Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Statement of the last Imam of the Woking Muslm Mission — a refutation
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Statement of the last Imam of the Woking Muslm Mission

Refutation of a self-contradictory and misleading account

by Zahid Aziz

The article below was written by me and published in The Light — U.K. edition, April 2007. It is reproduced on this webpage in October 2019 with no revision, except that the original article, when quoting the Woking Mosque website’s opinion of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, took the text from their website of that time (www.wokingmosque.org.uk), here we take the text as on their present website (www.shahjahanmosque.org.uk).

A statement by Hafiz Bashir Ahmad Misri, the last and final Imam of the Woking Muslim Mission, entitled The Bane of Mirzaiyat (in some versions as The Bane of Qadianiat) written in March 1989, is found on anti-Ahmadiyya websites as well as being circulated on various Internet forums. The statement is in two parts. In the first part he describes his early life when he lived in Qadian in his parental household, from 1914 to about 1937, where his father was a leading religious scholar of the Qadiani Jama‘at. He recounts the events of the 1930s when his family, after challenging the Khalifa in connection with certain unsavoury events, was subjected to severe persecution and suffering by the leadership of the Qadiani Jama‘at. They were forced to leave Qadian, after which his father, Shaikh Abdur Rahman Misri, joined the Lahore Ahmad­iyya Movement. About himself B.A. Misri says that, shortly afterwards, he came into contact with a number of anti-Ahmadiyya ulama. Being impressed with them, he became, as he puts it, “a Muslim formally” through them in 1940.

Although B.A. Misri does not mention it, his father, Shaikh Abdur Rahman Misri, became a leading scholar and prolific writer of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement and remained so for the rest of his life, till his death in 1979.

We are not concerned with his account in this first part of his statement. What we wish to comment upon is the second part entitled The Imamate in Woking. This is quoted below. We have numbered the paragraphs in order to refer to various points within his statement in our later comments.

The Imamate in Woking

1. In 1964, I was appointed as the Imam of the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking, England. This appointment calls for some explanation for record. This mosque was built by an Orientalist, Dr. Leitner, in 1889 with funds from Muslims in India and, later, a Trust was formed to run it. That was the period when Mirzaiyat had not shown itself fully in its true colours and the Trust readily agreed to hand over the management of the mosque to the Lahori section of this Movement.

2. By nineteen-sixties quite a few Muslim Organizations had established themselves in the United Kingdom and the pressure started increasing for this Mosque to be reverted to its originally intended position of an Islamic Centre. I was approached by the Secretary and the Treasurer of the Trust to accept the Imamate. I made it clear to them that I was a Sunni Muslim and showed them copies of some published articles which I had written against Mirzaiyat. They told me that they were aware of my views and that they considered it as an asset. They also assured me that the High Commissioner of Pakistan, who was the ex-officio Chairman of the Trust and who would sign the letter of my appointment, had given his blessings.

3. After taking charge of the Mosque, it soon became obvious to me that I was being branded by the general Muslims as a Mirzai. For the last about three-quarters of a century there had been a successive line of Mirzai Imams. Muslims could not believe that all of a sudden a Sunni Imam would appear out of the blue. I found myself falling between two stools. My theological differences with both the Lahori and the Qadiani sections were irreconcilable; while the Muslims took it for granted that I must be a Mirzai, otherwise I would not have been appointed. It took me long to win over the trust of some Muslim religious leaders in the UK.

4. It had been my life-long ambition to tour the Islamic countries by car, so that I could travel even into the rural areas and study first-hand how they were transacting their religious affairs in practice. (This tour took me about three years covering 45,000 miles in more than 40 countries). Before leaving the Mosque, however, I wanted to make sure that this far-famed Mosque and the Islamic Centre remained in the Muslim hands permanently. There were only two or three Mirzai members on the Board of Trustees, but they were very active and wielded a great influence. They were leaving no stone unturned to bring back a Mirzai Imam after I had left.

After long discussions and consultations with my Muslim friends, I called a meeting of all the Muslim Organisations in the UK and Eire, on the 20th July 1968, at the East London Mosque. It was attended by more than a hundred delegates. I explained the situation to them that I was due to start on my tour by the end of the year and that Mirzais were trying their best to have their own Imam installed.

