There is a long-established Islamic connection with Woking, through the Shah Jahan Mosque, situated in Oriental Road.
The Early Years
Built in 1889 by Dr Gottleib Leitner, a distinguished orientalist and linguist from Hungary, it was partly funded by the Begum Shah Jahan, the female ruler of the Indian princely state of Bhopal, to provide a place of worship for Muslim students at the Oriental Institute. Leitner had brought the former Royal Dramatic College building in Woking in 1881 and established the Institute on the site. The Institute promoted oriental literature and learning and awarded degrees from the University of Punjab, in Lahore, India.
The building was designed by the Victorian architect WL Chambers and built in Bath and Bargate stone. Its traditional Indo Saracen design has a dome, minarets and courtyard, as well as geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy decoration for which the ‘Art Arabe’ held at the India Office, British Library, was used as reference. This Grade I listed building was the first formal place of worship of Islam in England. Queen Victoria’s Indian secretary, Abdul Karim, and servants visited the mosque when staying at Windsor Castle.
Initially a small number of Muslims, students and visiting dignitaries, used the Mosque but following Leitner’s death in 1899, the Mosque closed. In 1912, a new phase in the building’s use began with the arrival of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din and through the efforts of the Woking Muslim Mission. The site was restored as a place of worship, attracting royal visitors and famous British converts, including Lord Headley, who founded the British Muslim Society, and Marmaduke Pickthall who provided the first and one of the most eloquent English translations of the Qur’an.
The Mosque became a centre for Islam in the UK and during the First World War the incumbent Imam, Sadr-Ud-Din, petitioned the authorities for a nearby piece of land to be used a Muslim Burial Ground for Indian soldiers. By 1917, a burial ground had been constructed and received the bodies of 19 soldiers from the hospital for Indian soldiers which had been created at Brighton Pavilion. For more about the Muslim Burial Ground click here.
The Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust was established at the Mosque and the editor of the Islamic Review became Imam there from 1956-1966. During the 1960s, Woking’s Muslim community grew, many immigrants came from Pakistan and Kashmir and the High Commissioner of Pakistan is Chairman of the Mosque’s Trust.
The Mosque today
The mosque is a focus for the Islamic community in the area and further afield. It plays an important part in the community life of Woking and continues to welcome visitors and worshippers alike.
The Mosque today has been further renovated and serve worshippers from Woking and farther afield. There is capacity for 600 worshippers and there are five prayers daily. The Mosque remains a pivotal point in local Muslim community life, supporting religious education for both adults and children.
For a full detailed history of the Shah Jahan see Shahed Saleem, The British Mosque: An Architectural and social history, Historic England, 2018, and the Mosque website http://www.shahjahanmosque.org.uk/
Archiving the Heritage of Britain’s First Purpose Built Mosque
Everyday Muslim are undertaking an ambitious new heritage project with the Shah Jahan Mosque, supported by Surrey Heritage, called Archiving the Heritage of Britain’s First Purpose Built Mosque. One of the project aims is to reinstate the mosque’s archiving tradition by identifying, conserving, digitising and cataloguing around 200 documents. Find out more here.
Did You Know?
Surrey History Centre also has it’s own surprising link with Islam: Hugh Edgar, the architect who designed this building, was previously commissioned by King Hussein of Jordan to work on the Mausoleum Mosque and Holy Relic Building, purpose-built to house an original 7th Century letter written by the prophet Mohammed to the Emperor of Byzantium.
Click here for further information about objects associated with the Shah Jahan Mosque, from the Lightbox, Woking.
Discover more about Woking’s Muslim Burial Ground here.
Guide to tracing sources for the Indian Army – click here to download a pdf () copy.
Sources for the Shah Jahan Mosque held at Surrey History Centre
Few records for the Mosque survive and the whereabouts of Dr Leitner’s papers are not known.
