Lord Headley: Life Sketch
The pride of place among Wokings converts goes to Lord Headley,
the 5th Baron of Headley (18551935), whose grave is situated
in the top row on the right hand edge in the old Muslim plot at
Brookwood. He announced his conversion to Islam at the hand of Khwaja
Kamal-ud-Din in November 1913. In those days, conversion to Islam meant incurring
the wrath and displeasure of family, friends and society, and in
the case of those belonging to the higher levels of society, like
Lord Headley, it meant losing the respect and reputation in which
you were held. Not caring for any such worldly loss, Lord Headley
boldly and openly proclaimed himself a Muslim and served the cause
of Islam till his death in 1935. He toured Muslim communities in
other countries in the company of his teacher Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din,
visiting South Africa in 1926, touring India in 1927-28, and performing
the hajj in 1923.
He wrote several booklets about Islam and numerous articles in
the monthly Islamic Review, the journal of the Woking Mission.
He worked hard on plans (which were never fulfilled) to build a
grand mosque in London itself. Land was obtained in West Kensington
(close to the famous Olympia exhibition centre), and in July 1937
even the foundation stone was laid by the heir to the Nizam of Hyderabad.
As a member of the aristocracy, Lord Headley mixed with the nobility
and royalty of England. He lost no opportunity to explain Islam
in those circles. At one after-dinner speech, attended by various
august persons, he spoke on the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
Obituary of Lord Headley from the Islamic
Review, September 1935 (pages 322325)
It is our most painful duty to record the death of the Right Honourable
Sir Rowland George Allanson Allanson-Winn, Baron Headley (Al-Haj
Shaikh Saifurrahman Rehmatullah El-Farooq), B.A., M.I.C.E.I., M.S.I.C.
(France), F.S.E., F.S.P., which occurred in London on 22nd June
Lord Headley was 80 years old, having been born in London in January
1855. He was educated at Westminster School, London, and Trinity
College, Cambridge, where he took tripos in Mathematics. He won
for his College both the heavy-weight and the middle-weight Championships.
After leaving College he engaged himself in educational work and
later became Editor of Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Winchester. He was Secretary to Sir Frederick Seager Hunt, M.P.,
for several years and ultimately in 1892 took up Civil Engineering
as a profession. He was engaged for many years in foreshore protection
work in Ireland and used the low groyne system and extending these
groynes into deep water by means of chains, cables and concrete
blocks. He superintended some coast defence works at Youghal and
Glenbergh and did similar work on the coast to the north of Bray
Harbour. The problem of coast erosion always interested him. At
Dover in 1899 he read a paper before the British Association on
the history of the Reclamation of Romney Marsh. In 1896 as Assistant
Engineer to Spedding & Co., Lord Headley came to India for the first
time and was responsible for the construction of the Baramula-Srinagar
Road which was 33 1/3 miles long and included 167 culverts and bridges.
He was twice awarded the Bessemer Premium of the Society of Engineers
as also the Silver Medals of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts
and of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland. Later he was
elected President of the Society of Engineers, London. He was twice
offered the throne of Albania and on both those occasions he refused
the offer. Lord Headley succeeded his cousin in 1913 and was the
fifth Baron and the 11th holder of the baronetcy of Nostell, Yorkshire
(created in 1660), and the fifth holder of the baronetcy of Little
Warsley, Essex (created in 1796). The Peerage dates back from 1797.
Lord Headley in his public life was always characterised by his
world-wide outlook, his shrewd intelligence and his sound judgment.
His deep sense of loyalty to the cause he espoused always brought
him to the front. He was dauntless in the face of opposition and
unflinching in the presentation of his selfless aims. He always
stuck to them with tenacity, courage and boldness.
It is, however, with the religious aspect of his life and his
services to the cause of Islam that we, of the Woking Muslim Mission,
are chiefly concerned. Brought up as a Protestant he also studied
Roman Catholicism and was struck by what he called their believe
this or be damned attitude. It is, he said on
one occasion, the intolerance of those professing the Christian
religion, which more than anything is responsible for my secession.
I was reared in the strict and narrow forms of the Low Church party.
Later, I lived in many Roman Catholic countries, including Ireland.
The intolerance of one sect of Christians towards other sects holding
some different form of the same faith, of which I witnessed many
instances, disgusted me.
