Imagine the Muslim heritage present at some of the top UK tourist spots, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, to name just a few. Well, Halal Tourism Britain brings this history to light, led by Britain’s first professionally qualified Muslim tour guide, AbdulMaalik Tailor. With an overwhelming 5* TripAdvisor reviews their focus is creating memorable experiences of Muslim heritage tours in Britain. This is inclusive of museums, galleries and mosques too.
We talk to founder AbdulMaalik Tailor about his intention behind creating Muslim Guided tours, why we need to collect our own stories and present our own heritage, and his thoughts on the representation and inclusion of Muslim art and heritage in mainstream cultural institutions.
What led you to create Muslim Guided tours and how did you become Britain’s first professionally qualified Muslim tour guide?
Since converting to Islam I've always had an interest in researching Muslim history of Britain. Most Muslims were and prehaps still do choose to look at Andulus or the Ottomans after learning about the Seerah and Companions. I always found it strange the Muslims from Britain weren't interested in discovering their Muslim heritage in Britain, a country they were born in but knew nothing about it.
There's always been a lot of bad media coverage of the Muslims in Britain and I remember at the time, its prehaps time to showcase some positive Muslim contributions to Britain.
I intially started with workshops about Muslims and Vikings, Muslims and Tudors, Muslims and Victorians alongside a timeline presentation but in a matter of months I realised that I could take a bit from one of the workshops and another bit from another workshop and add more locations I was able to create a walking tour.
Once the walking tours started attendees were amazed by the guided tours and I always wanted to build upon them and decided to become professionally qualified in tour guiding. I sent an email enquiry to the tour guiding assoication, had an interview which included a presentation about Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his blue plaque and was accepted. I was told at the occassion they had never had a Muslim canditated before and when they saw my email with my name they became extremely delighted. This was obviously something I wasn't aware of but I'm no longer the only professionally qualifed Muslim tour guide not as I had inspired another convert to join too.
Why is it important to collect our own stories and present our own heritage?
We need to present our own narratives because far too long others have been telling them and give an alternative viewpoint e.g. masked with Islamophobia or Muslim stories are absent. Certainly is the case if we look at English curriculum, so much is missing and I find that Muslim and non-Muslim children would be better off discovering their Muslim history in Britain as it strengthens their identity to where they are, less othering, and able undestand that Muslim contribution to civilisation did not stop after the loss of Muslim Spain about 500 years. From my experience when asking attendees to name a contribution the Muslims have done after the fall of Muslim Spain the attendees do struggle to come up with an answer.
Is representing the diversity of Muslim culture important to you and how do you do this through the tours?
Presenting diversity of the Muslim culture is highly important to mean but it does come with challenges too. For example, on my night sightseeing bus tour whilst there is a range of locations relating to different races it is overwhelming male. This is because its a set route and we don't pass any known sites that have female Muslims along there, however that doesn't mean I'm happy with it and trying to still search for one. Some of the tours are also race specfic eg Black Muslim tour or geographically based such as the newly established North African tour.
You provide a variety of tours including museums, galleries and Mosque tours. Which are your most popular?
The popular tour is the Central London Muslim tour, because you can see more at some of the top tourist sites. Although we use visual aids to support all the tours when you can actually see what is be told it creates more focus. Our National Portrait Gallery Muslim Tour one used to be the most popular one before it closed at Covid time for restoration works and this has now be superseded by the British Museum Hidden Muslim Treasures.
The sightseeing bus tours which are a daytime and night time one have proved hugely successful in 2021 that we had to turn down organisations who wished to book the experience due to no availability and are asking people to plan ahead from now for summer 2022 if they wish to secure their a date. We now have groups from all over the UK wishing to book the daytime sightseeing bus tours.
You give guided tours at the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain. What are your thoughts on how Muslim heritage and Islamic culture is reflected in these spaces?
I was commissioned to deliver the first Islamic tour at the Tate Britain a few years back and although I welcomed the commision I realised as a Muslim there were still challenges in celebratig Muslim success. I was told by staff that the tour itself was the most attended tour that they had witnessed or knew about but sadly Tate Britain didn't wish to recoginse the record breaking tour as such. The tour itself wasn't publicilised on their social media either, Tate claimed staff were available on the day even though the tour was part of a larger Eid event and had 1000 people turn up with the main reason for the visitors was the Islamic tour.
I also realised after speaking to some staff at Tate Britain that some of the portraits covered by me had never had an "Eastern interpretion" before as they said. One example was of an infra-red scan of a protrait that revealed a woman wearing a headscraf and the label and commentary had always been she was sitting by a well. However when I viewed it I demostrated infront of the portrait and staff the Muslim position of Tashahhud and they agreed with me that it certainly looked identical and their interpretation was wrong.
The British Museum unfortunately uses language that needs to be de-crusade, why do they still use terms scuh as The Islamic World that were coined by the crusaders to describe the Islamic Gallery. They have had a number of artists displaying their art work in the Islamic Gallery but sadly none have been from anyone who has been a British Muslim.
The Museums and Galleries can have black, and gay tours but I'm still wondering when will they approch me or even have a Muslim staff conduct a Muslim tour at their site. They speak about representation, come out with public statement, love to use diverse school children including the child wearing the hijab but where are the Muslim staff? Muslim tour guides? The "Eastern interpretations?"
