Archiving the Heritage of Britain’s First Purpose Built Mosque

Tinted colour postcard of the Shah Jahan Mosque, 1905 SHC PC/160/ALB1/85

Tinted colour postcard of the Shah Jahan Mosque, 1905 (SHC ref: PC/160/ALB1/85)

Throughout 2018 The Everyday Muslim team have been undertaking their latest heritage project: Archiving the Heritage of Britain’s First Purpose Built Mosque. The Shah Jahan Mosque, also known as Woking mosque, was built in 1889 and was the first purpose built mosque in the UK and Northern Europe. The building is Grade I listed and in its past boasted possibly the oldest mosque archive.

The Everyday Muslim project has reinstated the mosque’s archiving tradition by identifying, conserving, and cataloguing around 200 documents, making them available to researchers. Many images have been scanned and online gallery created. To capture the earliest possible community and social history narrative, the project has recorded and transcribed oral history interviews from the mosque community and congregation.

Colour photograph of the front of the Shah Jahan mosque, nd [1990s] (SHC ref PH/160/242)

Colour photograph of the front of the Shah Jahan mosque, nd [1990s] (SHC ref PH/160/242)

Surrey Heritage has supported the project with archive and conservation advice, training, research, and project promotion. In return, some duplicate copies of the Islamic Review and mosque publications have been donated by the mosque to Surrey History Centre Collections. A guide to the History Centre’s mosque archive and library collections has been featured on the project website. The project has also provided summary translations of some of the Urdu correspondence from the collection 8382.

Woking Muslim Heritage Trails

Image of Blue Plaque commemorating the site of the Muslim burial plot at Brookwood Cemetery (Photo: Di Stiff)

Blue Plaque commemorating the site of the Muslim burial plot at Brookwood Cemetery (Photo: Di Stiff)

The project has created Britain’s first ever self-guided Muslim Heritage Trails incorporating key sites in Woking. Trail No.1 features Muslim heritage sites in Woking, including the Shah Jahan Mosque itself and the original First World War Muslim Burial Ground (now the Peace Gardens at Horsell Common). Trail No.2 features a cemetery walk at Brookwood Cemetery that identifies some the final resting places of key individuals in Britain’s Muslim heritage, such English converts as Abdullah Qulliam, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (who first translated the Qur’an into English), and HRH Princess Musbah Haidar. This space was acquired in 1884 for the burial of visiting Indian students attending Woking’s Oriental Institute and the Shah Jahan Mosque (built 1889). The trails can be downloaded at https://www.everydaymuslim.org/projects/woking-mosque-project/muslim-heritage-trail-woking/.

The trails were launched on 25 July 2019 at the Shah Jahan Mosque. Tharik Hussein, British Muslim travel writer, journalist, and broadcaster who worked with Everyday Muslim project to produce the trails, welcomed guests and spoke of the importance of raising awareness of Muslim heritage. Professor Humayun Ansari, an expert in the history of Islam from Royal Holloway University London, gave the keynote speech which focused on the importance of creating a sense of belonging for British Muslims. Sir Lawrie Magnus, chairman of Historic England, formally launched the trails and himself has a unique connection to Muslim heritage through his maternal great-grandfather’s first cousin, who was Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. Di Stiff, Surrey Heritage’s Collections Development Archivist, who has been working with the project said: “I think Everyday Muslim have done a fantastic project and it is really important for the local community to know that their Muslim heritage is accessible. Surrey History Centre has been supporting Everyday Muslim in the project, particularly with advice on how to catalog and store the archive but also with wider links in the community. We also hold Islamic collections at the History Centre, including material relating to Marmaduke Pickthall, Lord Headley (an Irish Peer and convert to Islam, d. 1935), and those who are featured in the Muslim heritage trail.”

The launch was followed by a tour of the Muslim cemetery section at nearby Brookwood Cemetery. For additional coverage of the event and the importance of the trails in making Muslim heritage more accessible, see The Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/britains-new-muslim-heritage-trail-the-mecca-of-europe-in-suburban-surrey-gsmp393vb?ni-statuscode=acsaz-307 and About Islam https://aboutislam.net/muslim-issues/europe/muslim-heritage-trail-british-descendant-prophet/.

Image of Guests outside the Shah Jahan Mosque (Photograph: Di Stiff)

Guests outside the Shah Jahan Mosque (Photograph: Di Stiff)

Commemorative issue of the The Islamic Review Oct 2018, featuring articles about the history of the mosque and the Islamic community in Britain.

Surrey Heritage has supported the project with archive and conservation advice, training, research, and project promotion. In return, some duplicate copies of the Islamic Review and mosque publications have been donated by the mosque to Surrey History Centre Collections. A guide to the History Centre’s mosque archive and library collections has been featured on the project website. The project has also provided summary translations of some of the Urdu correspondence from the collection 8382.

For more information about the project please contact Project Manager, Sadiya Ahmed, Founder, Everyday Muslim Heritage and Archive Initiative, at [email protected] Follow us on twitter at https://twitter.com/Everyday_Muslim

The Mosque Archive

The mosque’s unique archive has now been catalogued by project archivist Elias Kupfermann and the catalogue is available online via the Archives Hub at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb3492-sjm

The records which the mosque holds mostly relate to the publication of the Islamic Review. Other items within the archive include records relating to the property, religious ceremonies, correspondence of the imams of the mosque, education and a small collection of images of the mosque. The archive also holds a contemporary collection of oral history interview recordings, transcripts and photographs (2018.) The majority of the collection has been catalogued to file level but there are some collections which have been catalogued to item level.

Among the records which can be found at the mosque are the following:

  • The second minute book of the Muslim Society of Great Britain from 1936 to 1955
  • Papers and architectural plans relating to the restoration of the mosque, c.2006
  • Architectural plans relating to additions and new builds to the mosque and its associated structures, 1965 to 2014
  • Papers relating to the sale of the Islamic Review and other publications
  • Postcards and photographs of the mosque dating from 1900 to 1990

The complete catalogue is also available on the Archives Hub.
The physical collection can be viewed at the Shah Jahan Mosque Library by appointment only.

The Shah Jahan archive has also loaned copies of the Islamic Review for digitisation to fill in gaps available online on the Woking Muslim Mission website http://www.wokingmuslim.org/

Preserving the History and Heritage of Mosques in Britain

On 13 October 2018 the Everyday Muslim Heritage and Archive and the Shah Jahan mosque held the first ever conference to address the importance of documenting the history and heritage of mosques and their people in Britain. This unique conference took place at the Shah Jahan, Britain’s first purpose-built mosque and the first mosque to be awarded Grade I listing.

The day-long activities were aimed at supporting mosques and madrasahs to bring personal history and heritage into their learning spaces and use these ideas to engage with the Muslim community and wider society. It also addressed the importance of preserving the history and heritage of mosques in Britain. The programme included presentations, workshops and practical advice on how mosques can begin to start documenting their mosques history and heritage and how it can be used to promote their mosque and engage with the different sections of the local and wider community.

To find out more about the Everyday Muslim initiative see http://www.everydaymuslim.org/

To find out more about the Khizra Foundation see https://www.khizrafoundation.org/

Discover more about the history of the Shah Jahan and collections at Surrey History Centre