5. There was one very important legal point which was to prove helpful to us in the tug of war which ensued. According to a clause of the Trust Deed, the legal status of the Mirzais, from the very beginning, had been that of Tenants of the Trust which could be terminated. This clause had remained unnoticed by the Muslims until I pointed it out to them.

At this meeting, it was decided unanimously to form a ‘Woking Mosque Regeneration Committee’ which should take over the physical possession of the Mosque under protest, and appoint an ad hoc Muslim Imam after my departure. It further resolved that the Mosque Trust should be asked to expel all its Mirzai members on the Board and never to appoint a Mirzai Imam again. It was in these circumstances that, in November 1968, I handed over the Mosque to Mus­lims and left England on my tour.

Our comments

B.A. Misri’s account, 20 years after the events, is so full of contradictions and mis­statements that only the very bigoted anti-Ahmadiyya zealots can accept it as true. In our comments below, the numbering refers to paragraphs of the same number in the above statement.

1. “…a Trust was formed to run it. That was the period when Mirzaiyat had not shown itself fully in its true colours and the Trust readily agreed to hand over the management of the mosque to the Lahori section of this Movement.”

Whenever our opponents are faced with the undeniable historical fact that there have been many great Muslim leaders of the past who regarded Ahmadis not only as being Muslims but as being the most effective exponents of Islam, they trot out the absurd explanation that this Movement had not yet shown its “true colours”. The fact is that the opponents of the Movement, who claim to expose its true colours, have been broadcasting their allegations to the Muslim public right from 1891, when the Founder claimed to be the Promised Messiah. By 1913, no Indian Muslim in public life, such as those who initially formed the Woking Mosque Trust, could possibly be unaware of what our opponents call as our “true colours”. These first Mosque Trustees rejected our opponents’ false propaganda, which is why they felt no hesitation in letting Ahmadis establish a Muslim Mission at the Mosque.

Also, the “Lahori section” did not exist at the time in 1913. The Ahmadiyya Movement was one, which makes it more remarkable that the management of the mosque was handed to its members by Sunni and Shia Muslim leaders.

The website of the present-day management of the Woking Mosque does not mention any such story about how the Mission came to be run by Ahmadis. On the contrary, it speaks of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in the following glowing terms:

“In the beginning the mosque was mainly used by visiting dignitaries and notables from Muslim nations. It fell into disuse briefly between 1900 and 1912 when a visiting Indian lawyer, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, was so moved by the neglect of this beautiful mosque that he was inspired to establish an Islamic mission here.”

“Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was learned and charismatic and an inspired leader. He set up residence in the Imam’s house, established daily prayers in the mosque and with helpers brought from India, founded the Muslim Mission Woking to spread the message of Islam to the people of Great Britain.”

“The Woking Mission under the editorship of Khwaja Kamal-ud Din published a quarterly periodical called the Islamic Review, which was widely distributed, and highly respected, and was used not only to spread the message of Islam but also to inform and encourage the converts in their new religion.”

“One of the things that is impressive about this early movement, and for this the Khwaja must take the credit, was the simplicity of the message. It is evident that this is one of the things that were most influential in persuading converts to adopt Islam. He preached a message that was free of cultural baggage, a pure message based on faith and belief that encompassed the spirit of Islam. He was always positive, always gentle and always good-natured. It was obvious that he embodied many of the qualities that believers would expect in a man of faith;…”

“Within a few years, through the work of Kamal-ud-Din and his Muslim Mission, Islam had established a definite foothold within England.”

“…until the 1950’s Woking remained the pre-eminent centre of Islam in Great Britain.”

“There is a moving story that when Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din arrived with a friend in 1912, to find the mosque dirty and neglected. There was a Quran on its stand and he opened it at random. His eyes immediately alighted on the following ayat:

‘Most surely the first house appointed for men is the one at Bekka, blessed and a guidance for nations’, 3.95.

Bekka means place where people gather in multitudes. Immediately he made sajda with tears in his eyes and prayed: O Creator of Nations and All-Powerful God, Thou madest Mecca the holiest place in the East, and didst bring nations in multitudes to that city. Make this mosque, I pray Thee, in like manner the Mecca in the West”.

(See the Woking Mosque website www.shahjahanmosque.org.uk, section Heritage, articles: History of the Mosque, Part 2 and Part 3.)

