, which her parents accepted on her behalf.

“I think from the start, our mantra has been: ‘Suella you’ve got to study hard and you’ve got to do well if you want to get anywhere,’” said her mother, Uma Fernanades.

“And I think being of ethnic minority, and also being a lady, it’s harder still and (requires) us to work doubly hard, and she has done that.

 

 

“Another thing I used to say to her, whenever she passes an exam or she gets a degree, I always used to say, ‘This is not just for you, it’s for the whole community out there and you’ve got to learn to share it.’ And I think I would want to know that she’s setting an example; that she’s just an ordinary woman, just like anybody else, but if you want to achieve something, you can do it.”

Capt. Harpreet Chandi MBE, an officer and physiotherapist in the British Army, received the Uniformed and Civil Service Award. She recently completed a 700-mile solo, unsupported expedition to the South Pole that took 40 days.

“When I had the idea, I didn’t know anything about Antarctica; I literally typed into Google, ‘How do you get to Antarctica as a modern-day explorer?’” she said. It took her about two and a half years to actually get onto the ice.

“I became the first woman of color to do a solo expedition but that was just a journey — then I got back and I did about four months of school talks and reached about 18,000 students, just hoping to inspire the next generation,” Chandi said.

Capt. Harpreet Chandi MBE, an officer and physiotherapist in the British Army, received the Uniformed and Civil Service Award. (AN Photo)

She is preparing to return to Antarctica in a month with the aim of becoming the first woman to complete a solo, unsupported crossing of the continent. She plans to cover 1,100 miles in 70 days.

“My aims are hopefully to inspire people to push their boundaries and show that, actually, it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you’re from, you can go and achieve anything you want and no barrier or boundary is too (great),” Chandi said.

“I really want to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone and do whatever they want and achieve whatever they want.”

Prema Subaskaran, chairperson of Lycahealth and KIMS Hospital, won the Outstanding Achievement in Healthcare Award and said it was a “great privilege” to be recognized for her efforts.

“I’m really passionate about health care and I really wanted to become a doctor and serve the people, but because of the civil war (in Sri Lanka) and family commitments, I couldn’t and I had to stop my degree in the middle,” she said.

Prema Subaskaran, chairperson of Lycahealth and KIMS Hospital, won the Outstanding Achievement in Healthcare Award. (AN Photo)

“Then I always wanted to set up a business that could facilitate philanthropic work through the field of medicine by working with like-minded people, so this is how I set up Lycahealth in 2015.”

With a focus on providing patients with a complete diagnostic pathway and secondary care, Lycahealth last year acquired KIMS Hospital, the largest independent private hospital in the English county of Kent.

“We play a critical role in Kent to provide outstanding health care to the local community, as well as becoming a big employer in the local community,” Subaskaran added.


Newly launched website gives Islamic art global exposure

Newly launched website gives Islamic art global exposure
Updated 29 September 2022

Newly launched website gives Islamic art global exposure

Newly launched website gives Islamic art global exposure
  • islamicart.me was launched t­o promote Orthodox Christian artists Hilda and Lena Kelekian, who create artwork with verses from the Qur’an
  • ‘I thought it would be a good idea to finally get her very unique art pieces (out there),’ founder Anthony Azoury said

DUBAI: A Lebanese patron has launched a website to give Islamic art made by creatives Hilda and Lena Kelekian, who are of Armenian, Cypriot and Lebanese descent, international exposure.

Anthony Azoury launched islamicart.me to expose new clients to the Orthodox Christian creatives who create artwork with verses from the Qur’an.

“Hilda has been getting a lot of interest worldwide,” Azoury told Arab News. “She has a lot of clients from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf region – and even in Europe. So, I thought it would be a good idea to finally get her very unique art pieces (out there).”

Hilda paints on goat and cow skin, while Lena is a ceramicist. 

“There shall be no compulsion in religion,” Hilda Kelekian. (Supplied)

In an interview with Arab News, Hilda, who has been painting for over 30 years, said that she contacts imams to make sure that her writing, her art and her techniques are correct. 

“I find melody in Arabic letters. When I write, I don’t follow the schools of Arabic letters like the school of Kufi. I have my own (style) in the way I write,” she said, referring to a style of Arabic calligraphy. “I know all the rules and I am in touch with multiple sheikhs so that when I am drawing I obey the rules of the Islamic sect.”

“When I open the Qur’an to copy a verse, I have to obey the style. There are little details that I must obey. I must be clean when I am painting,” she added.

 

 

Hilda, who is an award-winning artist, creates and mixes her own paint that makes the colors visible on animal skin. 

It takes her a minimum of one month to finish one painting. “To be more productive, I start so many paintings together,” she said. 

The website, which went live last month, ships the artworks to countries around the world.

“In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,” Hilda Kelekian. (Supplied)

Hilda has exhibited her work in the US, Spain, Venice, France, China and more. 

Lena is a multidisciplinary visual artist, iconographer, art therapist and ceramicist.

She has hosted 17 solo exhibitions in 13 countries and has taken part in more than 202 collective exhibitions in 62 countries.

Her work is on display in 32 institutions around the world, including in London and Italy.