My Visit to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park

My Visit to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park September 12, 2016

Speaker’s Corner Hyde Park
On a recent vacation in London, I visited Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. I expected to see men lined up with a sign advertising their position and maybe standing on a step stool, speaking to a stationary audience or just to passersby. I imagined the speaker delivering a monologue or sermon, interrupted occasionally by a comment or question (which he’d answer) or a heckling remark (which he’d talk over). I expected discussions of current political or social topics or Christianity.

That’s not what I saw. There were about two hundred people, all men, all speaking Arabic, and presumably all debating facets of Islam. Conversations were often spirited, but all seemed polite. I saw no police, and I understand they only come in response to complaints. (Keep in mind, though, that this is just what I saw on Sunday evening a week ago, and your mileage may vary.)

After walking around a bit, it looked like I wouldn’t find any debate to engage me, but that turned out to be premature.

Speaker’s Corner Hyde Park

This photo shows the same northeast corner of Hyde Park as the map view above. (People gather to speak on the wide walkway in the park, not in the middle of the trees as the image suggests.)

I did find some interesting atheists who seemed, like me, to be more interested in the rare Christian discussion. One of the atheist regulars videoed me engaged with regular participant Adnan Rashid, a Muslim. (I don’t see the video as especially informative, but I include it for completeness.)

As an aside, Adnan made several claims: thirty percent of Africans taken to the U.S. as slaves were Muslim (source: Servants of Allah by Sylviane Diouf), and Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S. I haven’t fact checked either claim.

He made another claim that evening that doesn’t hold up. He said that this kind of open public debate was something that would be typical in cities in any Muslim country, though that’s not what the International Humanists and Ethical Union’s “Freedom of Thought Report 2015” says. It lists twelve countries for which blasphemy or apostasy are punishable by death, including Adnan’s own birthplace of Pakistan.

But the specifics of my conversation aren’t the point. Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, Marcus Garvey, and others reportedly have spoken at Speaker’s Corner. Though I only had a couple of hours to chat, it was a thrill to be there.

Everyone has the right to believe anything they want.
And everyone else has the right to find it fucking ridiculous.
— Ricky Gervais

Credit for images: Google Maps

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  • RichardSRussell

    I was recently in Washington DC, where it was one of the greatest privileges of my lifetime to view the US Constitution at the National Archives. They also had a copy of the Magna Carta (not the original, a facsimile donated by the British government). If they’ve got the real deal in London, you should swing by to check it out.

    • epicurus

      I was in London in 1994 and saw a copy of the Magna Carta in the British Museum. If I remember correctly, the original no longer exists, but there are 4 really old copies from close to the period.

      • Christine Gibbons

        Yes, it was I believe regularly reissued as a sign of good will by successive Kings. A town, local to me, Faversham has a copy of the last version, issued in 13 something by Edward the 3rd. The do turn up unexpectedly, a colleague, working at the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone, Kent, England stumbled on a copy when asked to check the Parish records for Sandwich for a copy of the Forest Charter. Amazingly it had been pasted into a Victorian scrapbook and not noticed!

    • I went to the British Library last year for the 800th anniversary exhibit of the Magna Carta. They bragged that they had 4 copies, which seemed odd to me. 4 copies of the same thing? No–it was copies of the Magna Carta in its various editions. When King John signed in 1215, he wasn’t very happy about it and it was renounced (with the help of the pope, I believe) 3 months later. But then there were more editions in subsequent years until it actually was seen by all as a binding and useful contract.

  • Myna A.

    I found this for the Muslim claim:

    And on the growth of Islam:

    I suppose one could argue that at some point in the future there could be conflict. It depends on which side holds the eventual political power.

    [Edited to redirect second link]

  • kraut2

    Did you visit what is my favourite place in all of London? The Museum of Natural History? One can spend a full holiday in there.

    • And the science museum is next door.

      • Jonathan Morgan

        There were long queues at the Natural History Museum and not at the Science Museum. Guess which one I visited?

  • Ignorant Amos

    You were about three decades too late Bob. The place you wanted to be was the place I visited in the 80’s…a great pity, you’d have loved that speakers corner, highly entertaining.

    • Dang! I did miss the boat.

      On the other hand, there are less barriers to discussion now.

    • I love the comments from the crowd. Very much like Mystery Science Theater 3000.

  • Michael Neville

    Don’t forget to try the famous echo in the Reading Room of the British Museum. And while it may not be of interest to you, all British brothels are marked by a blue light near the door.

    • But … doesn’t the blue light tip off the police? Or is that just what they tell the clueless Yanks for a laugh?

      • Michael Neville

        It’s not just clueless Yanks. Clueless Aussies are also taken in by the myth.

  • epeeist

    As an aside, Adnan made several claims: thirty percent of Africans taken to the U.S. as slaves were Muslim

    So who traded them? And of course it doesn’t follow that their descendants are Muslim.

