Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Dr Ashiq Husain Batalvi on the Woking Muslim Mission
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The Woking Muslim Mission

by Dr. Ashiq Husain Batalvi

Note: Dr Ashiq Husain Batalvi was a well known author, journalist and biographer. He obtained his doctorate from the famous School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. He was very active in the Muslim League and devoted his early life to the struggle for Muslim independence in pre-partition India. He worked with the Founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the later years of the efforts for the creation of Pakistan. For many years he was the permanent correspondent of the famous Pakistan newspaper ‘Dawn’ in England.

In a chapter in his Urdu book Chand Yadain, Chand Tasirat (‘Some Memories, Some Impressions’), he has given an accurate description of the history and work of the Woking Muslim Mission as well as his opinion and estimation of its work. This was written in 1963, fifty years after the founding of the Mission. The extract below is translated from this book, published in Lahore in 1992 by Sang-i Meel Publications (this book was also published earlier in 1969 by A’inah Adab in Lahore).

The name of the Woking Muslim Mission has reached more or less every part of the world. It has done so much work of propagation of Islam in Europe as no other organization has probably done. Woking is a pretty town 25 miles from London. From Woking railway station, the mosque is situated at a walk of about 15 to 20 minutes and is set in a green plot of two acres. Its green dome is visible from afar. Inside there is a carpet on the floor. Above the mihrab, directly in front, are affixed inscriptions bearing verses of the Quran, and the minbar is close to it. Adjacent to the mosque is a spacious house where the Imam resides. It is this mosque which, for the past half a century, has been the centre of the propagation activities of a Muslim mission.

It seems pertinent to explain first how this mosque came to be built on British soil and who was its founder. The interesting history of the Woking mosque is that the name of the man who built it was Dr Leitner, who at one time was employed at the University of the Punjab [Lahore, present-day Pakistan]. Upon relinquishing his post and returning to England he came up with a plan to establish an institute for the dissemination of Islamic culture. For this purpose he applied to the ruler of Bhopal, the lady Shah Jehan Begum, for financial assistance, and she gave him a substantial sum of money. With this money, Dr Leitner purchased this two acre plot of land in Woking and built the mosque in 1889. The ruler of the state of Hyderabad, Salar Jung, also gave him financial help, with which the residential house was built.

Dr Leitner died before he could complete his plan and this property came into the hands of his son, who had little interest in his father’s project. Gradually the mosque became entirely derelict. Now look at this fortunate coincidence that in 1912 the late Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din came to England. He was a highly successful lawyer in Lahore, but he had a boundless love for Islam. Leaving his practice, he devoted his life for the propagation of Islam and came to England for this purpose.

That was the time when the British nation was at the peak of its world rule. Its empire was spread east and west, and it was said that the sun never sets on the British empire. Muslims everywhere were subjugated  and dominated, and this subservience and servitude had created in them extreme feelings of inferiority. When the Khwaja sahib decided to propagate Islam in England, many people advised him that he was destroying his legal career for no reason because the British had no inclination for Islam, and if they were interested why should they accept the religion of a subject people whom they were ruling over? But these disheartening comments did not weaken the Khwaja sahib’s resolve.

After coming to London, he initially settled in the Richmond area and began to preach the message of Islam by speech and writing. For this purpose he also started his famous magazine Islamic Review. However, he required a place which he could make the permanent centre of his activities. At this stage he learnt about the existence of the Woking mosque and that this house of God was lying deserted. The Khwaja sahib went to Woking and took possession of the mosque. The heirs of Dr Leitner attempted to evict him from there but the Khwaja sahib told them that according to Islam a place once designated as a mosque remains forever a mosque, and no person can prevent Muslims from praying in it. In this connection he was helped greatly by the late Mirza Sir Abbas Ali Baig who in those days was a member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India. The result was that the mosque came into the control of the Khwaja sahib.

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was a lawyer. So he created a Trust for the guardianship of the mosque which initially had three members: (1) the Rt. Hon. Sayyid Ameer Ali who was a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, (2) Mirza Sir Abbas Ali Baig, and (3) Sir Thomas Arnold who had been Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s teacher in Government College Lahore. This Trust appointed the Khwaja sahib as Imam. Since that time the Woking Mosque has been the biggest centre of the propagation of Islam in England.

