The influx of Muslim immigrants from the Indian sub-continent started in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Muslims belonging to various strata of society, schools of thought, intellectual and ideological sections of the community sought to migrate to Britain. Most of the immigrants came here as labourers and factory workers into booming British industries which were suffering from a shortage of workers. The main and primary motive for immigration was, therefore, economic and financial.
Amongst these immigrants was Maulana Fazal Karim Asim, from Mirpur-Kashmir, who arrived in Britain in 1962 as a factory worker. He was educated in religious sciences, a holder of fadil degree from Madrasah Ghaznawiyah in Amritsar, and Moulvi Fadil, Munshi Fadil and Adib Fadil from Punjab University. When, in 1963, the UK Islamic Mission was founded in Birmingham, Maulana Asim became a very active member. He worked as Khateeb at the Mission’s mosque for about one year and taught children as well.
In 1965, he saw the compelling need to establish a proper supplementary school for Muslim children whose parents were just immigrating to Britain and settling here. The main aim was to enable them to learn English so that they could compete in their classes. To this purpose he laid down the foundation of the Muslim Oriental School at Small Heath, Birmingham. Maulana Asim though a staunch Ahl-e-Hadith, made great efforts to keep the Muslim community united, and not divided on denominational lines. He worked with every group of the Muslim community regardless of their ideological inclinations and differences. He even harmonised himself to the extent that he avoided offering prayers according to his own personal conviction.
Although Maulana Asim did his best to work in full co-operation with all the groups of the Muslim community until 1974, the community appeared to be forming itself along the same ideological and communal lines as ‘back home’. Ahl-e-Hadith were now being excluded or marginalised in various religious and social activities.
At this stage, it became imperative for Ahl-e-Hadith to establish their own identity. It was vital for them to have their own centre and mosques. It was time to organise the Ahl-e-Hadith community and start their own activities. Maulana Asim consulted his other colleagues and Ahl-e-Hadith friends and with their help he laid down the foundation of Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith UK in the beginning of 1975. Soon afterwards, he started the task of gathering information about Ahl-e-Hadith individuals and families across the UK.
While the organisation’s activities were setting underway, in August 1975, a delegation from the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia arrived in Britain to look into the prospects and need of Da’wah among Muslim immigrants in particular, and non-Muslims in general. The delegation stayed in Birmingham for about one and a half months, and toured the different cities to meet the different communities and their organisations. The delegation was made up of two scholars, Shaikh Abdul Wahhab Al-Banna (then inspector of schools in Saudi Arabia) and Shaikh Nasiruddin Al-Albani (a prominent scholar in Hadith Sciences at the Islamic University) as well as three students who came for the purpose of translation, Shareef Ahmad Hafiz, Mahmood Ahmad Mirpuri and Major Muhammad Aslam.
As part of its visit to various Islamic centres, the delegation visited the centre of Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith too and found it intellectually and ideologically like-minded organisation. Maulana Asim requested the delegation to help Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith both financially and with learned people. The delegation suggested Maulana Asim to visit Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage that year, so that could arrange a meeting for him with Shaikh Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, the chairman of the presidency of Dar al-Ifta.
In December 1975, Maulana Asim left for Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. As planned, a meeting was arranged between him and Shaikh Ibn Baz where he put forward two requests. As the Jamiat needed to purchase a property where it could base its activities and promote its dawah mission, he asked the Shaikh for financial help. Also looking at the shortage of daees he also requested the Shaikh to send graduate students from the Islamic University of Madina, suggesting the names of very three students who had earlier come to Britain. However, despite his efforts, the Shaikh was never able to fulfill the first request, but he did fulfill the second request by dispatching two of the three students who graduated in 1976; Mahmood Ahmad Mirpuri and Shareef Ahmad Hafiz. They arrived in the UK at the end of 1976.
Maulana Mirpuri was born in 1945 in a small village near Mirpur. In his childhood he lost his parents and was brought up as an orphan. He had no brothers or sisters. However, although his family had no educational background, he became a learned and highly educated man.
After his early education, he went to Gujranwala (Punjab, Pakistan), where he completed Dars-e-Nizami in a well-known religious seminary; Jamia Islamia. Later he moved from Jamia Islamia Gujranwala to Jamia Islamia Bahawalpur, which was raised in 1975 to the level of university under the name of Islamic University of Bahawalpur. Here he attained a degree in Islamic studies and moved to Lahore where he enrolled in the department of the Arabic Oriental College, Punjab University Lahore, and received his master’s degree in Arabic in 1971.
During his stay in Lahore, he became deeply involved in the activities of the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith Pakistan and became a member of the editorial board of the Jamiat’s organ ‘Ahl-e-Hadith’. He resided in Begum Kot, in the suburb of Lahore, where he used to deliver his Friday sermons. Both these activities helped him to gain substantial experience and fame as a journalist and orator.
In 1971, he received a scholarship for higher education in Islamic studies at Islamic University, Madinah. The atmosphere in Madinah helped him develop his abilities and knowledge both of Islamic sciences and the Arabic language. He also took the opportunity to develop a relationship with prominent scholars.
After his arrival in Britain, on the request of Maulana Asim and the instruction of Shaikh Ibn Baz, he found a vast and enormous field to exercise his abilities. The Jamiat was at that time barely two years old, still in its early process of organisation. The task was challenging and demanding and Maulana Mirpuri seemed happy to take it up, with a full realisation of the responsibilities ahead. He became the mind and soul of the Jamiat and the driving force behind all its activities. The Jamiat became known among Ahl-e-Hadith as well as among other Muslim groups and organisations.
Maulanaa Mirpuri came from a region which for a long time had been an area of confrontation between India and Pakistan. This background, together with his other communicative abilities, provided him with a chance to speak out on political issues. This developed in him a taste for politics and he soon became known in political circles. People from Mirpur came from both Ahl-e-Hadith and non Ahl-e-Hadith backgrounds. To make a good politician he had to establish relationships with both groups, which was also good for his religious mission.
On one hand, he speeded up the activities of the Jamiat and the strengthening of the organisation; while on the other hand, he maintained a very good working relationship with all other religious organisations, and good personal relations with community leaders. The most vivid example of his sincere efforts to bring together the scholars of different schools of thought was the foundation of Islamic Shariah Council.
When Hafiz Yaqub, due to personal reasons, resigned in about the end of 1983 as General Secretary of the Jamiat, Maulana Mirpuri was elected in his place, and then was re-elected in 1986.
He toured the whole country, searching for Ahl-e-Hadith wherever he had any clues, and established a strong network of Ahl-e-Hadith Masaajid.
He proved himself a Muslim leader of International calibre by organising the first European Islamic conference to co-ordinate the activities of European Muslims to preserve their identity and to promote the cause of Islam. The conference was held at Olympia in London and was attended by hundreds of delegates from all over the world.
Maulana Mirpuri had also a great desire to unite Ahl-e-Hadith with all its factions and organisations in different countries. To this end, he was planning to set up the movement’s international headquarters in Britain, from where it could supervise all the activities run by Ahl-e-Hadith all over the world. This would have been his greatest contribution to the movement. However, his brilliant career came to an untimely end on 10th October 1988, on the M6 Motorway in Cheshire. He was travelling from Edinburgh to Birmingham with his wife, mother-in-law and two of his sons when a lorry ploughed into the back of his car. He, his mother-in-law and son Faisal (aged 8) died instantly while the other passengers were injured.