This is a tribute by the present-day successors of those whom B.A. Misri considered as being the rightful groups to have charge of the Woking Mosque, and who owe their control over the Mosque today to the actions of B.A. Misri in 1968.

2. The account given in this paragraph is a riddle that makes no sense. Having been an opponent of the Ahmadiyya Movement since 1940, he says that he was offered the position of Imam of the Woking Mosque by Ahmadis in 1964. In response to this offer he informed them of his anti-Ahmadiyya views but they said that this did not matter, so he agreed to become Imam! The plain and simple question is: Why did he accept the post, given that he believed that the Mosque was run by Ahmadis whom he considers as heretics in Islam and as not really Muslims at all? Didn’t it strike him as bizarre that Ahmadis should be inviting him, an opponent of their Movement, to be Imam?

His further statement, that the ambassador of Pakistan in the U.K. was the official who approved the appointment of the Imam, gives a glimpse of the truth. The Woking Mission was run with the support of other Muslim leading figures from outside the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, who regarded this Movement as best qualified to do the work of the propagation and presentation of Islam. Before Indian independence, it was Muslim princely rulers, such as the Begum of Bhopal and the princes of Hyderabad Deccan, who supported the Ahmadiyya-run Woking Mission, and after indepen­dence this position went to the Pakistan High Commission (embassy) in London.

3. He writes: “After taking charge of the Mosque, … I was being branded by the general Muslims as a Mirzai.” This provides the real inkling into what actually happened. Mr B.A. Misri was perfectly happy to work as Imam of the Mosque and also as Joint Editor of The Islamic Review without objection to the religious outlook of the Woking Mission. For example, the October 1964 issue of The Islamic Review is possibly the first in which his name is given as Joint Editor. On the same page where he is thus mentioned, we find a quarter-page advertisement for the book Jesus in Heaven on Earth by Khwaja Nazir Ahmad, published by the same Woking Muslim Mission and obtainable from the same Woking Mosque. The thesis of this book regarding the birth and death of Jesus is absolutely heretical in the eyes of the anti-Ahmadiyya and even some other Muslims, inclu­ding in particular those groups to whom Mr Misri handed the Mosque. The belief that Jesus died and is buried in Kashmir is certainly the most charac­teristic belief associated with the Ahmadiyya Movement, and not only with the Lahore section, of course. Yet B.A. Misri was content to remain the Joint Editor of the magazine of the publishers of this book, even though he claims to have been opposed to the Ahmadiyya Movement since 1940 and writes: “my theological differences with both the Lahori and the Qadiani sections were irreconcilable”.

The same issue of The Islamic Review, as all other issues of this magazine, contained a list of books on Islam for sale on its back cover. The first book in this list is Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English transla­tion of the Quran. This issue, on page 39, contains a review of a book by Maulana Sadr-ud-Din, beginning with words: “The author is the head of the Lahore section of the Ahmadiyya movement”. Yet Mr Misri did not record any disagreement with this projection and advertisement of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement in the magazine.

Let us turn to some issues of The Islamic Review for 1968, the year when, according to his own account, Mr Misri was calling upon Muslims to take over the Woking Mosque from the Ahmadi unbelievers. In the April, July and August-September 1968 issues there is serialised an article by Maulana Muhammad Ali in three parts. In the April issue, on page 2, in the right-hand column, we see the name of Mr B.A. Misri as one of three editors. On the same page, in the left-hand column, under ‘Contributors’, the following is stated about Maulana Muhammad Ali:

“The late Muhammad Ali (d. 1951 C.E.), a Pakistani Muslim, was a profound scholar of the religious lore of Islam. He has to his credit the fact of being the first Muslim to have successfully attempted an English translation of the Holy Quran, with a copious commentary. His Religion of Islam (xxvii+784) is his magnum opus.

In this short note Maulana Muhammad Ali is called a “Muslim” twice, and his literary services to Islam are hailed. One wishes that at the nation-wide meeting of Muslims called by Mr Misri in London in July 1968 (see his paragraph 4) someone should have read out the above extract and asked him: “Why have you been serving for the past four years as Joint Editor of a magazine which even now describes the head of the Lahore Ahmadis as a great servant of Islam, a magazine which is going all over the world, while you have gathered us here to tell us that these people are heretics and unbelievers, from whom we must snatch the Woking Mosque with utmost urgency?” Is this not blatant hypocrisy?

