By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE images have revealed the first purpose-built mosque in Britain in its infancy in the early 1900s after being built in 1889.
Stunning pictures, as revealed by the website Retronaut, show worshippers and guests at the table at the Feast of Sacrifice at the Mosque in 1916, a British soldier being warmly greeted during the Festival of Eid in 1917 and The Begum of Bhopal with her princess granddaughters during a visit in 1925.
Other striking shots show Lord and Lady Allenby visiting the mosque during a festival in 1928, the veteran Lord Headley who was the most celebrated English convert to Islam at that time celebrating the end of the month fasting for Ramadan with prayers and fraternal embraces of thanksgiving and Festival of Idu I Fitr marking the end of the 30 days rigorous fast when Persians, Arabs, Afghans and even Englishmen attended.
The Woking mosque or the Shah Jahan Mosque was built in 1889 in Woking 30 miles south west of London.
The mosque was built by Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Jewish Hungarian student of languages and the cultures of India and the Middle East. Leiner came to London to study at King’s College London, after graduation he was appointed Professor in Arabic and Muslim Law there, he then became Principal of Government College University in what is now Pakistan.
In 1881 he returned to England to found a centre for the study of oriental languages, culture and history. He found a suitable building and for the benefit of Muslim students he had the mosque built in the grounds.
The mosque was designed by architect William Isaac Chambers, Chambers incorporated elements of Middle Eastern architecture, a dome, minarets and a courtyard. It was partly funded by Sultan Shah Jahan, Begum of Bhopal, from whom it takes its name. Shah Jahan was one of four successive women rulers, Begums, of Bhopal between 1819 and 1926.
It was one of the first mosques in Europe and the first purpose-built mosque in Britain. The mosque was used as a place of worship by Muslim members of Queen Victoria’s household, including Abdul Karim, the subject of the 2017 film, Victoria & Abdul.
When Leitner died in 1899 the mosque became disused. The founder of the Woking Muslim Mission repaired and reopened the mosque in 1913. It was supported by prominent British converts to Islam and attracted royal visitors. During WWI the imam petitioned the government to grant land near the mosque as a burial ground. This was granted and in 1917 nineteen British Indian soldiers were buried there. The Islamic Review was published from here as well as English translations of the Quran and other scholarly publications.
After the 1960s more mosques were built in Britain and the Woking mosque made the transition from being the centre of Muslim worship to being a focus for the local Muslim community.