Oral History: The Yemeni Community in Balsall Heath
We are the group from Al Hijrah School. We interviewed Faisal Hamood (left) and Hizam Fayed (right) about their memories of life and work, and the Yemeni community, in Balsall Heath. They were both amazing!
Yemenis have been present in the UK since the 1860s, and are probably the longest-established Muslim group in the country, although currently much smaller than some other British Muslim groups. The Yemeni community in Birmingham began to grow in the 1930s, with the arrival of seamen (Lascars) looking for work.
In 1941, the best-known local Yemeni, Shaikh Muhammad Qassim Al‘Alawi arrived in Birmingham. As a boy, he looked after sheep in the Yemeni village of Shamir, but in 1925 at the age of fifteen, he joined the British merchant navy. Settling in Cardiff, he joined the local branch of the ‘Alawl Sufi Order and dedicated the rest of his life to religion and public service.
In Birmingham, Shaikh Muhammad established the city’s first zawiya at his home in Edward Road, Balsall Heath, where many Yemeni families had settled. The zawiya was Birmingham’s first mosque. It is still a place of worship today.
Shaikh Muhammad combined the roles of teacher, prayer leader and spiritual guide, and became a father figure within the Yemeni community. He died in 1999, aged 90.
We recorded more than one interview, and got lots of stories from our guests. Here are three videos - the first one is a bit shorter, in case you haven't got much time!