Revealing the Muslim world’s ‘forgotten’ role in European history

Debunking the popular myth that the heritage of Europe is exclusively Judeo-Christian

Nabila Pathan
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Muslim travel writer Tharik Hussain, who has been uncovering some of Europe's forgotten Islamic history for nearly two decades, has launched London's first European Muslim Heritage Exhibition this week.

Hosted at the London Muslim Center in the heart of Tower Hamlets, east of the capital, the exhibition has already attracted a diverse crowd of both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors, with a sold-out launch event.


The exhibition showcases a selection of photographs from Hussain’s travels across Europe - Spain, Bulgaria, Estonia, France and England, as part of his quest of uncovering the continent’s forgotten Muslim heritage.

Highlights in this section include a photo of a medieval Muslim tomb in the Balkans, today revered by both Christians and Muslims, one of a ninth century coin found in Estonia minted by the Muslim Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, and a man worshipping in the mosque that was home to Britain’s earliest indigenous Muslim community who were led by converted Victorian Lords and Ladies.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English on the launch night, Tharik explained how the exhibition serves a role in debunking the popular myth that the heritage of Europe is exclusively Judeo-Christian:

"A common story has developed throughout history that Muslims have not played a pivotal role in shaping European culture. The exhibition strives to reorientate that misconception. It's not about a triumph of one religion over another. Instead, it's about seeking parity - that Islam like its Jewish and Christian counterparts, has contributed to European culture."

"Not many people would know, for instance, that Muslims have in fact been part of Europe's evolving cultural identity for 14 centuries."

With the launch coinciding with the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide, the exhibition also had photographs commemorating one of Europe's darkest events since World War II.

The images were captured by Bosnian photographer Jasmine Agovic during his decade-long tenure at the International Commission on missing persons.

Reflecting on the images, Tharik said: "Often Muslims are presented as the 'Other' in Europe and that's no truer than today. Srebrenica reminds us what happens when that goes to the absolute extreme."

European Muslim Heritage Exhibition

Islamic architectural designs in Europe. (Photo courtesy: Tharik Hussain)

"On a day like today, whilst we should never forget, it's also about offering hope.... Making sure the Muslim part of Europe's narrative also makes it into popular culture. So that future generations of Muslims do not have issues of 'belonging' here."

Born in Bangladesh, Tharik Hussain grew up in Tower Hamlets. His interest in exploring European Muslim Heritage was sparked when he unexpectedly stumbled across a tomb during a stopover in Cyprus, belonging to a companion of the prophet Muhammad.

Since then, he's been on a trail to uncover more Muslim connections to the continent. His journey recently took him to the US where he unveiled in his debut radio documentary "America's Mosques; a story of integration" that the country’s oldest surviving mosque in New York City - The Brooklyn Moslem Mosque, was built by Tatar Muslims from countries like Lithuania, Belarus and Poland when they immigrated to the Big Apple at the turn of the last century.

Last June, the documentary, which aired on BBC World Service, won an award for the World's Best Religious Program at the New York Festivals World's Best Radio Programs Awards.

The European Muslim Heritage Exhibition will be open to visitors until July 17 at the London Muslim Center.

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