Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Woking Muslim Mission and the First World War

History of Horsell Muslim burial ground
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History of the Horsell Common Muslim burial ground, founded 1915

See the List Entry of the Muslim Burial Ground on the website of Historic England.

1. There is a detailed research paper by Rachel Hasted, entitled Remembrance and Forgetting: The Muslim Burial Ground, Horsell Common, Woking and other Great War Memorials to the Indian Army in England, covering the history of the founding of this burial ground for Muslim soldiers of the First World War:

For the contribution of Maulana Sadr-ud-Din and the Woking Muslim Mission, see p. 10–12 and p. 17 (last paragraph) of this paper.

2. A book For King and Another Country by Shrabani Basu (published by Bloomsbury, India, 2015), in its chapter 11, headed Funerals, mentions the contribution of Maulana Sadr-ud-Din and quotes a long letter of complaint by him to the War office in London. An excerpt from this chapter was published in the Indian magazine The Caravan, and it can be read on the magazine’s website at this link.

For convenience of our readers we quote below from it the part relating to the work of Maulana Sadr-ud-Din.

[Begin quote]

Sadr-ud-Din had been requested by the government to bury the Muslim soldiers who died in the hospitals in England. When he consented to do this, the letter was sent to the Viceroy and much publicity given in India to the fact that Muslims would be buried with full religious rites by the Imam of the mosque. Initially the burial ground at Netley Hospital was offered to him, but the Maulvi felt that it was not right for Muslims to be buried in a Christian cemetery. It would also be inconvenient for visitors as they would need the permission of the War Office to visit the burial grounds. Furthermore, as there were six hospitals in the area, it would not be possible for him to go from Woking to the various hospitals to carry out the burials. He had therefore requested that the Muslim soldiers be buried in grounds near the mosque at Woking. It caused a great controversy but ultimately a plot of land was procured. However, the Maulvi, was not satisfied:

“I then asked the government whether they would not (1) rail in the cemetery (2) make paths in the ground (3) provide a gravedigger (4) provide a caretaker (5) provide some place where the bodies should be left for the night (6) provide a decent waiting room (7) erect a gateway in Eastern style – however inexpensive – as a Memorial to the fallen Indian soldiers.

At first the government blankly refused to do anything, and many months went past. I could not bury the dead soldiers in the marshy piece of unfenced ground over which people and dogs could stray. Therefore I buried twenty-five of them in the Mahomedan burial ground at Brookwook at my own expense. This is now full, and I have already buried three in the new burial place, but though it is fenced in, it is in such a disgraceful state that it would not be policy to allow the Indian soldiers to go and see the burial place of their comrades. They have frequently asked, but I have had to put them off because — being a loyal subject of His Majesty — I did not desire to raise the resentment which for king and another country must inevitably be felt when the truth becomes known of the manner in which the British government have treated their dead heroes.

I have had bodies sent to me bearing the wrong names, bodies sent without any flowers; bodies sent to me at any hour of the day or night without any previous notice, and no respect shown for them whatever — not even any military demonstration at their graves.

I desire to point out to the government the very grave danger of allowing the impression to gain ground in India that England is not showing sufficient respect to the memories of her Indian heroes.

I need not enlarge upon the very serious effect which an exposure of this kind would make, both among the soldiers at the front, and the entire population throughout India.”

The Maulvi’s scathing letter was not received well by Walter Lawrence, who was in charge of the welfare of Indian soldiers. Lawrence blamed Sadr-ud-Din for the problems.

The Maulvi’s letter nevertheless had the desired effect. Efforts were made to ensure that the bodies of the Muslim soldiers were taken to Woking from hospitals in Brighton, Bournemouth and Netley in a convoy, with the body in a hearse and forty to fifty mourners in lorries. The Assistant Quarter Master of the Muslim priest at Woking Mosque, D.R. Thaper, wrote that each death meant a whole day’s travel to London and back. Though Thaper was not a Muslim, he soon became proficient as an undertaker and the chief mourner. To make the Muslims feel that they had not been neglected, the souvenir on the Brighton Pavilion mentioned the fact that the Muslims were taken to Woking accompanied by a Muslim doctor and that the burial was conducted with full military funerals honours including a firing party. This was circulated in India for the satisfaction of those Muslims who may have been critical of the British government for fighting the Turks.

A letter written from Brighton in January 1916 described the funeral of a fellow Muslim soldier: ‘A fine coffin was provided on which his name and age were engraved. The inside was lined with silk cloth and cushions of silk. In our country doubtless only the greatest in the land are furnished with coffins of this sort. He was buried in a Muslim cemetery near London with great honour and dignity.’

[End quote]

This book is available in digital form. We have extracted from its digital edition the first three pages of chapter 11 and made them available as a pdf file at this link. It begins before the above extract and then follows the above extract till its end as given above.

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.