    • Largely fellow Africans traded them (including Muslims). No doubt he isn’t claiming they stayed Muslims forever.

  • Jonathan Morgan

    I have a feeling my grandfather spoke there many years ago. I was only able to get there mid-week, and it’s quite empty then…

  • It wouldn’t surprise me if that many slaves were Muslim, since from what I’ve read the areas they were taken from often had high numbers of Muslims, though I’m not sure what the point of his claim is. As for Islam in the US, I’m not sure, but I’ve read that a lot. It is the fastest growing now in the world though, so probably. Of course this doesn’t always mean much. “Fastest growing” is still pretty small in some cases (i.e. not many numbers of adherents added, just more than others on average from what I understand).

    • evodevo

      Yeah…I thought Mormonism was the fastest growing lol

      • Could be.

      • TheNuszAbides

        well, Mormon officials will certainly tell you that. is it substantiated by polls that you know of?

  • cat butler

    The hecklers used to be the best part of Speaker’s Corner. One Sunday morning we watched a guy climb his milkbox and proudly declaim “Who here can tell me the meaning of love?” I think he expected to go on a long rant, but someone immediately deadpanned “Arsenal FC.”
    It broke the poor guy. He just gave up.

  • SparklingMoon,

    Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S.

    Prophet of Islam had told the condition of the Muslims of this time in following words “There will come a time upon the people when nothing will remain of Islam except its name and nothing will remain of the Quran except its inscription. Their mosques will be splendidly furnished but destitute of guidance. Their divines will be the worst people under the sky; strife will issue from them and avert to them.”

    A recent BBC poll found that 45% of British Muslims believe extremist clerics who preach violence against the West are not “out of touch” with mainstream Muslim opinion. According to a report: LONDON: Anjem Choudary, one of Britain’s most high-profile Muslim preachers, and known globally for praising the men responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States, and the July 7 2005 London bombings was charged on Wednesday with inviting support for Islamic State(IS).
    Choudary says he is not afraid of going to prison, which he describes as a fertile ground for gaining more converts to Islam. “If they arrest me and put me in prison…” he warned, “I will radicalize everyone in prison.”

    ‘The time is very dark in which we live. Corruption has set in – in men’s faith as well as in their actions. A swift and evil wind blows on all sides spreading error and transgression. What is called Faith amounts to words repeated in mechanical fashion and what are called good works amount to a few rites, to some extravagant practices or hypocritical activities. True piety and virtue have been forgotten. It is true that honesty and integrity have disappeared from the earth, as good as not more. Cheating and lying have gone to extremes, all in the pursuit of worldly ends. The most mischievous men are said to be the ablest and the most competent. Deception, dishonesty, sin and delinquencies of various kinds, lying, fabricating, the worst kind of intriguing and scheming are on the increase.

    Our time is a time in which emphasis on external forms and indifference to inner spirit and true piety are at their maximum. So are absence of honesty and integrity and disregard of truth and purity. So are love of riches and love of the world. These evils are rampant today as they were rampant among the Jews of the time of Jesus son of Mary. The Jews at the advent of Jesus had become strangers to true morality, its place in their life having been taken by outer forms and customs. Probity and truthfulness and inner purity and sense of fairness and justice had disappeared from amongst them. Fellow feeling and charity had become unknown. Our religious leader are no way behind the scribes and pharisees of those times. They also would swallow a camel but strain at a gnat. The Kingdom of God is closed by them upon every one. They enter it not themselves.

    Shortly, He who is blind himself cannot show the way to the blind and he who is a leper cannot take away the disease from other people’s bodies. Tajdid (passion for true reform) springs from a holy state which first descends on the heart of some one blessed with the gift of divine revelation. From him it passes on to others. Those who receive this reforming zeal from God do not trade in dead bones. On the contrary, they play the part of deputies to the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) and spiritually speaking are his successors or Khalifas. They inherit the blessings with which God favors His prophets and apostles. What they say comes effortlessly and spontaneously from their hearts. They do not teach only word of mouth but both by word and deed. The revelation of God illumines their hearts. In times of difficulty they received guidance from the Holy Spirit. Their speech and conduct are not mixed with the love or fear of this world. They are made transparently clean inside and out. They are drawn wholly to God (Ruhanikhazain)

    • TheNuszAbides

      Such contact with God
      and such certainty of conviction cannot come of man made institutions.

      that’s terribly convenient. how do you distinguish between “man made institutions” and these unnamed, likely unverifiable proper sources of contact/certainty? let me guess–from “opening” your “heart” in a risibly vague yet measurably appropriate manner?

      Human devices and philosophies are of no avail.

      how could you possibly know such a thing to be true? oh, never mind–you simply trust the words of a self-proclaimed savior.

      The light that is needed,
      descends from heaven on this earth in time of darkness through His
      chosen servants.

      please make a serious and clear attempt to propose any intelligible distinction between ‘time of darkness’ and any other time(s).