Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968
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Woking Muslim Mission and the First World War

Burial of Indian Muslim soldiers of the First World War in England

Urdu reports: (1) visit to hospital at Netley and War Office, and (2) the first burials at Brookwood, etc.
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Urdu reports by
Maulana Sadr-ud-Din

(1) his visit to Royal Victoria Hospital Netley and the War Office London

(2) the first burials at Brookwood, purchase of land at Horsell, and problems faced by wounded Indian soldiers

(Return to the place in the main article which refers to these reports.)

The first of these two reports was published in the Lahore Ahmadiyya periodical Paigham Sulh, in its issue of 29 November 1914. It is translated below:

Latest Letter from Maulana Sadr-ud-Din

The Braves of India

Brethren, assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.

This Thursday I received an official telegram calling me to come to Netley, which is on the south coast of England, in connection with issuing directions about the funeral and burial of Muslim soldiers. Following this instruction, I left home. On my way to the railway station I was twice overcome by such strong emotion that tears came into my eyes. The first time it was the thought that I was going in order to lay the foundation, with my own hands, of a cemetery for my own brethren. Due to the passing public, my tears stopped. Under cover of my handkerchief, I cried a little and suppressed my tears. Having walked further, I was again overcome and started shedding tears, saying to myself: O God of Islam, O God of Muhammad the Messenger of Allah, we even accept Your decree that our cemeteries should be in England, if such a habitation of the silent were to be a quiet means of propagating the message of Islam, and I am prepared to give my blood if the plant of Islam can be watered by my blood. Deep in these thoughts, I arrived at the Royal Victoria Hospital Netley after a long train journey.

I am grateful to the British authorities for the great trouble they took to welcome me and provide me with accommodation, etc. As soon as I arrived, I called our Hindu and Muslim soldiers, listened to their problems and expressed sympathy. As far as was possible, I enquired from each one individually his needs, and emphasized them to the officers. I emphasized their needs out of brotherly feelings for people of my nation and country; otherwise, the officers were themselves performing their duties with complete sympathy for them.

Colonel Lucas B.C. was the officer in charge, and under him were some forty to fifty officers of ranks colonel, lieutenant colonel, major and captain. At dinner in the officers’ mess, Col. Lucas and Col. Sharman introduced them all to me. After that we went to a circular, meeting room where we talked about political and religious matters. I presented the message of Islam, and they listened to it with attention and seriousness, even seeing their own religion brought under criticism, in a way that few other nations would do. They are broad-minded and listen to reason. They are Christians only in name and admit that they cannot understand its doctrines. What a pure and reasonable religion Islam is, that it is part of human nature. In religious conversations, people often say to us: What you are saying is what we really believe.

After this, Col. Lucas asked for my advice about the cemetery. He showed me the land which had almost been purchased for it, and asked me about setting up a cemetery on it, what form it should take and the rules which apply to it. However, I was having different ideas. I said to him: Before I give you guidance for the cemetery, funeral and burial rites, direction of graves etc., my advice is that you do not purchase this land. He asked me for the reasons. I said: firstly it is within a Christian cemetery, and access to it is also from there. There is no other access. It is not that the dead Muslims and Christians will be fighting each another, but this situation does not seem appropriate. Secondly, Muslims visiting London will not get the opportunity to come to their compatriots’ graves. If a famous Muslim were to be buried here, the coming of some Raja or Nawab to visit it will be greatly inconvenient, and he will regret the lack of foresight of the British authorities. But the most difficult part is: who will come here to conduct the funeral prayers? I cannot come here every day. If, however, the news reaches Muslims that the government has made allowances for all their needs, and given consideration to all the religious requirements, it will prove very beneficial for you.

He then asked: So what is the solution? I replied that it is very easy. A plot should be purchased near the Mosque in Woking. A cemetery can be established there immediately, and I will be responsible for conducting the funeral prayers. One colonel, who felt that there would be problems in making such critical arrangements elsewhere, and that it would be easier in Netley, spoke about this for a while. But Col. Lucas said: We consider the Maulvi’s proposal to be reasonable. All arrangements should be made at Woking. We will send the bodies there by motor car. There could be no better or more satisfactory system than this.

The next day he sent a colonel with me to London, and in my presence he cancelled the purchase of his proposed land by telephone. Before I explain to you why I and Colonel Sharman had to go to London, let me add that I also discussed with him the question of the Hindu deceased. I informed him of whatever I knew about this, and impressed upon him that a sacred gateway should be constructed at a very beautiful spot, and there should be a fine enclosure within which cremations could be carried out.

We then returned to the hospital. It is so extensive that a motor car is required to tour various parts of it. There he showed me the food stuffs kept for Hindus and Muslims. I was shown the fruit store room and all the fruit, the hunted flesh, meat, clothing, and kitchens. There were six staff to cook for the Muslims and serve them. There were also staff for the Hindus. However, no Brahmin had been found to cook for them. This was felt to be a great difficulty and the authorities were concerned and making efforts to procure a Brahmin. In short, all the officers were trying to resolve the difficulties of the Hindus and the Muslims. Col. Lucas, C.B., Col. Sharman and Major Hewitt are particularly deserving of thanks, in addition to the rest of the authorities who expressed their sympathy to me.