On another occasion while explaining that he had been a Muslim
for over 20 years he remarked:
It is possible that some of my friends may imagine that
I have been influenced by Mohammedans; but it is not the case, for
my convictions are solely the outcome of many years of thought.
My actual conversations with educated Muslims on the subject of
religion only commenced a few weeks ago and need I say that I am
overjoyed to find that all my theories and conclusions are entirely
in accord with Islam? Even my friend Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din has never
tried to influence me in the slightest degree. He has been a veritable
living concordance, and has patiently explained and translated portions
of the Quran which did not appear quite clear to me and in this
respect he showed the true spirit of the Muslim missionary, which
is never to force or even to persuade.
Lord Headleys devotion to the cause of Islam was unique in many
respects. He neither spared any pains nor money in the service of
Islam. At the old age of 70, he undertook long journeys to Egypt,
South Africa, and India for the cause of Islam. He performed the Haj
in 1923 and in 1927 presided over the deliberations of the All-India
Tabligh Conference, which was held at Delhi. He was President of the
British Muslim Society, London, and Chairman of our Trust as well
as the Woking Mosque Trust. During his visit in 1928 to Hyderabad
he succeeded in raising funds for building a Mosque in London and
it is a matter of great regret that he was not granted the time to
see the fulfilment of his great plan.
Next to Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, Lord Headley was the one personality
who may rightly be described as the founder of the Woking Mission.
The names of the two are inseparable and the two looked upon each
other with genuine love and affection. A few minutes before he breathed
his last, Lord Headley scribbled a note for his son and heir and
Means permitting I should like to be buried with
my brother Khwaja.
These last lines which he ever wrote speak volumes of the bond of
love and affection which existed between the two missionaries of Islam
in the West.
It is difficult to write adequately of him who has gone. Our praise
seems trite and trivial, our most heartfelt tribute all unworthy
in face of the colossal fact of his immense and unique personality.
Lord Headleys death has left a gap which time alone can fill.
To say that he was popular would be belittling his character. He
was charming, gentle, kind, lovable a loving son, a loving
father, a loving husband and a loving but, above all, a sincere
friend. His was an extremely charitable nature, and God had gifted
him with virtues of the highest order.
Lord Headley was a God-fearing man, a true son of Islam. He has
left behind a fine tradition of selfless service, spotless character
and reputation, which the present generation and that to come are
not easily to forget. The whole of the Muslim world has mourned
the passing away of one of its most distinguished sons and condolence
meetings have been held from Japan to America, messages of sympathy
and condolences have reached us and glowing tributes have been paid
to the memory of the dead a wonderful recognition of his
services indeed, but would it make up the loss the Muslim Community
We mourn the death of a worthy son of Islam, a trusted and influential
champion of the Muslim cause. We, of the Woking Muslim Mission,
mourn the death of a fellow-worker of Islam. We grieve over the
loss of a valued and dear friend of a very long standing whose counsel
and advice we had always welcomed.
May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon his soul! Amen!
Lord Headleys sons letter to the
Imam of the Woking Mosque (published in the Islamic Review, September 1935, p. 353):
98 Portland Place, W. 1
July 3rd, 1935
My Dear Imam,
I am writing this letter to you in order to express my feelings
of gratitude to yourself and other members of the Woking Mosque
Staff for the great assistance that you have given me and my family
in connection with our recent sad bereavement.
Your personal, kind and sympathetic help was, I can only assure
you, greatly appreciated by us all. It gave me great pleasure to
realize that in Khwaja [Nazir] Ahmed there was present at my fathers
funeral, one of the sons of his greatest friend in the Muslim World,
the late Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, a man whom I always remember with
the greatest respect.
We all regret that we were unable to accept your invitation to
meet the Crown Prince of Arabia, but, as you will realize, we all
felt the need of quietness during that week-end.
With kindest regards,
Very sincerely yours
A note about the life of Lord Headley published in The Light (Lahore), 5 January 1928, at the time of his visit to India, contains the personal details given in his obituary above, but has the following extra information:
- Lord Headley was a direct descendant of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales.
- He was Editor of Salisbury and Winchester Journal in succession to Sir William Laird Clewes.
- He studied civil engineering under Professor Henry Robinson at King’s College, London.
- He was (or “is” as the note says) Fellow and past President of the Society of Civil Engineers of London.
- In 1923 “his lordship was offered the crown of Albania which he declined.”