The Papers of Cllr Mohammad Ilyas Raja
The Muslim community in Woking and beyond
In 2005, local Woking resident Cllr Mohammad Ilyas Raja, a trustee of the Shah Jahan Mosque, began placing his papers with Surrey History Centre. The records are added to on a regular basis and relate to Cllr Raja’s political career and community interests, as well as his family and links with Pakistan and Kashmir. Importantly, the collection contains the Raja family Qur’an, a manuscript Kashmiri Qur’an dating from the late eighteenth century. The papers are also a key source for studying the development of Woking’s Muslim community from the 1980 onwards.
Career and political work
Mohammad Ilyas Raja passed his Bachelor of Legislative Law exams from Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan, in the 1975/76 session and joined the legal profession as a lawyer/advocate. He came to live in Woking in 1984 and worked in the Civil Service and as a fulltime counsellor and advisor in south London and a volunteer advisor with the Woking Citizens Advice Bureau. He served as a governor of Broadmere School, Woking for four years and founded the Woking Residents Initiative for Skills, Employment and Education (Woking RISE). With the help of friends Cllr Raja also founded Ham Nawa UK (a social and cultural organisation, meaning ‘like-minded people’), which was established in 1996 and holds regular charitable events. He was a member of the board of directors of Woking Gallery (now The Lightbox) and the Maybury Centre.
A member of the Labour Party since 1986, Cllr Raja was first elected Borough councillor for Central, Maybury and Sheerwater Ward, Woking, in May 1996 and again in May 2000; he was Woking’s first non-white elected councillor and retired from office in June 2004. Cllr Raja later stood as candidate for Woking North in May 2013 and was elected councillor in May 2014.
A committed believer in inter-faith harmony, Cllr Raja has worked to create good relations between local ethnic communities and the Borough Council. His papers represent just a small section of Cllr Raja’s field of interest when he served as a Councillor (see SHC ref Z/454/1/-).
Working with the Muslim Community in Woking and further afield
A large proportion of the Kashmiri community in Woking originate from the Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, where in the 1960s land was requisitioned from landowners in the region for the building of a hydro-electric dam at Mangla as a joint venture between the British and Italian companies. As part of compensation for losing their land, one member of every family was granted passage to England. With labour shortages escalating in the late 1960s, further members of the families were granted passage as a solution to the crisis.
Cllr Raja is a former student of Government College, Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, and a convenor of The Association of Kashmir Old Students or AKOS (International), which was formed in September 1992. The Association has worked to increase social contact between former students through literary, educational and cultural activities and gives financial assistance and scholarships to deserving students from across Kashmir (see SHC ref Z/454/5/-).
Cllr Raja has served as trustee of the Shah Jahan Mosque for many years and has been part of the driving force behind the organization of cultural programmes within Woking for the Pakistani and Muslim communities, including Eid Millan festivals, and music and poetry events. Many of these events, via the platform of Ham Nawa UK, have featured representatives from Pakistan’s television, radio and music industry, to raise funds for local, national and international causes such as Woking Hospice and Woking Mayor’s Charity, Tsunami and South Asian earthquake victims (posters and photographs for these events can be seen at SHC ref Z/454/2/- and Z/454/3/-).
Click on the image to the right to see a pdf ( ) copy.
As a prominent member of the Woking Pakistani/Kashmiri community, Cllr Raja has promoted ties with the Pakistan High Commission and has been a regular contributor to Pakistani and Muslim newspapers both in England and Pakistan; many of these articles can be seen throughout the collection.
What’s in the collection?
Much of the collection is in Urdu and the cataloguing process has involved an archivist working with Cllr Raja to provide accurate descriptions of items. The collection catalogue states clearly where items are in Urdu and whether there is a translation available.
The collection contains a variety of papers relating to Cllr Raja’s work as a Woking Borough Councillor and his political interests, including articles concerning political issues at home and in Kashmir (SHC ref Z/454/1/-). There are writings on religious matters such as the Muslim Burial Ground, Woking and more general newscuttings relating to the Shah Jahan Mosque and Muslim cultural events in Woking and elsewhere (SHC ref Z/454/2/-). A whole section of the collection comprises photographs of Muslim community meetings and charitable events (SHC ref Z/454/3/-). Personal family records relating to the Raja family include records for Cllr Raja’s father, Major Alaf Khan, who served in the British Indian Army in both World Wars (SHC ref Z/454/4/-; see below for more detailed information). Papers relating to Cllr Raja’s involvement with The Association of Kashmir Old Students, AKOS (International) also feature items relating to the Alfalah Foundation Trust, a scholarship scheme for poorer children throughout Azad Kashmir (SHC ref Z/454/5/).
