The Masjid-E-Abu Hurairah in Cardiff is the oldest Islamic religious institution in Europe outside of Spain and the Balkans. It was established at the height of the British colonial era in the 19th century to serve Muslim sailors who regularly traveled between the British Isles and the Middle East. Cardiff is now home to the largest Muslim population in Wales, and the Masjid-E-Abu Hurairah is maintained by the community as a religious and historic site. In 1992 the mosque became the Al-Manar Islamic and Cultural Center, both to serve the local Muslim community and as an educational center for non-Muslims. It remains an active place of worship as well.
The origin of Islam in Wales is somewhat vague. It is likely that Muslim traders and ambassadors from Spain visited Great Britain during the Middle Ages. A coin minted in Wales in the 8th century bears Arabic script, and was probably used for trade with Spain. Muslims were known to have visited the British Isles as far back as the 12th century.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the ever-expanding British Empire made its way into the Middle East, carving out territories along the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. These regions, which had an ancient maritime tradition, boasted excellent sailors who soon became an important part of the British Empire’s shipping industry. Like many other citizens of Britain’s far-flung territories, many of these eventually made their way to the British Isles.
In the mid-19th century, Muslim sailors working the sea lanes between Wales and Yemen began to organize a small community in the Cathays district of Cardiff. In 1860 they established a small mosque in a house on Glynrhondda Street in the city center. Although this milestone was probably not widely noted at the time, this was the first mosque ever established in Europe outside of Iberia and the Ottoman territories, and the first to be founded in Western Europe since the Reconquista of Spain nearly four hundred years earlier.
Although the Muslim community of Cardiff was soon eclipsed by larger Islamic populations especially in London, the Masjid-E-Abu Hurairah retained the historic distinction of being the first mosque in Britain. By the time the British Empire collapsed in the Middle East after World War II, Muslims from all over the world had relocated to Cardiff. In 1992, the mosque was redesignated as a cultural center. Including its use as a mosque, its mission now includes community outreach, including to non-Muslims.
The Al-Manar Islamic and Cultural Center occupies the same building on Glynrhondda Street that the Masjid-E-Abu Hurairah has been located in for the last century and a half. Originally constructed for other commercial use, the building is a brownstone structure typical of Victorian era. Its external appearance gives no indication of religious usage.
Inside the center can be found the small but historically important prayer hall, the oldest Muslim prayer site in continual use in Western Europe, where prayers are still offered five times daily. The center is also home to a large library, and offers regular educational programs.
The Al-Manar Islamic and Cultural Center is located in the historic Cathay District close to Cardiff University, approximately 110 miles west of London. It is open daily to all visitors, including non-Muslims. As of this writing opening times were not available. There is no charge for admission. Web: www.almanar.org.uk (official website).
Although the Masjid-E-Abu Hurairah is the oldest mosque in the British Isles, the first building to be deliberately constructed for use as a mosque in the United Kingdom was the Woking Mosque in Surrey outside of London. Other historic mosques in Britain include the Al-Rahma Mosque in Liverpool and the Fazl Mosque in London. England is also home to the final resting places of two of the western world’s most famous Islamophiles. The Gravesite of T.E. Lawrence, who helped to unify the Arab nation during World War I, can be found in the Moreton Church Cemetery in Dorset; while the Gravesite of Richard Burton, who translated the 1001 Nights and who visited Mecca in disguise, can be found in Surrey.