Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Reports of ‘Id-ul-Adha at Woking, 4 August 1922
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Reports of ‘Id-ul-Adha at Woking,
4th August 1922

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din leads prayer and gives khutba

From The Islamic Review, October 1922

We present here reports relating to‘Id-ul-Adha at the Woking Mosque on Friday 4th August 1922, taken from The Islamic Review, October 1922. This is presented as an example of the celebration of such festivals at the Woking Mosque in the early years of the Woking Mission, to illustrate how these occasions were conducted and the kind of international Muslim dignitaries who graced them by their presence.

The photograph below shows the khutba being delivered in the grounds of the Woking Mosque (see this photograph in a larger size).

British Press coverage

In The Islamic Review, October 1922, on pages 409–413, British Press comments on this‘Id-ul-Adha celebration at the Woking Mosque are reprinted. We quote from these below.

The Times, August 5th:

About two hundred Mussulmans commemorated the festival of Eid-el-Azha Qurban Bairam at Woking yesterday. The feast celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham, venerated alike by Jews, Christians and Mussulmans. After the picturesque scene of the initial prayer on the lawn before the Mosque an impressive declaration of faith was made by Princess Hassan, an American by birth and an Egyptian by marriage.

Those present included the Imam (his Holiness the Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din), who addressed the gathering, Lord Headley (chief of the English Mussulmans), the Turkish Charge d’Affaires, the Persian Ambassador, the Persian Consul in London, His Highness the Amir-ul-Saltanat (of the Persian Royal Family), Sahibzada Aftab Ahmed Khan (member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India), and his brother Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed (Minister of Gwalior).

The day’s proceedings laid emphasis on the Biblical fact that the sacrifice made by Abraham called forth the Divine injunction forbidding human sacrifice.

Westminster Gazette, August 5th:

On a Surrey lawn, under the open sky, I had the unusual experience today of hearing an American woman solemnly declare her adherence to Islam.

She wore furs and carried an immense aigrette in her toque, had pearls about her neck, and held a vanity bag in her gloved hands. Beside her stood a big, imposing, bearded man in a dull white turban and a long, figured, buttonless coat of a colour too faded and indeterminate to be easily named. The woman repeated after him, firmly:

“I bear witness that there is no God or object of adoration but one God, Allah. I bear witness that Mahomet is the servant and messenger from Allah. I promise to be a good Muslim.”

The convert was Princess Hassan. Her husband was first cousin of the ex-Khedive Abbas Hilmi, and nephew of King Fuad, but she herself was born in California.

The card which admitted me to this ceremony was printed in gold type. Armed with this, I mingled with fezzes and turbans, and watched Muslims prostrate themselves on the lawn, their faces towards Mecca.

More nearly in front of them was a queer little building, garish in red brick, and yet more garish in certain Moorish embellishments which made the four chimney-pots look like minarets. To their right was a small white, domed structure, the only mosque in this country. Behind them, their noise frequently bringing the preacher to a pause, rattled the South Western expresses.

Three large carpets and some white tablecloths had been spread on the wet grass, and at the side of them was a line of boots and shoes which the worshippers had discarded. On these carpets were Muslims from all over the world. The black-bearded, handsome Afghan Minister and his suite were there in woolly fezzes.

The Turkish Charge d’Affaires, a smaller and more elderly figure in a red fez, arrived after the recital of prayers. The Persian Ambassador was there, and the two slim men in flowing black robes and white flannel hoods were members of the Riff delegation. Lord Headley was the plain English gentleman. Indian students were there, an Egyptian from Birmingham, men of various dark-skinned races in a variety of bright turbans, boys in gay raiment, and a few smiling negroes.

They came to the carpets at the bidding of a picturesque old man in an orange turban, who, with hands to his ears, had raised the monotonously plaintive call to prayer — the salat. An equally picturesque figure, on a clean straw mat, led the prayers, read from the Quran and preached the sermon. He was the Imam — the Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din of the gold-lettered invitation card.

There was a spice of politics in his sermon, blended with an exposition of the four attributes of Allah. “Allah is Rabb-ul-alameen,” he said, “the creator, maintainer, nourisher and evolver of all nations. Let those who are the rulers of the world follow him in this first attribute, and so secure the peace of the world without the mockery of Genoa and the hopelessness of the Hague Conference.”

