Lord Headley embraces Islam, November 1913
It was on Sunday, 16th November 1913, that at a meeting of Muslims in a restaurant in Oxford Street, London, in the afternoon, Lord Headley declared that he had embraced Islam. Below we have compiled some details about his acceptance of Islam from contemporary publications.
(Note: Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s reports quoted below were written and published in Urdu, in the Ahmadiyya community newspapers Badr and Paigham Sulh. They have been translated into English here.)
Continuing the reports of his missionary activities which were published in the Ahmadiyya community newspapers, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din first mentioned contact between him and Lord Headley in two reports, from which we quote the relevant extracts below:
“There is a good news I must give, but on condition of prayer. This week a Lord belonging to a most exalted family has asked me to come and see him. A letter has been received from him saying that he reads The Islamic Review. I translate one sentence from his letter for the delight of all Muslims, whether Ahmadis or non-Ahmadis: ‘I have become in my heart a follower of that great Prophet. However, so far I do not accept Islam openly because …’. I have omitted here the reason but have sent it to the Hazrat [Maulana Nur-ud-Din], and also the signed card of this Lord. His reason appears to be minor. If God wills, it can be resolved in a minute. As he wishes to keep it confidential, I have not mentioned his name.”
(Badr, 2 October 1913, p. 2)
“I am very happy about the Lord. Correspondence continues. He read Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s lecture [i.e. the book The Teachings of Islam] and was wonder-struck. He wrote to me saying that this book presents such a lofty code for humanity that he does not consider himself worthy to be a Muslim. What a great understanding! We are Muslims but we do not have such feelings as his, even though we read the Quran everyday. …
The Lord is under a misconception, may God deliver him from it. He writes that he has started preaching Islam gradually within his family so that when he announces his acceptance of Islam he brings others with him. Unfortunately this is a self-delusion. But now is not the time, nor does my position in relation to his position, allow me to say to him that it is a delusion. Anyhow, he has started talking about this to his sisters in a mild way.”
(Badr, 6, 13, 20 November 1913, p. 4)
Unable to reveal his name publicly at the time of writing the above reports, the news was announced as follows in a block in large, bold lettering in the Urdu Ahmadiyya newspaper Badr:
“Congratulations, congratulations, yet more congratulations! A telegram from Khwaja sahib has been received here on 17th November conveying the good news that Lord Headley has announced his acceptance of Islam. May Allah make him steadfast and reward Khwaja sahib.”
(Badr, 6, 13, 20 November 1913, p. 2)
Public meeting in Lahore, addressed by Dr Muhammad Iqbal, congratulates Lord Headley and thanks Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din
Muslims throughout India were thrilled at this news, and in Lahore a public meeting of the general Muslim community was held on 23rd November at the Ahmadiyya centre known as Ahmadiyya Buildings, addressed by, among others, Dr Muhammad Iqbal, the famous poet-philosopher who later became Sir Muhammad Iqbal. Dr Iqbal said in his speech:
“The biggest cause of the decline of the Muslims is the neglect of the task of the propagation of Islam. Thank God that the man who first recognised this shortcoming is Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, who has sacrificed all worldly interests to take this great work upon himself. It is, therefore, our duty not to neglect to help him in any way, and we must not let the issue of Ahmadiyyat and non-Ahmadiyyat stand in the way of this noble work, for our God, our Prophet and our Scripture is the same.”
The first resolution, passed unanimously at the meeting, was moved by Dr Iqbal and was as follows:
“A telegram of congratulations should be sent on behalf of the Muslims of Lahore to the Right Honourable Lord Headley, through Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din of the Woking Mosque, England, on his acceptance of Islam. This resolution was passed unanimously by all present.”
The second resolution passed unanimously was as follows:
“This meeting of the Muslims of Lahore expresses its gratitude to Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din for his excellent efforts he is making for the service of Islam and passes its vote of confidence in him.”
(Paigham Sulh, 25 November 1913, p. 3)
Warm, brotherly relations between Lord Headley and Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din
The respect and warmth shown by Lord Headley to Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, and his passion for Islam, is apparent from his reports. In one he writes:
“It is hardly six weeks since I met him and he has written me 32 letters. There is constant correspondence. Four times I have been his guest and twice he has been my guest. He is not inexperienced. He is aged 68, educated, an author, prominent in England in his profession of engineering, a B.A. of Cambridge, and above all he is my warm friend.…
He was my guest yesterday, with his children. He wants to instil love for me in their hearts. He asks them to send me gifts, and gives them the money himself, laying down a foundation for the future. Yesterday his children brought me a selection of fruit. …
As to his zeal, I quote below from his letter of the day before yesterday:
‘I believe that not one drop of blood needs to be shed in order to give people the honour of accepting Islam. I am sure that the time is not far away when people, seeing its beauties, its simplicity and its world-wide attraction of truth, will join the fold of this religion of God in large numbers. It is my heart-felt desire also to see His Majesty King George V become a Muslim, and I wish to see all sincere persons of a pure nature in the British empire following the teachings of the Arabian Prophet.’ ”
(Paigham Sulh, 2 December 1913, p. 3)
And in the following report written on 13th November 1913 Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din relates:
“How great is the grace and mercy of God upon us! This week I fulfilled the long-cherished, heart-felt wish of Lord Headley that I spend a night at his house. What affection, what friendship, and what eagerness to serve! He set up my bedroom himself, lit the fire, made the bed. When I rose in the morning and was about to start prayer, he appeared in his night garments bringing me tea and grapes. Before I used the bathroom, he checked the hot and cold taps himself, in the manner of a servant. During the morning he said that it was a day of great blessing for him that I had stayed the night at his house. In brief, it is difficult to gauge the depth of his fervour and sincerity. He will shortly become an Islamic missionary. He said to me: You give the lecture and I will be the president of the meeting, so that as president I can publicly declare my acceptance of Islam.”