Colonel Sharman and I reached the War Office in London to talk to General Keogh [1] in person to have the final decision made for purchasing land in Woking. Here I may add a word about the graciousness of General Keogh. When he heard that Maulvi Sadr-ud-Din, Imam of the Woking Mosque, had come to see him, he stood up, seated me on the chair and stood in front of me, along with two subordinate officers. Our talk continued at length. After considering all the options, he decided that the cemetery must be in Woking. He said, however, that the permission of the Secretary of State was required, and instead of written correspondence the decision should be made today verbally. We went there and met the Secretary of the department who is General Barrow.[2] He too was just as gracious and courteous. However, he did not agree with me at first. I could see his position, because to construct a cemetery in England is not inexpensive, while at this time the government is bearing a very heavy expenditure, about one million Pounds daily. General Barrow has a very long experience of India and Muslims. He said: “The Muslim religion is very broad-minded and reasonable. We do not think it is necessary to have a cemetery. It is a matter of war. Wherever someone dies, let him be buried there.”

He asked me: “Maulvi sahib, if someone dies where there is no other human being, what happens about the funeral or arrangements for a cemetery?”

I replied: “Yes, if we suppose that England is in central Africa, or if a Muslim dies in the middle of the Atlantic, for those cases Islam does not make obligatory any rites, and does not insist that without funeral prayers and burial in a grave the deceased will not enter heaven. But it would be regrettable in England, the most civilized country of the world, where all the means are available and there is no excuse here. Nor is there a Muslim priest of a regiment here who can give you a fatwa, declaring the circumstances here to be an exigency. I think it would be a dangerous political mistake. As against this, arrangements for a cemetery in Woking will be advantageous for many reasons.”

These people are, after all, very perceptive. General Barrow sent a message to the honourable Mirza Abbas Ali Baig.[3] He came, and in collaboration with him a memorandum was drawn up on the basis of those reasons. General Barrow submitted this to the Secretary of State for India.

This was the limit of what could be done by human efforts. It was the most that I could do for my Muslim brothers out of sympathy for them, and in striving to obtain resources for them. Now the matter is in the hands of God. Islam teaches us that when the stage is reached at which all advice has been given and all means are ready, then we must avoid relying on anything other than God, and place our trust entirely in God. The Holy Prophet Muhammad has been told by Allah in the Quran: “Consult them in important matters, but when you have decided, put your trust in Allah” (3:159). That is, after taking advice from your followers and getting everything ready, do not regard your means and plans as the real way to success, but at that time place your trust in Allah Who is the real cause of success. Now the matter is in the hands of God, Who will decide as He wills. His decision will be the best for us.

Wassalam,

Humbly,

Sadr-ud-Din

27 October [1914]

(Penned by Bilal Nur Ahmad)


Translator’s Notes

[1] General Keogh was General Sir Alfred Keogh (d. 1936), a distinguished medical doctor in the British Army who served twice as Director General Army Medical Services. He was also Rector of Imperial College, London. For further information about his life see the Wikipedia entry and the Royal Army Medical Corps profile. At the time of his meeting with Maulana Sadr-ud-Din, he was Director-General of the War Office.

[2] This was General Sir Edmund Barrow (d. 1934). He had served in the army in India. At this time he was Military Secretary to the India Office. See Wikipedia entry.

[3] For more on Mirza Sir Abbas Ali Baig, see our webpage about his life.


Report on the first burials at Brookwood, purchase of land at Horsell, and problems of wounded Indian soldiers

This report was published in Paigham Sulh in its issue of 5 January 1915. It is translated below, with the omission of the last paragraph which is not relevant:

Brethren, assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.

I had reported in an earlier letter that I was trying to have a cemetery set up near the Mosque in Woking for Muslim soldiers. Although this is not a happy duty, but it is a source of great satisfaction and comfort for the wounded soldiers that their funeral and burial should be according to Islamic rules. So far there have been three funerals which have satisfied the hearts of our brave ones to know that funerals and burials have been taking place conducted by me. These three burials have taken place at a very large cemetery some distance from Woking, where there is a plot for Muslims. My visits there take two to three hours of my time, and my engagements do not allow me this much time. Therefore I have emphasized to the War Office that it is essential for the cemetery to be in Woking.

This has a great advantage for the government because the news will have a very good effect on the followers of Islam that their martyrs are buried close to the Mosque. At last today it has been finally decided that the cemetery should be in Woking, and the order has been issued for the purchase of the land by the side of the canal which I had recommended. Officials of the War Department have asked me if it would be convenient for me to come on Friday to mark the ground. Allah willing, I will take into consideration its sides, and after determining the direction of Makkah by using an accurate compass, I will give instructions for the digging of the foundations of the enclosing walls.

The second service I have rendered to my Indian brethren came about when I had occasion to visit them in a hospital for their support, and some Sikhs, upon seeing me, told me about their problems and complaints. I made the incharge colonel aware of these matters, and in the presence of our Sikh brethren I spoke at length in Urdu. However, the colonel, while accepting the complaints as justified, expressed his inability to do anything as he was not authorized to spend any more funds on them. Our brethren were satisfied by my mere effort, but I felt so restless that I went to London and proposed at the War Office that the problems faced by the Indians should be immediately resolved. Praise be to Allah that written orders were issued stating that the problems regarding food and drink should be alleviated without delay.

Our Lordship, i.e. Lord Headley, also expressed his regret when he heard about these problems, and made efforts of his own. One of our women Muslim converts, who has the title of Honourable Lady, was deeply worried on hearing these news. She went so far as to have the matter raised with the King through a friend. Today she has written to me to say that, through such and such a friend, the matter has been taken to the King, and the King, who is the Emperor of India, has given special instruction to that very officer to provide the necessary means for the convenience of the wounded Indians. …

Wassalam, 3 December 1914

Humbly,

Sadr-ud-Din, Imam of the Mosque

Penned by Bilal Nur Ahmad, from Woking, England.

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the successor of the Woking Muslim Mission.