Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

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Brief History of the Woking Muslim Mission

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was born in 1870 in Lahore (British India at the time), and qualified as a lawyer during the 1890s. As a college student he came under the influence of Christian missionaries, who were working very actively among Muslims throughout the world at that time, and was considering converting to Christianity. However, before he took this step, he happened by chance to come across a book written by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908), containing powerful arguments in support of Islam and in refutation of opposing creeds. After Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din read this book, all his doubts about Islam were removed and he became entirely convinced of the truth of the religion of Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

In 1893 he joined the Ahmadiyya Movement and became a close associate of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, serving the Movement and the Founder in various leading capacities. Through Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s teaching and influence, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was inspired to become a successful lecturer, orator and missionary of Islam, who presented the truth and excellence of Islamic teachings powerfully before large multi-faith audiences in many countries of the world.

Goes to England and starts Woking Muslim Mission

In 1912 Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din came to England in connection with pleading a court case before the Privy Council (the highest court of appeal for India at the time). After the conclusion of the case, he stayed on to establish a Muslim mission in England with the object of presenting the true picture of Islam in this country and refuting the highly distorted and hideous image of Islam that was widely-prevalent in the West at the time. He thus abandoned his lucrative legal practice in India to serve Islam as a missionary.

A few years earlier, in 1889, a mosque along with a spacious residential house adjacent to it had been built in the town of Woking, about 30 miles south-west of London, in the county of Surrey, by one Dr. G. W. Leitner. The costs were largely met by financial help that Dr. Leitner received from Muslims in India, particularly the lady Muslim ruler of the state of Bhopal (Begum Shah Jahan) and the rulers of the state of Hyderabad Deccan.

Dr. Leitner had been Registrar at the University of Punjab in Lahore, and was intending to establish an Institute in Woking to be a centre in Europe for the study of Oriental languages, culture and history. He had built the mosque for the benefit of Muslim students who would come to study at his proposed Institute, and he also planned to build places of worship for other Indian religions. However, Dr. Leitner died in 1899, and none of his plans came to fruition except that the mosque and the residential house were left behind.

At this link read more about the life of Dr. Leitner.

When Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was starting his Muslim mission in 1913 in London, he learnt of the existence of this mosque at Woking. The mosque had only been used on a few occasions over the years and was usually deserted and neglected. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, after visiting the mosque, succeeded in getting it opened for use as a mosque. For this purpose, he sought the help of certain prominent Indian Muslims living in England and sympathetic British non-Muslims. A Trust was set up to manage the mosque and its property. The Trust appointed Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din as Imam of the Mosque and he took up residence in it in August 1913 (for more on how he settled in the Woking Mosque see this link).

We provide more information about the creation of this Trust at this link.

Without the initiative taken by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, the mosque and the residential house would have become the private property of the Leitner family who were intending to sell the entire premises for use as a factory. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din then established the Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust at the mosque.

At these links (1), (2), read about How Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din first opened the Woking Mosque.

Glorious work of the Woking Mission

The Woking mosque and mission was the centre of Islamic activity in England from 1913 to the mid-1960s. Although the mission was run by people connected with the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, it was supported by all other sections of the Muslims. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din regarded it as his main work to remove the deeply-entrentched misconceptions about Islam prevailing in the West and to refute the doctrines of the Christian church. To do such work in England, which was a staunchly Christian country at that time, and which ruled over Muslim lands including the country that the Khwaja came from, required the greatest courage and conviction. But the Khwaja had been inspired by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad with the firm belief that the truth of Islam, presented in its original purity, shall win over the hearts of the people of the West, despite all the deep prejudice and hatred against this noble faith.

Also in 1913 the Khwaja started a monthly journal, The Islamic Review, which for over 55 years was the main Islamic journal in the West. The Woking Mosque and Mission became world-famous, and many a Muslim dignitary visiting England paid a call there. In the pages of the Islamic Review from the year 1913 to about 1968 one can read about, and see photographs of, famous Muslim figures, including religious and political leaders, professionals from all walks of life, diplomats, writers, students, intellectuals, and leaders of business and industry, visiting the Woking Mosque and Mission.

People converting to Islam in England during the years 1913 to the mid-1960s generally did so through this mission. One of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s earliest converts was Lord Headley (1855-1935), who was not only a peer of the realm but a highly educated man, professional civil engineer and writer. Lord Headley did tremendous service to the cause of Islam after his conversion. Other very distinguised British men and women also embraced Islam at the hand of the Khwaja.

At this link read more about Lord Headley.

Lord Headley is buried in the old Muslim plot in the Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking. Some Muslim soldiers of the First World War, wounded at the Western front in Europe and brought over to England for recovery, were buried at Brookwood, following their funerals at the Woking mosque. Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Marmaduke Pickthall, both world-famous translators of the Quran into English, are also buried at Brookwood. Both had close association with the Woking Mission.

Non-sectarian presentation of Islam, but influenced by Ahmadiyya interpretation

The Islam which Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (and later imams) presented from Woking was the broad, common Islam that all Muslims believe in, and made no reference to promoting any particular sect or movement in Islam. The people that were converted to Islam did not become members of the Ahmadiyya Movement, but only Muslims (even as recognised by opponents of the Movement). However, the approach to the propagation of Islam taken by the Woking mission, as well the interpretations it presented of Islamic teachings, were entirely based on the Lahore Ahmadiyya outlook of Islam.

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din also wrote a large number of books on Islam and religion which were published from Woking. The Woking mission also promoted the books written by Maulana Muhammad Ali, head of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, such as his English translation of the Quran.

The end of the Woking Mission: dream of united Islam shattered by mainstream Muslim leaders

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din died in December 1932 and the mission continued along the same lines till the mid-1960s. It was headed by various imams sent from Lahore by the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement.

The situation then changed as Muslim workers migrated to England from Pakistan in large numbers. Soon after, the narrow-minded religious leaders also arrived and made their authority felt. They could not tolerate a Muslim Mission being run by Lahore Ahmadis. Immediately they started a campaign to wrest the mosque from “Ahmadi kafirs”, and succeeded in taking over the mosque and terminated the mission.

So long as the Muslims in England consisted of the educated and the professional (e.g. students, diplomats, writers, scholars, businessmen) and the British converts to Islam, they accepted the Lahore Ahmadis running this mission and preaching Islam. The moment the small-minded mullahs from Pakistan arrived in England, they brought the Woking Mission to an end.

Some books of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din have been reprinted by general Muslim publishers. They either do not know, or certainly do not want to tell people, that a man closely connected with Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote those books. Some Muslims have written short histories of Islam in England, with no mention of the Woking Mission (which was the centre of Islam in England for over 50 years). The religious leaders do not want Muslims to find out that such great work for Islam was done by followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as they seek to portary him as an enemy of Islam.

There is a well-known book Islam Our Choice, containing accounts of various converts to Islam, where they explain how and why they embraced Islam. It was compiled and published by the Woking Muslim Mission in 1961. Other Muslim publishers have published an “abridged” edition which is in general circulation today. It has been censored to delete from the converts’ accounts any mention they made of the Woking Mission, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, or the names of other Lahore Ahmadiyya missionaries. For further details, please see our webpage on the book ‘Islam Our Choice’.

Above text revised, March 2021.

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.