Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 January 2020

Time Frame: A visit to the first purpose-built mosque in Britain

In July 1968, the Ruler of Sharjah visited Britain's Shah Jahan Mosque, which opened in the improbable setting of suburban Woking in 1889.
Sheikh Khalid bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, with the Imam Misri, left, in front of the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking, Surrey.
Sheikh Khalid bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, with the Imam Misri, left, in front of the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking, Surrey.

When the Shah Jahan Mosque opened in the improbable setting of suburban Woking in 1889 it was the first purpose-built Muslim place of worship in Britain and possibly the first in Europe since the construction of the Mezquita in Cordoba in the eighth century, when the city was part of the Ummayad caliphate.

The story of its construction is equally unlikely. It was built by Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Hungarian of Jewish extraction who had settled in the area after travelling widely in the Muslim world, where he adopted the name Abdur Rasheed Sayyah, the last word meaning "traveller".

Dr Leitner, who was said to be fluent in 25 languages including Arabic, intended to found an "Oriental Institute", with a donation from Begum Shah Jahan, the nawab begum, or princely ruler, of Bophal.

It was Leitner's original intention to include a church, a Hindu temple and synagogue, but in the end, only the mosque was built. The architecture of the mosque was described at the time as "Indo-Saracenic" and compared favourably to the Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion, which also had an eastern design.

After Leitner's death in 1899, the institute closed and the mosque fell into disrepair until it was rescued in 1913 by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, a wealthy lawyer from Lahore.

Which brings us to this photograph, taken in July 1968 and marking the visit to Woking by Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah.

The mosque is now listed as a protected building. In the spirit of Dr Leitner, all visitors are welcome.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae

Updated: July 15, 2011 04:00 AM

SHARE

SHARE