How India is connected to England’s first mosque 

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Islam in England has arrived very late. The biggest credit for taking Islam there goes to Indian Muslims. Officially, the first mosque in England was built in 1889; one in Liverpool and the other in Woking! Both of these are said to be the first mosque of England.  


Sheikh Deen Mohammad of Patna

In 1889, William Henry Quilliam, Aka Abdullah Quilliam, opened the “Muslim Institute” in Liverpool and built a Mosque for the students studying there in which a great leader of India’s war of independence and the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of India formed in Kabul in 1915, Maulvi Barkatullah Bhopali, provided his services during his stay in Europe from 1895 to 1899.  

At the same time, Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, Aka Abdur Rasheed Sayyah, the founder of Punjab University, laid the foundation of the Oriental Institute in Woking Town in 1881. He also built a Mosque in 1889 for the Muslim students with the help of Bhopal’s Begum Shah Jahan.  


The structure of the Mosque inaugurated by William Henry Quilliam, Aka Abdullah Quilliam, was built already and was later given the form of a Mosque. On the contrary, Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, Aka Abdur Rasheed Sayyah’s Mosque was officially constructed and could be identified as a Mosque when seen from a distance. On the 2nd of August, 1889, when the Mosque was not yet built, its blueprint was printed in ‘The Building News and Engineering Journal’.  


What happened was, Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Hungarian-British Orientalist was Jewish who changed his name to Abdur Rasheed Sayyah after visiting many Muslim countries. He knew more than fifty languages including Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu. He was made the professor of Arabic Language and Muslim Law in King’s College, London in 1861. He became the principal of Government College Lahore in 1864. He played an important role in laying the foundations of Punjab University in 1882. Meanwhile, between 1871 and 1876 he wrote two volumes of books in Urdu on the History of India and Muslims with the help of Maulvi Karimuddin. He retired and returned to England in 1886. But before this in 1881, he laid the foundation of Oriental Institute in Woking Town, which was enrolled with Punjab University. A Mosque was required here for the Muslim students for which Begum Sultan Shah Jahan of Bhopal donated tremendously. And thus in 1889 in Woking Town, the first Mosque of England was found in the form of Shah Jahan Mosque.   


It was designed in a Persian-Saracenic Revival style, and has a dome, minarets, and a courtyard and was built in Bath and Bargate stone.  

The Mosque was in use till Gottbiel Wilhelm Leitner, Aka Abdur Rasheed was alive. Students, as well as travellers, started coming here. Munshi Abdul Karim, an important attendant of Queen Victoria, often visited the Mosque when the Queen visited Windsor Castle.  


On the 22nd March 1899, Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, Aka Abdur Rasheed passed away and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery. After his death, first, the Oriental Institute was shut down and then the Shah Jahan Mosque. The biggest reason for closing down the Mosque was that most of the students of Oriental Institute were foreigners who returned to their respective countries after the institute closed down.  


The Mosque remained shut till 1912 and then reopened when Khwaja Kamaluddin, an Indian lawyer, came to Woking and dragged Leitner’s son, who wanted to sell the Mosque’s land to court. The case went to court and the decision came that the Mosque is no longer the personal property of anyone but is a religious institution like a church. After this Khwaja Kamaluddin established the Woking Muslim Mission. In February 1913, he founded the monthly magazine “The Islamic Review” in the first issue of which he spoke of “Indian Muslims”. It used to be distributed all over England. Many people converted to Islam as they came in association with the Woking Muslim Mission.


In 1924, the total number of Muslims in England was ten thousand of which more than a thousand had changed their religion. Till 1960, the Shah Jahan Mosque remained the centre for English Muslims. But in the 70s, a large number of people from Pakistan started settling in London and laid the foundation of mosques there, after which the Shah Jahan Mosque became an ordinary Mosque. Its importance started decreasing among common Muslims and the biggest reason for this was that this mosque was under the supervision of the Ahmadiyya community whom ordinary Muslims did not consider to be Muslims. Later the Sunni community took control of this mosque.  

Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall and Lord Hedley, Aka Sheikh Rahmatullah al Farooq, who established Islam in England, had connections with this Mosque. During the First World War, Indian Muslim soldiers were seen praying here. Apart from this, a large number of Indian freedom fighters used to come here, of which Maulana Shaukat Ali, Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar, Aga Khan, Syed Ameer Ali and Allama Iqbal are worth mentioning.   


Maulana Mohammed Ali at Masjid

On 21st March 1920, a delegation of three people reached the Shah Jahan Mosque under the leadership of Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar, accompanied by Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi and Syed Hussain. A large number of Muslims of Indian and British origin congregated in the Mosque, along with many non-Muslim men and women. The meeting was conducted outside due to there being less space in the Mosque and was headed by Professor H. M. Léon. In April 1920, Muhammad Sarwar Ali Khan of the princely state of Kurvi near Bhopal came here. In March 1924, the ambassador of Turkey and on the 8th of May 1937, Mirza Ali Soheli, the ambassador of Iran visited the Mosque.   


Begum Of Bhopal, 1925

In October 1925, the Begum of Bhopal visited the mosque during her tour of England and offered prayers. On 30 June 1935, Prince Amir Saud of Saudi Arabia, on 19 February 1939, the then Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and later King Faisal visited. Indian Muslims continued to come here and on 7 June 1931, the Nizam of Hyderabad’s sons Moazzam and Azam visited this mosque. 


This article was originally written in Hindi and has been translated by Mohammed Nabil. 

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Md Umar Ashraf

Md. Umar Ashraf is a Delhi based Researcher, who after pursuing a B.Tech (Civil Engineering) started to explore, and bring to the world, the less known historical accounts. Mr. Ashraf has been associated with the museums at Red Fort & National Library as a researcher. With a keen interest in Bihar and Muslim politics, Mr. Ashraf has brought out legacies of people like Hakim Kabeeruddin (in whose honour the government recently issued a stamp). Presently, he is pursuing a Masters from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, JMI & manages