The records relating to Cllr Raja’s personal family papers are varied and span more than 200 years. There are digital copies of papers relating to Cllr Raja’s father, Major Raja Alaf Khan (1895-1981), who served with 1st Punjab Regiment. These papers include biographical details, a matriculation certificate from the University of the Panjab [Punjab], Lahore, 1914, First and Second World Wars service records, kindred roll, and medal notification, 1958.
Raja Alaf Khan was born in 1895 in Fatehpur, district of Mirpur, Kashmir, the son of Taleh Mehdi Khan. He was one of the first two Muslims in the district to pass his matriculation exam in 1914. Religious riots started there as a result of the burning of the Qur’an and he resigned from his post as a school teacher in protest to this act. In 1915 he enlisted in the 1st Punjab Regiment. In 1921, he was awarded Jangi Inam (a distinguished service reward) and worked as a Junior Commissioned Officer. In 1941 after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was recalled to the regiment, promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and then Major in 1947. On his retirement he was awarded the War medal, India Service medal and the Pakistan medal. Major Khan features in the virtual exhibition ‘The Great War: From India to Woking’ https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/military/india-woking/
The family papers section includes correspondence with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirming the burial place of Cllr Raja’s uncle, Rang Khan, of Fatehpur, Mirpur, Kashmir. Khan served with the 6th Bn, 7th Rajput Regiment and is commemorated on the Rangoon Memorial, Burma (d. 22 Feb 1945, age 36). These papers include a list of Commonwealth War Dead (Indian Army), 1914-1921, buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery (SHC ref. Z/454/4/6).
The family papers also include memorial information for Cllr Raja’s late brother, Mr Raja Mohammad Siddique (1932-2012), who was a prominent lawyer/advocate and former ad hoc judge of the Azad Kashmir Supreme Court (SHC ref Z/454/4/13).
The Raja Qur’an
The most ancient item within the family papers is the Raja family Qur’an (SHC ref Z/454/4/11). The volume is handwritten in Arabic, has been previously rebound and wrapped. Unlike modern Qur’an the volume has no chapters or page numbers so the main chapters have been flagged by Cllr Raja. The volume was brought from the Raja family home in Mirpur following Cllr Raja’s visit in Oct 2011-Jan 2012. Cllr Raja’s father, Raja Alaf Khan, had been told that the Qur’an belonged to his grandparents.
Handwritten Qur’an are relatively rare in this country and efforts have been made to identify more closely the age of the volume through expert opinion. The Qur’an is written in Nashki Arabic text (from which modern Arabic script style developed), on indigenous paper probably from the Kashmir region. Written in carbon ink with the possible addition of iron oak gall in the recipe, the text markers are in vermillion (red) and orpiment (yellow). The end bindings of the volume were originally blue and white denoting Kashmiri origins and it is thought to date from the late eighteenth century. The Qur’an is now housed in a specially padded archival box, constructed without animal-derived materials.
Sources for the Muslim community at Surrey History Centre:
For a virtual exhibition ‘The Great War: From India to Woking’ featuring information about the role of the Indian Army and the Shah Jahan Mosque during the First World war, including Major Raja Alaf Khan, click here.
For photocopies of articles, newspaper cuttings and other information relating to the Shah Jahan Mosque, see the Mosque information file SHC ref 942.2WOK.
For the University of Surrey collection of reports on the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community in Woking, 1989-2003, see SHC ref 7553/-.
For publications from the Shah Jahan Mosque, 1929-2002, including the Islamic Review, 1953-1970, and publications by The Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust, featuring pamphlets by English convert Marmaduke Pickthall, see SHC ref 7831/-.
For papers from the Shah Jahan Mosque, 1949-1985, relating to activities and membership of the Islamic Review magazine and some administrative functions including pamphlets by Marmaduke Pickthall, Khwaja Kamal-Ud Din and Lord Headley, see SHC Ref 8382.
To learn more about Woking’s Shah Jahan Mosque click here.
For Surrey History Centre’s ‘Guide to tracing sources for the Indian Army’ click here.
For more information about Woking’s Muslim Burial Ground (now the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden), click here.
A wide range of books relating to the Muslim community in Surrey are available for public reference in the searchroom at Surrey History Centre. Further details of these and other titles can be found on the Surrey Libraries Catalogue at https://arena.surreylibraries.org/web/arena/welcome.