When the common Mullahs arrived in England from Pakistan, following the large-scale immigra­tion of workers from Pakistan in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they found it most objectionable that the Woking Mission was run under Lahore Ahmadiyya influence, even though this Mission preached Islam on broad, non-sectarian lines, without reference to Ahmadiyya doctrines. They thus started agitating to wrest the Mosque from Ahmadi hands. As far as we can see, it was then that Mr Misri decided to throw in his lot with them. It seems that it was not sufficient for him merely to state before these protestors that he was not an Ahmadi. To prove that he was not an Ahmadi, he had to hand over the Mosque to them! Yet, bizarrely, even at that stage Mr Misri still considered it appropriate to remain Joint Editor of the Mission’s magazine which was praising Maulana Muhammad Ali’s services to Islam.

4. Here he writes: “Before leaving the Mosque however, I wanted to make sure that this far-famed Mosque and the Islamic Centre remained in the Muslim hands permanently.” As we see, sometimes the truth slips out from his pen. He admits that the Mosque was “far-famed”. But how did it become far-famed in the Muslim world when, according to him, from the very beginning it was being run by the heretical Ahmadis preaching a false picture of Islam? It became far-famed due to the great success of the Islamic propagation work done by mission since 1913 by Imams and other workers belonging to the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, which Mr Misri has implicitly admitted.

“Far-famed” may be the reason why Mr Misri accepted the post of Imam of the Woking Mosque in the first place. It was, in those days, a very prestigious position. The holder was, in effect, the head of the Muslim community in the U.K. The Imam met and welcomed high officials, heads of state, royalty, dignitaries and famous figures from all over the Muslim world. Some people (who were not Ahmadis) even called this Mosque as being like a Mecca in the West. Mr Misri must have weighed up the prestige of this post against the slur of being branded a “Mirzai”.

5. His statement that a committee was appointed “which should take over the physical possession of the Mosque under protest ” is a clear admission that they occupied the Mosque unlawfully by force. The so-called “very important legal point” was only argued later “in the tug of war which ensued”. It may be noted that the anti-Ahmadiyya groups believe that they are entitled to take any action whatsoever against the lives, properties and rights of Ahmadis as well as those whom they refer to as “Ahmadi sympathisers”, regardless of whether such actions contravene any legal or moral codes, or are even in breach of Islamic teachings themselves. They are convinced that this is a jihad that they are undertaking.

Perhaps our opponents, living in the West, should reflect over why today they have difficulty in convincing non-Muslims in these countries that they will abide by the law of the land in which they have come to live. In practice, time and again they incite the Muslim masses to take “direct action” on some so-called Islamic issue or other, which they declare as a jihad to be waged with disregard for any law, principle, moral or scruple.

Mr B.A. Misri died some years ago. Those who are publishing his statement in support of their anti-Ahmadiyya standpoint may care to reply to our comments.

A further note

After reproducing the article above, we may refer again to Mr B.A. Misri’s statement, in the paragraph numbered 2, that it was the High Commissioner of Pakistan (i.e., the Pakistan ambassador to the U.K.), “who was the ex-officio Chairman of the Trust”, who would sign the letter of his appointment as Imam of the Woking Mosque.

This means that the Lahore Ahmadi Imams of the Woking Mosque preceding B.A. Misri also had their appointments approved by the High Commissioner of Pakistan since the time this role was assigned to his office (which happened in October 1953). So the question for our opponents is: Why was this representative of the government of Pakistan appointing Lahore Ahmadi imams and tolerating the control of the Mission and Mosque by the Lahore Ahmadis?

B.A. Misri has stated above (in paragraph numbered as 1) that Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, even though he was an Ahmadi, was appointed as Imam of the Woking Mosque by the Mosque Trust because: “That was the period when Mirzaiyat had not shown itself fully in its true colours and the Trust readily agreed to hand over the management of the mosque to the Lahori section of this Movement.” If this is true then it seems that “Mirzaiyat had not shown itself fully in its true colours” even up to the beginning of the 1960s because the Woking Mosque Trust kept on appointing Imams from the Lahori section of the Ahmadiyya Movement!

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.