How did Brent Become the Shia Mile of London

During years Brent has become the Shia mile of London and it has kept this title until now. This post is trying to give the reader a brief history on how this has happened by reviewing briefly the history of Shia community in Brent.

Brent as the northern extension of Edgware Road became a location for Arabs, Iraqis and Gulf Arab immigrants to UK who wanted to settle in more affordable housing due to the rising house prices and rents in central London. Furthermore, Brent had experienced different waves of immigration before and therefore provided an urban environment used to the settlement of diverse migrant communities.

The settlement of Shia Muslims in Brent is also a good example of chain migration. In the early 1970s, an Iranian cleric moved to London for missionary purposes and to cater for the religious needs of the city’s growing Iranian Shia population. He decided to move with his family to Willesden Green in Brent because the area was home to two of the few secondary schools in London that were both non-denominational and gender- segregated. His home also became a center for religious activities, catering for the then small Iraqi and Iranian Shia communities in London. The move of an affluent Afghan Shia family to Brent which held religious gatherings at their home in Brent for Persian- speaking Shiis from Iran and Afghanistan contributed to the emergence of a nascent Shia religious infrastructure in Brent attracting other Shias to settle in the borough as well. Given the rising number and increasing concentration of Shias in the area as part of chain migration, centers catering for the religious and educational needs of the growing community were also established in or moved to the area in order to part of the nascent Shia hub in Brent from the mid-1980s onwards. In the late 1980s, Shiis living in Brent approached the then most senior Shia cleric in Iraq at that time, Abu Al-Qaism Al-Khoei (1899–1992) to sponsor the construction of an Islamic school. A site was chosen by local Shias leading to the establishment of the Al-Khoei Foundation next to the school in 1989, run by one of Al-Khoei’s son and acting at his official representation and financial center until his demise in 1992. Other organizations and institutions followed suit. The Islamic Centre of England was established in 1995 and opened its premises in Maida Vale in 1998, south of Brent, at a location close to Shia communities in the area. Other centres and groups also moved from more central locations in London to Brent in the 1990s. Rasool Al-Adham, an Iraqi Shii community center established in 1986 and affiliated with the Shirazi clerical network, moved from Edgware Road to Cricklewood in 1998.

All the above have played an important role in shaping the history of the Shia community in Brent and the move is still going on.

Taken from: A minority within a minority? the complexity and multi-locality of transnational Twelver Shia networks in Britain

By: Oliver Scharbrodt

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