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Early References to Black and Asian Religious Groups in Birmingham

NEW ! You can now find more information and images of religion in the West Midlands on the Connecting Histories website and information about Rev. Peter Stanford.

Photographs of African Caribbean People at Church

Photographs of Sikh Festival in Birmingham

Photographs of Diwali Celebrations

Early References to Black Religious Groups

Religion appears to play an essential part in the lives of Black people in Birmingham. One firm example of this is the presence of a number of mosques throughout the city. On a Sunday it is also possible to observe members of the Black community clad in their best apparel, Bible in hand, usually an indication of church attendance.

The picture is of Guru Nanak Gurdwara.

The First Black Minister in Birmingham
The Rev. Peter Stanford was the first Black documented minister in Birmingham. He became pastor of the Baptist Church, Hope Street, Birmingham in 1889. He remained at the church until 1890. He eventually established his own Wilberforce Memorial Church on Priestley Road in Sparkbrook.

The First Asian Places of Worship in Birmingham
In 1941 the first mosque was established to serve the Yemeni community and the first Sikh Gurdwara in Smethwick opened in 1962. Presently there are about 80 mosques located in the city.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick is named after Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru, or teacher, of the Sikh religion. The Gurdwara is the second oldest Sikh temple in Britain. It is the centre of worship for Sikhs in Birmingham and is open 24 hours a day. Members of the community provide food for the langer or free kitchen. Everyone is welcome to attend regardless of their status or background and people sit on the floor as an expression of equality. Though primarily a religious institution, the Gurdwara also acts as a centre for community activities. Facilities include a library, legal advice and a police surgery, karate lessons for the young and Punjabi classes

Initially there were laws which restricted the opening times for Mosques, Temples and Gurdwaras. However, the establishment of the Birmingham Council of Faiths in the 1970s was instrumental in helping to breakdown such barriers. (This section on the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick was originally part of a Millennibrum Supplement in the Evening Mail Monday December 4, 2000 p 29).

Religious Groups in Birmingham

Sikhism in Birmingham

There was a Sikh presence in Birmingham before the Second World War. However, many more arrived in the post War era. Presently there are about 40,000 Sikhs in Birmingham.

The Council of Sikh Gurdwaras in Birmingham was established in 1989. One of the main reasons for its establishment was to create a link between the Sikh community in the City and Birmingham City Council. Presently it acts as a representative structure for 13 Gurdwaras in the City and is instrumental in promoting activities within the Sikh community.

One of the major events organised by the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras is Vaisakhi. Vaisakhi originated in a harvest festival and marked the birth of Khasla. In 1999 Birmingham hosted a major Vaisakhi celebration which was also a celebration of 300 years of the Sikh religion. Around 120 000 persons from Birmingham and the wider world attended the event which was addressed by the Prime Minister ,Tony Blair. It is reported that this was the largest event of its kind to be held outside the Punjab.

A major Sikh conference was held in 1993. Through this conference the need was seen to tackle issues concerning local Sikhs. Some of the areas that were eventually addressed included education, economic development, women, leisure and recreation, advice and information and community care. Organisations such as the Sikh Women's Forum and youth groups have been established as well as a helpline. The Sikh Council has also secured money from the lottery to assist in healthcare projects. (Birmingham Post - Millennibrum Supplement Wednesday November 1, 2000).

Photographs of the Vaisakhi Festival in Birmingham taken by Sukhvinder Singh Ubhi.

Jalal Uddin
One of the significant personalities in the Islamic community in Birmingham is Jalal Uddin. He was born a British subject and came to Birmingham in 1957 to pursue educational studies. At that time there were very few places of worship which catered for Muslims. The only mosques in existence were the ones which served the Yemeni and Pakistani communities.

Jalal was instrumental in trying to remove the regulations that limited the opening times of these mosques. Being a Bengali speaker he was able to campaign for the rights of Bangladeshis. Through his influence the Bengali community was finally able to secure its own place of worship in the 1960s. The building was initially a dwelling house in Aston and became the Masjid-E-Noor mosque. Jalal served as the president of this mosque from 1974 for nineteen years (Millennibrum Supplement Wednesday December 27, 2000).

Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi Muslims in Birmingham
Explanation of these different groups
The minutes of the Parks Committee July 6, 1942 and interleaved report 8 reveal that a Mrs Mary Amirullah who was acting on behalf of the Muslim community present in Birmingham applied for a Muslim burial ground. In 1942 part of the Lodge Hill Cemetery in Selly Oak was provided for that purpose. Until then the only burial grounds for Muslims were located in London and Cardiff. An extension of the Selly Oak burial facility was applied for in 1956, by the Pakistani Welfare Association. Around that time it was estimated that the Muslim community numbered about 1500 persons.

The Diwali Festival in Birmingham
Diwali means a row or cluster of lights. It honours the goddess Lakshmi and is the festival leading to Besta Varsh, the Hindu New Year. Diwali is a culmination of a number of festivals in September and October commencing with Navrati when Hindus fast and pray for health and prosperity.

