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
Education & Community Manager,
Woking Galleries, Chobham Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 6JD
Acknowledgments to Dr Shuja, Islamic Arts,
Photo Credit: Woking Galleries and Dr Shuja.
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
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.
Muslim Burial Ground By Tina Cockett
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
Credit Woking Galleries