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din faced great difficulties at first. There were many strange stories and unfounded myths about Islam prevailing in the country. To remove this barrier of prejudice and ignorance was not an easy task. But the Khwaja sahib possessed an extraordinary mind and heart. He was extremely intelligent and hard working. He had enviable command of both writing and speech. Above all, he had the most perfect conviction in the truth of Islam, and it was this that sustained his courage. Consequently, in his own lifetime he saw this Mission make tremendous progress.

He wrote some twenty books on Islam in English. Through his efforts the English translation of the Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali of Lahore was published from Woking in 1917. This was undoubtedly a great achievement because before that no Muslim in the world had translated the Divine Word into English. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din died in Lahore on 28 December 1932. Before his death he made over his property, including his writings and the magazine Islamic Review, to the Woking Mission.

Apart from the Khwaja sahib, other people who have served as Imams of the Woking mosque from time to time included Maulana Sadr-ud-Din, Maulana Muhammad Yaqub Khan, Maulana Abdul Majeed, Maulvi Mustafa Khan, Dr Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah and Maulvi Aftab-ud-Din Ahmad, whose good names deserve great honour and respect. Except for the late Maulvi Aftab-ud-Din Ahmad, I have personally known all these gentlemen. In fact, the first three mentioned above were my teachers during my days as a student.

To realize the importance of the activities of the Woking Mission it is necessary to review the past fifty years, during which the workers of the Mission have rendered the most valuable service to the cause of Islam in Europe. Leaving aside the other countless writings and publications produced by the Mission, just the issues of the Islamic Review are testimony to that service. There cannot be any aspect of Islamic teachings, history, civilization, culture, traditions and social life on which there have not appeared scholarly and learned articles in this journal. This magazine is read all over the world and it has undoubtedly done great work in presenting the true picture of Islam.

Besides propagation work, the Woking Mission has become the centre for the gatherings of those hundreds of thousands of Muslims who live in Britain. They include Muslims of every country from Morocco to China. On ‘Id occasions, the scene at Woking is worthy of view. There are Muslims gathered from Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Malaya, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Arabia, Nigeria, Algeria, in short, every race, colour and nation. There are also many British converts to Islam who take part. In this international gathering, despite the differences of language, dress, colour and custom, there runs a tremendous wave of brotherhood that removes the difference between east and west, and black and white, and binds all Muslims together as members of one community. The ‘Id prayers are held in a very large marquee and after the prayers lunch is served there, which is provided as hospitality by the Mission. We are all guests of the Woking Mission on ‘Id day.

What has impressed me most is that the Woking Mission is doing the service of Islam while remaining entirely away from sectarianism, and indeed above it. I have seen in the last ten years that the ‘Id prayers are led by different Imams [of different sects]. They include the Iranian Shia religious leader, the ambassador of Indonesia, the famous British convert to Islam Dr Cowan and Dr Abdul Aziz Khulusi of Iraq.

There is a Muslim Society established under the auspices of the Mission. Its head office is in the area of Victoria in central London, where there are very interesting gatherings every week, in which people of all beliefs and views participate. Usually someone gives a talk on a religious, social, academic or literary issue concerning the Muslims, and this is followed by a reasoned discussion.

The Imam of the Woking mosque is especially busy. Many societies and organisations in Britain hold meetings at which representatives of different faiths are invited to speak. Most often the Imam of Woking has the honour to represent Islam at these functions.

Today, by the efforts of the Muslims, there are mosques in other cities in Britain as well. In England there is not the same unawareness, ignorance and prejudice regarding Islam that existed half a century ago. Despite that, there is no decline in the pivotal position of Woking, and today too Woking is the chief centre of the renaissance of Islam in Britain.


— Source: Chand Yadain, Chand Tasirat, 1992 edition, pages 465–469.
This website is created and published by the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore (U.K.), Wembley, London,
the successor of the Woking Muslim Mission.