Surrey History Centre holds a number of books and articles relating to the Shah Jahan Mosque. Click here to download an information sheet on Sources for the Shah Jahan Mosque (pdf ). Further books can be found by searching the online Surrey Libraries Virtual Catalogue http://www.surreylibraries.org.
Here are just a few of the books held at Surrey History Centre:
- Shahed Saleem, The British Mosque: An Architectural and social history, Historic England, 2018
- M Ikram Chaghatai; Sang-E-Meel, Writings of Dr Leitner, compiled by, Government College Lahore Research and Publication Society, 2002
- Nasir Ahmad, Dr Gottleib William Leitner (1840-1899), 2003
- Tina Cockett, The Muslim Burial Ground: Horsell Common, Woking, Woking Galleries, 2004. (Contains useful information about the Indian army and burial ground, including the names of the 19 soldiers who are buried there)
- K Humayun Ansari, The Woking Mosque: a case study of Muslim Engagement with British Society since 1889, Frank Cass, 2002
- Islamic Society of Britain, Muslims in Britain: A Brief History, 2006
- H Ansari, The Infidel Within: the history of Muslims in Britain, 2002
- A Hidden History of the Chattri and the Muslim Burial Ground, Woking Galleries, 2004
- S.A Khulusi, Islam our choice, The Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust, 1961
- Nasir Ahmad, Eid Sermons at the Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, England 1931-1940, Aftab-ud-din, 2002. (Includes useful chapters on the early history of the mosque).
- Geaves, R, Islam in Victorian Britain: The Life and Times of Abdullah Quilliam, 2010
- Gilham, Jamie, Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950, 2014
- Crosby, Alan, A History of Woking, (revised edition), 2002
The Mosque Information File in the searchroom contains newspapers cuttings and articles on the Shah Jahan Mosque (SHC ref 942.2 WOK). Local newspapers can be particularly useful, e.g following Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in April 1968, the Woking News & Mail reported that the Imam at the Shah Jahan appealed to the local Muslim community for calm (26 Apr 1968).
Postcards and illustrations of the Shah Jahan and newscuttings relating to events there, dating from 1889 to the current day, can be found in Surrey History Centre’s archive and illustrations collections. Click here to search for these using the online Collections Catalogue (and search using the term ‘mosque’).
Few original records for the Mosque survive but Surrey History Centre holds the following items:
Shah Jahan Mosque publications and papers, 1920-1985 (SHC Ref 8382)
Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust, Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking: correspondence and publications, 1920-2002 (SHC Ref 7831)
Papers of Mohammad Ilyas Raja, a trustee of the Mosque, comprise a large collection of material relating to Woking’s Muslim community (SHC Ref Z/454). The list can be viewed using our online Collections Catalogue.
Centenary booklet giving the full history of the Woking Muslim Mission (SHC ref 9201)
Further information elsewhere and online
Historic England have upgraded the listing of the Shah Jahan to Grade I, read more about this at https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/Mosques-listed
Records relating to the Shah Jahan Mosque can be found in the India Office records at the British Library, including Woking Mosque Trust papers and the the foundation of the Muslim Burial Ground http://www.bl.uk/
A very useful website charting the history of Islamic buildings in Britain, including the Shah Jahan, can be found at http://www.islaminbritishstone.co.uk/
For a selection of digitised historic newsreel film clips of the Shah Jahan Mosque and its community in Woking, see http://www.britishpathe.com/
The Islamic Review, 1913-1971, which regularly features news and events at the Shah Jahan, has mostly been digitised and is available online at www.wokingmuslim.org This website also contains much of the early history of the Mosque and the Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust.
Click here http://www.wokingmuslim.org/work/id-ul-fitr-1915.htm to read an article by Dr. Zahid Aziz on the Second ‘Id-ul-Fitr at Woking Muslim Mission, 13th August 1915. The event was attended by Muslim soldiers of the British Indian Army, who had come from the Western Front in Europe.