(Paigham Sulh, 4 December 1913, p. 4)
Acceptance of Islam reported in the British press
Reports of Lord Headley’s conversion to Islam appearing in the British press were reproduced in The Islamic Review, Woking, England, and the Review of Religions, Qadian, India. These are available on this website at the following links:
Below we give extracts from some of them.
The Daily Sketch (which merged later with the Daily Mail) reported:
“After a career which has included amateur boxing, civil engineering, the editing of a local newspaper, and expert advice of coast erosion, Lord Headley, an Irish Peer, aged 58, became a convert to Mohammedanism. The conversion was announced at a meeting of the Islamic Society, held at Frascati’s, Oxford Street, by the Rev. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, who is attached to the Mohammedan Mosque at Woking.” (17 November 1913).
The Manchester Guardian (forerunner of the present-day Guardian newspaper) reported:
“A gathering of Indian Mahometans, arranged by the Islamic Society, was held yesterday afternoon at Frascati’s Restaurant … The event of the afternoon was the announcement of the conversion of Lord Headley, an Irish peer. Mr Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, a barrister, who is understood to have left a lucrative practice in Lahore to act as an Islamic missionary in this country, complained that his work was greatly hindered by the slackness of his professing co-religionists, and upon the proposition of Mr. Sheldrake, a young English convert, the tables and chairs were cleared away, handkerchiefs were spread on the floor instead of praying mats, and Mr. [Kamal-] ud-Din led the assembly in prayer.” (17 November 1913)
(Note: Frascati’s Restaurant was a famous restaurant at 32 Oxford Street, London, and was destroyed in the Second World War. This link on website of the Jazz Age club provides some information about the history of this venue.)
The Pall Mall Gazette wrote:
“Lord Headley, whose adhesion to the faith of Islam is announced today, has long been in sympathy with Islamic teaching, and he would like to see it adopted in the Western world. ‘There is’, he says, ‘comfort and freedom from bigotry and intolerance in Islam which is, to my mind, the religion of gratitude, faith, and love, the religion of charity and peace’. … Lord Headley points out that the Christian religion had its origin in the East, and asks: How is it that we do not complain about the nationality of Christ, Who we must believe was a swarthy Asiatic?’ ”
The Pall Mall Gazette also wrote:
“While, in view of the large Oriental interests of the Empire, there is a certain fitness in having the Faith of Islam represented in the House of Lords, the actual conversion of a peer to the Mohammedan religion is an event rare enough to cause remark; and so Lord Headley is likely, for the next few days, to be a much-interviewed man. It says something for his broad-mindedness that he does not propose to sever his connection with the English Church. There are many in this country who have no room in their lives for one religion. The man who can find room for two is to be congratulated, both on his largeness of view and his adaptability to varying requirements.” (18 November 1913)
Lord Headley wrote a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette commenting on the above item as follows:
“Sir, In your issue of to-day’s date you have quite correctly and succinctly stated my views on the subject of the Muslim faith, but I observe that, under the heading “Notes of the Day,” the writer speaks of having the “Faith of Islam represented in the House of Lords.” Considering that more than half of his Majesty’s subjects are Mahommedans, this would, perhaps, be desirable, but I must point out that I am not a member of the House of Lords, and am not likely ever to seek election, so that the honour of championing the cause must be left to some other peer who will, I sincerely hope, come forward and admit that he has been touched by the simplicity and charity of Islam.
Your writer is also a little mistaken in supposing that I have two religions. I have only one — surrender and submission to God, and beneficence to all His creatures — for this is the meaning of the word “Islam.” It seems to me that Christ also taught this, which explains why it is impossible to be a good Mahommedan without also being a good Christian. — Faithfully yours, Headley. St. Margaret’s, Twickenham, November 17.”
(19 November 1913)
A reporter for the Manchester Dispatch came to interview Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din and wrote as follows:
“Following the announcement of Lord Headley’s conversion to Islam we may expect very soon to hear even more sensational news of conversions in high places, according to Mr. Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, B.A., LL.B., who is the man best in position to know.