Even if one looks at Islamophobia Awareness Month annually held in Novenber in UK how many Museums and galleries partake in it? Hardly any in UK, the odd one or two. If Museums and galleries don't change thier mindsets with immediate affect they are not making Muslims inclusive in their statergeies to attract different audiences.
Do you think museums have a responsibility to ensure the provenance of artefacts? Do you think this is recognized when it comes to Islamic art?
I certainly believe Museums have a responsiblity to ensure the provenance of artefacts however items illegally acquired in the past during the days of the British Empire should be return to the original countries if they have the means to preserve them and if they are unable to preserve them then the Museums and galleries were the artificants are currently being held should provide funds for their presevation in the original countires becuase they were able to profit from them.
The tours provide great Muslim services including halal food, prayer times and prayer locations.
What challenges have you had to overcome to ensure you are able to accommodate these access needs?
There's not been many challenges with regards to these as halal food is widiely available in Britain and some resturants have prayer rooms too however certain mosques may not accomdate for females prayer space so this would mean going to an alternative prayer place which caters for females which could be slightly further away. The Winter prayers times of Dhur, Asr and Magrib are close to each other and therefore either change the afternoon walking tour times and we are able to pray on route. Tours are planned to make sure they are buggy-friendly to allow families to bring their babies too.
Why did you specifically develop tours about Black Muslim history? What kinds of stories are uncovered, can you share a highlight?
I genienuly believe that we just don't know much about black Muslim history globally, and to shed light on a specific Muslim community in Britain educates the masses of international visitors such as a dark skined Morocan ambassador AbdulWahid who were protrayed as light skined in a portrait, or Duse Muhammad Ali who established Britain's first Black newspaper or even Amadu Tijani who is virtually unheard of in Britain or in his own country of Nigeria despite in the 1920s coming to London and winning back land that Britain had previous stolen in Nigeria. I was delighted to have discovered film footage of him in London but was amazed to discover that the footage had been filmed at a local church that is only a 10 mintue walk from where I live! So you never truely know what could be in your neighbourhood!
Stories of contribution and successes need to be total to the young or old otherwise the people of the past will be lost forever.
We also need to remember some of our more modern day black individual and what they did too. Visits made by Malcolm X to Britain are unheard of in the many annual Malcolm X lectures that especially take place in Britain's Black history month in October. Sadly, Islamic speakers or school teachers mostly speak about Malcolm X's life in US and Hajj but nothing about the fact what he was doing in UK when in fact he was doing the same he in UK as he was in the US. giving more context to his life in UK makes it more relatable to audiences in the UK. There are also are elders who are alive, their lived experierence shouldn't disappear and their stories need to be told, once again the contributions in Britain and the challenges they faced back in the 1950s-1980s. Adilla Shabazz, a Guyanese convert to Islam was instrustmental in helping other sisters who included converts to the Islamic faith and co-founder of the Muslim Sister's Jamaat, and who witnessed the squatters leaving the house that became Brixton Mosque in 1990s and upon enter saw the graiffati "We love pork".
A problem our youth have in general is that they are disconnected from the elders, don't know what they experienced and sadly only judge Islam in Britain from the time they have been practising. Connecting to their heritage and elders gives them a different dimension and one they apprecatiate.
You also have some tours accessible online for an international audience, for example the recent British Museum Hidden Muslim Treasures tour. What reaction have you had from a global audience?
The international audience joining the online and virtual tours is currently weak to be honest, sadly its not like white non-Muslims who would book in numbers online tours. This is something I've noticed when I joined other online tours.
You are an award-winning company, with an overwhelming 5* TripAdvisor Reviews, how do you feel about receiving such amazing feedback?
Feedback for me is vital as it provides informatin on how your guests view you, your delivery and services you provide. I was the first Western Halal travel comapny including Hajj and Umrah companies to be on TripAdvisor so that itself was an achivement!
As there is a growing appetite and demand, what are your plans and aspirations for Muslim Heritage Tours?
Expanding them to cruises around the world for private groups and have a sister website called halalcruises.club, and from here is to build the cruises to sea cruises for larger groups. This takes much planning and realised the mistakes other companies have made and weren't able to last one season or have not repeated them. One major advantage is that I already run cruises in Britain for example if anyone wishes to have a Halal Afternoon Tea cruise experience I the person to come to! We've built a strong client base of repeat customers and new customers by recommendation who wish to follow us on our international journey too in discovering Muslim history around the world and by water!
How can understanding and preserving Muslim heritage help the development of Islamic arts and culture for the future?
This is an important question for sure. We need to really drive it into the different Muslim communities to stop throwing away old documents and preserving them, take part in media and project interviews, embrace social media to display your lived experiences.
As mentioned before we are leaving ourselves and our youth to be disconnected from their heritage in Britain if we are not going to showcase it ourselves, either joining tours, engaging with media, attending events that speak about our heritage.
At the same time let's try to hold museums and galleries to account for not effectively enagiging with the Muslim community for not taking part in Islamophobia Awareness Month or even at Ramadan or Eid times, let's be honest with ourselves if they can put on events and social media posts for other communities then why not for the Muslim community too!
For more information check out https://www.halaltourismbritain.com/
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