Another observation was: “Today you call a nation bandits or cut-throats, and tomorrow you go and shake hands with them as gentlemen, simply to serve your political ends and to bring another nation to dust. That is not the way to restore peace on the earth of the Lord on High.”

To “walk humbly with the Lord” was the Imam’s prescription for the millennium.

When the service ended the worshippers rose to their feet and embraced one another fervently.

Woking News and Mail, August 11th:

Muslims from all countries in the world who are resident in England assembled at the Mosque, Woking, on Friday, to celebrate the Feast of Eid-ul-Azha Qurban Bairam, in commemoration of the sacrifice of Abraham, the great patriarch of the three religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the festival coinciding with the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca. The festival at Woking was attended by upwards of two hundred Muslims, many distinguished visitors being among them. A number were wearing native garb with turban and fez, the scene on the carpeted lawn at the call to prayer being a very picturesque one. Among the company were Lord Headley (President of the British Muslim Society), the Princes Aziz and Sadiq of Mangrol, Her Highness Princess Hassan, H.E. Sardar Abdul Hadi Khan (Afghan Minister) and suite, the Afghan Minister at Paris, H.E. Reshid Pasha (Turkish Charge d’Affaires), two members of the Riff delegation of the new Morocco Republic, one being a brother of Emir Abdul Karim, the Republican President, H.H. Amir-ul-Saltanat, a member of the Persian Royal Family, Sahibzada Aftab Ahmad (member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India), and his brother, Sahibzada Sultan Ahmad (Minister of Gwalior), Dr. Abdul Majid (Muslim Jurist in London), the Persian Ambassador and the Persian Consul in London.

There were representatives in attendance from Turkistan, Afghanistan, Russia, India, Malay Peninsula, Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Turkey, Switzerland, Egypt, Morocco, Tunis, America, France, and from South, East, West and North Africa, as well as many British converts to the Muslim faith, but the rainy weather undoubtedly kept away many who would have been present otherwise.

Following the call to prayer, which was conducted in the open air by the Imam of the Mosque, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, there was an interesting ceremony, in which Her Highness Princess Hassan declared her faith in Islam, and was admitted to the community. The Princess is an American lady by birth, but Egyptian by her marriage to a nephew of the former Khedive of Egypt.

The Imam, who is the author of the recent book, India in the Balance, and a leading authority in the Muslim world, being responsible for the inauguration of the Muslim mission in England, then delivered an eloquent address to the assembled Muslims of all races and colour.

In the course of his address the Imam said they met that day to revere Abraham in commemoration of the great sacrifice he found himself prepared to make at Mina, a place only seven miles distant from Mecca, where representatives from the whole Muslim world were assembling that day in connection with their pilgrimage to that Holy City. His was a great sacrifice — a sacrifice which must inspire every believer today to be ready to offer up to God what was most near and dear to them, be it wealth, or love, or life, in the cause of God, which, from the Muslim point of view, was the cause of humanity.

Had not all religions declared with varying emphasis and in different accents, but still declared, that man had been made after the image of God? So Jesus and Muhammad taught them, and the latter enjoined them to imbue themselves with divine attributes. He wished the world could accept this and make this its one and only religion, for mankind could then be guaranteed to be in the time to come free from the trouble that was all around them at the present day.

The opening chapter of the Quran disclosed the four attributes of Allah. He was Rabb-ul-alameen, the creator, maintainer, nourisher and evolver of all nations. In His providence He knew no difference between man and man, no distinction between race or colour, and no partiality for a creed or a class. His blessings are open to all and upon all. Let those, then, who were the rulers of the world follow Him in this and so secure the peace of the world without the mockery of Genoa and the hopelessness of the Hague Conference. Today they called a nation bandits or cut-throats, and tomorrow they shook hands with them as gentlemen, simply to serve their political ends and to bring another nation to dust. That was not the way to restore peace on the earth.

It was immaterial to a Muslim whether the Government of a nation belonged to A or B. It was like the sunshine, not confined for good to any place. But if a nation desired to secure the stability of her rule over other nations, then let that nation observe the great and divine moral of which he spoke. In that case the distinction of nationality would disappear, and the ruler, though of a different colour, would be one with his people.

They complained about the unrest in India with a sort of boredom not unmingled with disgust — but India was a country very rich in Nature’s gifts, a country of almost limitless resources, and yet it was a country where a very large number of the children of the soil were living on the verge of starvation, and where people were existing on a few shillings a month. He was in England in 1918, when the influenza epidemic was playing havoc throughout the whole world. It made its appearance in this country as well, and the then Government was given notice by the public to combat it. Every scientific means was resorted to, and the epidemic was stamped out with comparatively little loss of life. But had they ever thought of India? India within three months lost three million souls, equal to the number of all our casualties in the whole war. A ruler, if he sought to follow the attributes of God, should of his own beneficence take every measure, hygienic or sanitary, so that the good health of his people might be secured and maintained. The whole strife between capital and labour would come to an end if the employers would, so far as lay in their power in this respect, imitate their God.

At midday luncheon was provided, the fare consisting of native dishes in the form of pulao (rice cooked in meat), potato curry, kofta curry and jelly, and in the evening those who remained partook of tea.

Note: There are two more reports of this occasion from newspapers quoted in The Islamic Review (Evening Standard, August 4th, and Woking Herald, August 11th) which we omit to avoid repetition.

Woking Mission’s own report of the occasion

A report of this‘Id-ul-Adha written for the Mission by Rudolf Pickthall appears in The Islamic Review, October 1922, on pages 404–408. Its text is quoted below.


A MORNING of low grey clouds and drizzle, shiny roofs, dripping trees and sodden grass was not an inspiriting prospect for the Feast of Eid-ul-Azha — Qurban Bairam, celebrated at the Mosque, Woking, on Friday, August 4th.

Had the rain not ceased, and the clouds lifted, towards eleven o’clock, thus enabling the Prayers to be recited in the open air, the tiny Mosque would have been woefully inadequate for the needs of the occasion, and much of the dignity of the proceedings must necessarily have been sacrificed.

As it was, the numbers that attended, small though they were in comparison with former occasions, more favoured by the weather, taxed the limited accommodation of the Memorial House to the utmost during such time as the rain continued to fall. Happily the timely change in the forenoon proved sufficiently lasting to render the day, in spite of all drawbacks and disappointments, one of real pleasure and not a little profit.

For the stranger, whether devout Churchman or a seeker after faith, or even if he be a twentieth century post-war Gallio, stoutly professing to care for none of these things — well content with a cross between the perfunctory piety of the daily press and the theological finalities of Mr. Wells — there are two things in Islamic worship which can scarcely fail to impress, two characteristics which set it strangely apart from the idea of worship as conceived and as practised by its great militant rival.

Concerning the first — simplicity — I have already ventured to write in these columns; of the second — unity — I would suggest that it has, if possible, an even greater significance.

The conception of unity commends itself variously to various types of mind. The Catholic maintains the unity of his faith by the simple process of shutting out the non-Catholic, and the non-Catholic returns the compliment with zest.

Each from his own point of view — if he be sincere and not a mere ecclesiastical casuist — is, no doubt, justified. Sincerity is apt to be narrow-minded, and to such the formula, “This is right, therefore that must be wrong,” becomes irresistible, leading to the wholesale manufacture of heretics and souls self-doomed to perdition. I repeat, to a sincere man, and to such an one only, this condition of mind, if not to be commended, is at least logically justifiable, because it is born of conscience; but that it can ever in this world make for unity — other than such unity as that which the Holy Inquisition sought to establish in Spain and elsewhere — will hardly be suggested. At this present period of history there is no sign of it, but we have, on the other hand, the three hundred and forty odd sects and denominations recorded in Whitaker’s Almanac, with all that they imply.

The Primitive Methodist will shudder at the idea of the Mass, the Papist wax contemptuous at the mention of the Lord’s Supper. The Anglican priest denies any spiritual status whatever to the Baptist minister, and the Quaker will have no truck with either of them; Lutheran and Calvinist are, in each other’s eyes, as far apart as Hell and Heaven, and the Plymouth Brother is a law unto himself.

If it be argued that all this is inevitable after the turmoil of two thousand years, then it is but fair to turn to Islam with her thirteen hundred years of warfare, and see how she has fared. There were assembled at the Woking Mosque on this Friday of Eid-ul-Azha some two hundred Muslims, comprising representatives of practically every race in Europe, Asia and Africa; and not only of every race, but of each and every sect — or more properly speaking — school of thought in Islam, many of them, no doubt, accustomed themselves to lead the prayers on Fridays or at Festivals, yet all following the one Imam — as a matter of course.

It may be said that a similar phenomenon, or one at least in some respects analogous thereto, is not unknown in Christendom, when the Churches (that of Rome excepted), on occasions of national or other importance, hold what are termed special “united services.” But union is, alas, not always strength, and unanimity, as often as not, makes but a sorry cloak for compromise.

At such times, all denominations sink their differences for once in a way, as a special concession, as it were, to what, it is conceived, may be perhaps after all, the prejudices of the Deity they profess to worship. Yet even here the conduct of the united service must be very tactfully apportioned between the spiritual leaders of the proceedings — a minister of one denomination reading the lesson, of another offering prayer, of a third delivering an address, of a fourth giving out a hymn, and so on — lest any one of them, feeling “out of it” or otherwise aggrieved, should retire in dudgeon and the harmony be marred.

And it must be borne in mind that such demonstrations of Christian unity derive their importance solely from the fact that they are exceptional — which being so, any suggested analogy with the unity that signalizes Islamic prayer, falls to the ground. For in Islam this unity is not exceptional — it is a matter of course; the “two and seventy jarring sects” to which Fitzgerald’s Omar makes reference — leaving academic dispute to its appropriate time and place — are as one in the presence of God; and every Friday in every mosque throughout the Muslim world, such a united service takes place — as a matter of course.

For of “sects,” in the sense in which that word has become familiar to Christ’s Church militant here on earth, Islam knows nothing. The Holy Quran, the rock of its foundation, whereon it stands away and aloof from the murmur of the tides of scientific progress or Higher Criticism, permits of no two interpretations of any one of its essential truths; so that the schools of thought (or sects, as they have been erroneously termed) into which it must needs be that any society of human beings, however blessed in its inception, will in time, inevitably become divided, dispute among themselves concerning the lesser matters of the law only, because, with respect to the greater, there is no dispute.

The sermon of the Imam, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (and where will you find two hundred Christians representing all denominations assembled together on a Sunday or day of festival to hear, let us say, the Bishop of London — as a matter of course ?) had for its subject the religion of Abraham and the religion of the Muslim. The learned preacher, with forceful eloquence and an admirable lucidity, presented to his hearers the guiding principle of the Faith of the Patriarch, and of the Faith of Islam in its simplest form, to wit, that it is the duty of man to strive in all things to obey the behest of his Maker, and humbly to seek to imitate the example of the Highest as He has revealed it in His creation; and deplored the fact that it is because the rulers of this world have failed in this, that wars and rumours of wars, social upheavals and abortive conferences have continued and continue.

We, in England, have a kind of convention whereby religion and politics are considered to be better apart; and indeed, where politics, as is generally the case, is another name for ambition, and religion, as not infrequently happens, a worldly profession, like any other, it is best that they should be kept strictly separate, if only because of their sinister resemblance.

But where religion stands for man’s duty to God, and politics stands, as it should, as an essential portion of his duty to his fellow-man, it is impossible for them to be separated. Religion divorced from the things of this world loses at once its raison d’etre, and if this be true of the individual, shall it not be true of the nation ?

The rain holding off, luncheon was partaken of on the lawn at one o’clock, and in view of the eleventh-hour change of plan thereby involved, the indefatigable staff of the Mission merit unstinted praise for the admirable manner in which it was served.

The congregation in the afternoon was appreciably smaller, for the reason that, the day being Friday, many were compelled to return to business and other engagements; but the audience that gathered to listen to the Imam’s lecture was a singularly attentive one, and his thoughtful exposition on the Muslim conception of prayer suggested what must have been, to most of the non-Muslims present, an entirely novel point of view.

Tea appeared at 4.30, and with its disappearance a memorable day drew to its close — a day rendered the more enjoyable, perhaps, by the thought of what might have been had the weather not so opportunely cleared.


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