Mr. Kamal-ud-Din landed in England thirteen months ago to convert as many Englishmen as he can to his faith. He is a remarkable personality. After a successful and lucrative career in India as a lawyer, he has constituted himself the emissary of Islam in these islands, has come here at his own expense, started a monthly review, and with three friends has taken charge of the Moslem Mosque at Woking.…
Mosque and house are on the outskirts of Woking, buried away in a strange old corner of parkland that is dark with conifers. Here, in a large bare room, Mr. Kamal-ud-Din received me and explained his hopes for the religious conquest of these islands.” (18th November)
Announcement in Court Circular
Lord Headley’s conversion was also noted in the official ‘Court Circular’ published in The Times. The Court Circular lists the engagements carried out by the Royal Family of the United Kingdom, with other social news of the aristocracy. Below is image of part of the Court Circular from The Times dated 17 November 1913, p. 11. See Column 2, paragraph 4 below.
The announcement above reads:
“At a meeting of the Islamic Society held in London on Saturday evening, it was announced that Lord Headley had become a convert to the Mahomedan faith. In a letter read at the meeting Lord Headley wrote, ‘Those who know me will believe I am perfectly sincere in my belief.’ ”
Starts work with Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din
In a letter dated 4th December 1913, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din writes to his mentor and guide in Qadian, Maulana Nur-ud-Din:
“However much I bow my head on the threshold of the One God, it would be too little. That time is approaching when Saif-ur-Rahman Rahmatullah Farooq Lord Headley will himself be a preacher and missionary of Islam in every sense.
Highly praising Islam openly in a public meeting, Lord Headley told Muslims:
‘Help in the great work which Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din has started. I myself will make efforts for the propagation of Islam, as far as I can. The day is near when I will see thousands of intelligent people becoming Muslims’.
I am sending you some cuttings from newspapers. These are a few only. The same reports have appeared in almost 80 newspapers. Glory be to God! God has changed the fortunes of Islam by granting us just one man. Whatever Lord Headley says, it is splashed in the newspapers the next day. People now want to listen to lectures on Islam. In some places lectures have been started. I will send press cuttings soon. Although they are being given by Europeans, they are favourable towards Islam. Sometimes there are honest errors in them due to lack of knowledge. It is of the utmost necessity that we should give other lectures, correcting these errors.
Last Friday there was a magnificent Friday prayer in Caxton Hall, London, led by myself, after which Lord Headley made a brief speech. After returning home, I said to Lord Headley:
‘Look, I say to you one thing — God has chosen you for a great work here. You cannot thank God sufficiently for that. You are the bashir (giver of good news) and nazir (warner) for your people. Your people will come to you, and not to me, to ask and learn about Islam. If you present before them a wrong picture of Islam, by your actions, your ways, your conduct, then it would be you, not me, who would be responsible before God.’
I said this on Friday evening when I was at his house. The next morning at 6 a.m. he came to my room and said:
‘Your words entered into my heart like electricity. Undoubtedly I shall be responsible before God if my people do not see the true picture of Islam. … What will happen when you go back to India? So it is best if you teach me the Holy Quran from beginning to end … and in the course of that also inform me about other Islamic issues. My house is at your service.’…
I replied that I was willing but my office is in Woking and I have to do the work of the magazine, on top of which I have to deal with much correspondence. So it has been decided that from Tuesday evening to Friday I stay at Lord Headley’s house. Then after Friday prayers, for which I am seeking to have a permanent location, I go to Woking in the evening and stay there till Tuesday mid-day.”
(Paigham Sulh, 6 January 1914, p. 4)
In a report dated 24 December 1913, in which Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din gives the news of the acceptance of Islam at his hand by the Russian husband of an Egyptian princess, and then their nikah which he conducted at Woking, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din writes:
“Lord Headley is utterly in love with Islam. On the day of the wedding of the princess he said to Mrs Fatima Ebrahim:
‘As Khwaja left his flourishing legal practice to serve Islam, I also intend to leave my engineering profession for the sake of the service of Islam’.
He spends six to seven hours every day propagating Islam by letter and correspondence.”
(Paigham Sulh, 13 January 1914, p. 3)
(Note: Our further research shows that the name of the princess was Saliha Hilmi (1878–1953), and her husband was Serge Yorketvitch who was a Russian diplomat from St. Petersburg.)
In a later report, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din writes about Lord Headley:
“His Lordship had his photo taken with me, which I am sending. You know that photos are used here to convey some message. He hopes that by this photo we can dispel Rudyard Kipling’s notion that ‘East is East and West and West and never the twain shall meet’, and show that the Prophet of Arabia has brought together the East and the West. With this in mind, this photograph has been taken of us together.”
(Paigham Sulh, 27 January 1914, p. 1)
That photograph, as it appeared in The Islamic Review in 1913, is displayed below: