South Shields, South Tyneside
Al Azhar Mosque, South Shields
15 Jun 2020
South Shields, South Tyneside
This is a
Place of Worship
Laygate, South Shields NE33 5RP
Current status is
Designer (if known):
Site is still active as a mosque
This feature is part of the Black History Collection
'In July 1977, the boxer Muhammad Ali was Heavyweight Champion of the World. He agreed to visit Tyneside to help raise funds for local boys' clubs, after receiving a request from the former boxer Johnny Walker. Perhaps the most significant moment in the trip for the proud Muslim Ali was the blessing of his marriage at the Al-Ahzar mosque in South Shields, an event which was of great importance for the local Yemeni Muslim population. He and his wife Veronica had been married in Los Angeles on 19 June 1977, and the blessing offered further confirmation of Ali’s faith and his importance as a Muslim icon. Ali commented many times during his visit that hefound his welcome on Tyneside to be warmer than any he had received in the United States. Ali also found time to eat one of Tyneside's most important culinary products: a stottie. Among his other activities were a game of darts, a visit to Pendower Special School, an official reception at the Jesmond Banquet House, charity dinners at the Mayfair and the Gosforth Park Hotel, a visit to the Civic Centre, and a long interview conducted by Reg Gutteridge in the Eldon Square Centre which was broadcast on ITV’s World of Sport. During the interview he asserted that, to him, Tyneside practiced what the United States preached in terms of its race relations.' - Radical Tyneside
'A well documented event at Al-Azhar Mosque was the visit of boxing world heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali in July 1977. He came to the Mosque to have his wedding to Veronica Porsche blessed and this single event brought crowds to the doors of the Mosque and inevitably raised its profile within the South Shields Community.' - theyemeniproject.org.uk
'Not only had Her Majesty The Queen paid a visit as part of her silver Jubilee celebrations, but, more sensationally, the ‘Louisville Lip’ – Muhammad Ali – had bestowed his presence upon us.
In July 1977, Ali was still heavyweight champion of the world and just about at the top of his game.
That led to chaotic scenes at Newcastle airport, where thousands had gathered to catch a glimpse of the champion.
Thankfully, it was all smiles a couple of days later when yet more thousands packed the streets of Jarrow and South Shields to see Ali pass by in an open-topped bus on his way to have his marriage blessed in the town’s mosque.
By the time he got to Stanhope Road, South Shields, the pavements were lined with thousands of fans. Chichester was jammed, and at Laygate, the “centre of the Arab community” at the time, he was treated like a Prodigal son.
Nora smith, who had travelled from her home in Tynemouth, thought his visit was more significant than that of The Queen. “after all,” she said: “The Queen is visiting the whole country, but Ali chose to go out of his way to visit South Shields.
"I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.”
Equally excited was 69-year-old William George, of South Frederick street, South Shields, who said: “I’m sure that, as young as they are, the children realise what a great man they’ve seen today.” Ali continued to charm the Geordies throughout his four-day visit.
He told an audience at a huge banquet in Newcastle’s Mayfair Ballroom how the trip’s organising committee had sent him 14 return air tickets.
He said: “When I’m in a big fight, I accept air tickets and accommodation because the promoters are making a lot of money, but this is for charity so I can’t accept all this.
"I am giving back the money for the tickets and that is around £7,000. I just want to do all I can for your youngsters.”
Ali, the true people's champ.' - Shields Gazette
Listing Description (if available)
Photograph of Muhammed Ali's visit to the mosque in 1977. Ali's visit arguably promoted the town as a welcoming and inclusive area to the Muslim Community, and brought attention to South Shields itself. After all ALi even admitted he wished America was a bit more like Tyneside.
Retrieved from the Yemeni Project.
Photograph of Muhammed Ali in South Shields, 1977. Ali's visit was to have his wedding blessed, and South Shields was certainly glad to do so. This is Ali greeting crowds in the area.
Retrieved from the Shields Gazette