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The Entrance to the Muslim Burial Ground. Photo Credit Woking Galleries

The Entrance to the Muslim Burial Ground.
Photo Credit Woking Galleries

Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking, England.

Shah Jehan Mosque,Woking, England.

The Shahjehan Mosque, Woking, Britain in 1925

The Shahjehan Mosque in 1925
Photo Credit Woking Galleries

The original Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal in India for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

The original Shah Jehan built the Taj Mahal in India for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.


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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on 18th May, 2004/ 29 Rabi ul Awal, 1425. Modified on 9th June, 2004.

The Shah Jehan Mosque & The Muslim Burial Ground

By Syed Neaz Ahmad & Tina Cockett

Victory News Magazine gives gratitude and thanks to the Woking Galleries for their co-operation in the compilation of this story, especially to Tina cocket who wrote on the Muslim Burial Ground

Assistance in Editing from Tina Cocket,
Education & Community Manager, Woking Galleries, Chobham Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 6JD

Acknowledgments to Dr Shuja, Islamic Arts, London.
Photo Credit: Woking Galleries and Dr Shuja.

Shah Jehan Mosque, London, England. Photo Credit: Dr Shuja, Islamic Arts, London.

Built in 1889, the Shahjehan Mosque is a symbol of Muslim history in Britain.

A prison, a lunatic asylum and a crematorium hardly provide an ideal setting for a sacred institution, but the first mosque to be built in Britain in October 1889 was sited against such a background. The actual first mosque was in a converted building in Liverpool, however, the Shah Jehan Mosque in the County of Surrey, soon assumed larger than life proportions in matters of public interest and became a landmark. As a matter of fact, the little known sleepy town of Woking, because of the mosque, became a priority destination for visiting dignitaries and the focus of Islam in England.

The story of the Shah Jehan Mosque is the history of the site and the wanderings of a Budapest linguist Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner. In 1886 he went to India to take up the post of the principal of Government College in Lahore, later to become the University of Punjab. During his stay in India, he became interested in Islam and the various cultures of the subcontinent. On his return he came to England looking for suitable land to set up a Centre for Oriental Languages, Culture and History.

Dr Leitner's main aim was to establish an oriental university in Europe and although he succeeded in establishing an institute, his hopes that Woking would one day become a university town, were never achieved. His institute in a way was the forerunner of the School of Oriental and African studies at London, which was established in 1916.

As part of the plan to make Muslims living in Woking feel at home, Leitner decided to build a mosque in the grounds of the institute. Work on the mosque began in early 1889 and  the cost was largely donated by Begum Shah Jehan, ruler of Bhopal state in India.

The building of the mosque, which stands today as it was then, is in Bath and Bargate stone and was designed by the Victorian architect WL Chambers. The design is based on drawings in the Art Arabe, a rare work lent by the India Office and from the details of other oriental mosques; the style could be described as Indo-Saracenic.

In a trade journal of 1880s, the mosque is described as a dignified building comparing favourably with the mock oriental buildings of the same period. The parapets of the walls are relieved by minarets and the onion dome, once blue and gold, is surrounded by a gilt crescent. The mosque rises from a courtyard in the front of which was once a fine mosaic pavement leading to a reservoir for ablution (wudu).

Within a few years of its establishment, the mosque naturally became a centre for British Muslims, and was the only venue for religious and social festivals. It attracted visitors from distant places. Among the worshipers in the 1880s were Her Majesty's Indian attendant at Windsor.

After Dr. Leitner's death in 1889, the mosque remained deserted for many years but later came under the leadership of Khwaja Kalam-ud-Din, who came to England in 1912 as the first Muslim missionary. This was known as the Woking Muslim Mission. [Edited Z]. The Mission published the first English translation of the Qu'ran in 1917 and the influential Islamic Review until the mid-sixties.

Woking's heritage would be a lot poorer without the mosque, as its surroundings have played and would continue to play an important part in the town's sizable Muslim community.

For decades now, the affairs of the Woking Mosque have been managed by a trust with ambassadors from Muslim countries taking a keen interest in its day-to-day running. Woking's Muslim community grew, many from Pakistan, and in 1968 Sunni Muslims took over the running of the mosque, appointing the President of Pakistan as Chairman of its Trust.

Today, with more than two million Muslims and some 1,200 mosques in Britain with the University of Reading claiming to have the only on-campus purpose-built mosque.

The Muslim Burial Ground By Tina Cockett

.

"This enclosure was built as a burial ground in 1915 for Indian soldiers who lost their lives in service to this country (England) during the Great War. The graves have been removed but the walls remain as a reminder of that sacrifice.

 

Indian army soldiers wounded fighting in France during 1914-16 were treated in England in special hospitals along the South Coast. Those who died received burial rites according to their religion. There were special crematoria at Patcham, Netley and Brockenhurst for Hindu and Sikh soldiers while Muslim soldiers were buried. However there were rumours that Muslim soldiers were not receiving burial according to their religious customs. To dispel these rumours the War Office commissioned a special burial ground. Woking was chosen for its location as it had the only mosque in Britain.

 

The burial ground was built on Horsell Common near to the Shah Jahan Mosque. It was designed by architect T.H. Winney and built by a local firm, Ashby and Horner Ltd. Its arches, minarets and domed gateway reflect the architectural style of the nearby mosque. Completed in 1917, the burial ground received 19 burials of Indian Army soldiers and a further five during WW2.

 

In 1921 the War Graves Commission took over its upkeep. Local people remember it had a yellow gravel path, iron gates at the entrance and two seats inside. All the graves faced east according to Islamic custom.  By the 1960s the cemetery was suffering vandalism due to its isolated location. The decision was taken in 1968 to remove the bodies to the Military Cemetery in Brookwood Cemetery.

 

Now a Grade II listed building, the Burial Ground is an overlooked memorial to the Indian Army soldiers, and in need of conservation. It is in the care of Horsell Common Preservation Society, who are working with Woking Borough Council and the local Muslim Community to find ways of funding its restoration and preservation.

Photo Credit Woking Galleries  

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