Religious rituals, music and dances take place within Mandirs (Hindu Temples), community venues and homes. In Diwali children are given gifts, colourful designs are made and firework displays are organised.

Photographs of Diwali celebrations taken by Sangeeta Redgrave on 2000 as part of the Millennibrum Project According to Sangeeta: "The images represent a variety of communal activities held within the Laxmi Nararyan Mandir and the adjoining community hall."

(This section on the Diwali Festival in Birmingham was originally part of a Millennibrum Supplement in the Evening Mail Monday December 4, 2000 p 28 )

Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Birmingham
Explanation of this group
Matiullah Dard was a founder member of the Birmingham Ahmadiyya Muslim Association that was formed thirty-six years ago. He established an advice bureau where people could attend to seek advice. In 1913 his uncle Hadhrat Choudhary F M Sayyal visited England as the first Muslim Ahmadiyya Missionary. Another uncle came in 1924 to attend an important religious conference and accompanied the Calif as his secretary. They played a significant role in building the first mosque in Putney, England ( Millennibrum Supplement - Evening Mail, Monday December 4, 2000).

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association has established itself in a listed building in the old Tilton Road School in Bordesley Green. They have converted this building into a mosque and community centre. (Millennibrum Supplement - Evening Mail, Monday December 4, 2000).

Church Life for Post War West Indian Immigrants
Many of the immigrants from the Caribbean brought their belief in the worship of the creator God with them. However, they soon discovered that church in Birmingham was not exactly like church in the "West Indies." The immigrants also experienced an attitude of unacceptance when they attended some of the English churches. Such factors contributed to the establishment of Black led churches in Birmingham. It is claimed that these churches attract large numbers of people. There is also a Council of Black-led Churches in the city. Some of the Black-led churches include The New Testament Church of God, United Church of God, Wesleyan Holiness and Church of God of Prophecy.

The photograph here is of one of the Black-led churches in Birmingham - The New Testament Church of God, Lozells Road (Birmingham Central Library).

Home from Home
It appears as if the Black-led churches were very instrumental in helping the immigrants from the West Indies to settle into their new living environment. According to the book Faith in the City: "The only group of people who really attempted and succeeded in meeting the needs of newcomers (i.e. the immigrants from the West Indies) in any meaningful way were the Black-led Churches." (Faith in the City 1988 p. 26).

Although many of the indigenous churches may not have been very accommodating towards the Black immigrants some did attempt to cater for these individuals. During the 1960s the Small Heath Baptist Church had an Afro-Caribbean minister. In the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches West Indian and Asian Chaplaincies were also established during this period (Faith in the City 1988).

In their own words
The following is an oral account of a lady who migrated to England in the 1960s from St Kitts:

"In the early 1960s, one of our brothers from the Caribbean said 'gather together the members of our church that we left back home to keep them together as a flock.' So he and my husband sat down and planned our church. People who were around in the area found a place to hire and we formed our own group. The name of the church was the Pilgrim Holiness Church. It's now the Wesleyan Holiness Church. I found out that as immigrants we seem to be more serious about serving the Lord than our brethren in this country. I don't know if it's because of our upbringing but when it comes to serving the Lord things that other Christians would make light of, to us would be like desecration."
(This oral account was originally part of a Millennibrum Supplement in the Evening Mail, Monday December 4, 2000 p 30).

The following two extracts are taken from the book Black in Birmingham:

"On my first Sunday in Birmingham my friends and I, we put on our best suits and went to the church. But after the service the vicar told us not to come again. His congregation wouldn't like it he said."
(Black in Birmingham 1987 p 71)

"I went to church. After the service I shook hands with the vicar and gave him the letter of recommendation from my parish priest at home. We chatted for a while. When I came back the next Sunday he completely ignored me, and never spoke to me again. I stopped soon after." (Black in Birmingham 1987 p 71).

Research conducted by a team of sociologists over a one year period during the 1960s supports statements made by these immigrants. The team which was led by Robert Moore from Durham University carried out its investigations mainly in churches located in the "twilight" area of the city and reported the following findings:

*That some people leave church life when a vicar encourages immigrant membership and accuse him of "selling out on us."

*That Seventh Day Adventists lose white members when West Indians move in.

*In one narrow sense, religion provides a way in which people can "collectively hate one another."

*A Methodist Church helps "potentially antagonistic" race groups to meet. (cited in Birmingham Post, October 4, 1965).

The report also stated that: "Coloured people are generally more church-minded than the English. They come from islands where church-going is a way of life. It is not a way of life in England for most people." (cited in Birmingham Post, October 4, 1965).

The First Seventh Day Baptist Church in Birmingham
The first Seventh-Day Baptist Church in Birmingham was established in 1964 by a Black immigrant from Jamaica. It's initial membership was comprised of individuals who came from various denominations. These persons were convinced about upholding the fourth commandment in the Bible which states 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' (Millennibrum Supplement - Evening Mail, Monday December 4, 2000).

Photographs taken by Vanley Burke of Black people at church in Birmingham.

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