It’s not every day that a prince comes to see you, but that’s exactly what happened one day in March, when His Royal Highness, Şehzade Orhan Osmanoğlu visited Shacklewell Lane Mosque in East London.
A resident of Istanbul and the great grandson of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, Şehzade Orhan was making his first ever visit to London last month when he asked his hosts to arrange for him to pray at a Turkish mosque during his week-long trip to the British capital. Within hours, the Ottoman Prince’s wish was fulfilled.
Cem Guney, the grandson of the late Ramadan Guney, who founded Shacklewell Lane Mosque in 1977, received the Şehzade [Turkish for prince]. Also in attendance were a small crowd of mosque regulars and others who heard the news of a royal visit and were able to be present at short notice.
Located in the London Borough of Hackney, Shacklewell Lane Mosque is the UK’s first Turkish-owned mosque. In the seventies, Turkish Cypriot businessman Ramadan Guney was acutely aware that the large British Turkish community in East London needed their own place of worship. He established a charity, the UK Turkish Islamic Trust, which he used to buy an old synagogue from the local Jewish community and convert it into a mosque.
While today there are multiple Turkish-owned mosques in London, Shacklewell Lane Mosque’s history as a former synagogue piqued the interest of Şehzade Orhan.
The Şehzade’s Ottoman Turkish ancestors were famed for their religious tolerance, allowing diverse subjects living under their rule in the Ottoman Empire to practice their different faiths.
And so, on the evening of Wednesday 9 March, the Şehzade was greeted by around 200 people, who had gathered at Shacklewell Lane Mosque to meet the Ottoman prince.
Among those present was renowned London Muslim scholar Sheikh Aleey Abdul Qadir, who had met the Şehzade for the first time a day earlier.
Sheikh Aleey, who is married to a Turkish Cypriot, led evening prayers at the mosque and performed a Sufi-style zikir (Islamic remembrance prayers). Both Şehzade Orhan and Sheikh Aleey then addressed the gathering. The evening was described as “beautiful” by those who attended.
Cem Guney, who is the nephew of UK Turkish Islamic Trust chairman Erkin Guney, said: “It was a great honour to host Şehzade Orhan at Shacklewell Lane Mosque. We are the first Turkish-owned mosque in Britain and we have had many notable people visit us, but it’s not every day that a prince comes to see us.
“There was a real buzz at the mosque, and the Şehzade was fantastic, talking to those present and taking time to find out about Shacklewell Lane Mosque. We hope he will visit us again soon.”
T-VINE has learned that a return trip is already planned, with Şehzade Orhan attending an iftar dinner at the mosque on Saturday 23 April.
Shacklewell Lane Mosque – the spiritual heart of the British Turkish community
While many Turkish and Turkish Cypriots have moved from Hackney to the outer London suburbs these past 20 years, their spiritual home continues to be Shacklewell Lane Mosque.
Today, the Turkish-owned Dalston mosque with its distinctive bronze-painted dome welcomes a broader spectrum of Muslim worshippers, including those of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and Nigerian origin, and many British reverts who prefer Shacklewell Lane’s Friday sermons in English.
Yet the mosque also continues to serve as an important Islamic hub for British Turks, performing their nikah (Muslim wedding) and funeral services, as well as hosting mevlit (remembrance prayers) for those who have passed, community events, and more.
The mosque has also prepared many deceased notables for burial, including Dürrüşehvar Sultan, the daughter of the last Ottoman Caliph Abdülmecid II, whose funeral was held at the mosque in 2006. Nine years earlier, Dodi Fayed, Princess Diana’s lover who died in the same car crash, also made his final sacred journey from Shacklewell Lane Mosque.
The recent coronavirus pandemic saw the mosque’s prominence in the community rise again, offering spiritual guidance as well as practical help for hundreds of families who lost their loved ones.
It remains an iconic landmark for Hackney and British Turks, and with its royal Ottoman connections, its importance will surely continue to grow.