Eight fascinating items from the archives of Britain's first purpose-built mosque
- 19 November 2018
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The Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, England, is Britain’s first purpose-built mosque and a Grade I listed monument, the highest status a historic monument can be awarded in the country. Built in 1889, it announced this month that professional archives are being developed to preserve some of the important historic items in its possession. This article reveals a few of these gems.
1. MINUTES OF THE MUSLIM SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN
A precursor to so many of Britain’s Muslim organisations today, the Muslim Society of Great Britain used to meet regularly in Woking, and this book of minutes, which recorded their meetings from 1936 to 1955, shows several key decisions being made by its famous members.
2. EARLY COPIES OF THE ISLAMIC REVIEW
The Islamic Review was one of the first English-language Muslim journals in Europe. The very first edition was published at the Shah Jahan Mosque in February 1913 and continued right up to 1971. The journal addressed many of the pressing issues faced by Muslims across the world and had numerous famous contributors through the years, including Marmaduke Pickthall, renowned for his translation of the Quran, and Rowland Allanson-Winn, the 5th Baron Headley (better known as Lord Headley), one of the first British barons to convert to Islam. The mosque’s archives hold originals of editions dating all the way back to the 1920s.
3. ANTIQUE POSTCARDS OF THE MOSQUE
The Shah Jahan Mosque did not always look the way it does today, and one of the very few ways to appreciate the difference is by looking at the antique postcards in its archives, some of which date back to the early 1900s. The postcards reveal, for instance, that the mosque once had exposed brickwork instead of the white facade seen today.
4. RARE PHOTOS OF FAMOUS EARLY BRITISH MUSLIMS
In the Shah Jahan Mosque’s digital archives is a small collection of extremely rare photos of some of the early pioneers of Islam in Britain. These include black-and-white images of Lord Headley and Duse Muhamed Ali, the anti-colonialist black writer and editor of the African Times and Orient Review.
5. FORGOTTEN SHAHADAS
For a long time, the mosque was a hotbed of conversion, as many Brits declared the adoption of their new faith here. To record this, they completed a shahada form at the mosque, and a few of these have survived in physical and digital form. These can now be seen in the mosque’s archives and offer a fascinating glimpse of conversion in Britain across the years.
6. UNFULFILLED ARCHITECTURAL PLANS
Recently rediscovered architectural plans dating as far back as 1965 show the numerous unrealised proposed changes to the mosque’s structure through the years. These include attempts to introduce a large lecture theatre to the complex and radical alterations to the original mosque. The plans would have changed the Shah Jahan Mosque considerably, and although none were realised, the documents show what could have been.
7. RARE BOOKS BY THE MOSQUE’S ‘FOUNDER’
During its earliest period, the mosque was also home to a publishing house, The Woking Muslim Mission & Literary Trust. Some of the books published by the Trust have survived and are now in the mosque’s archives. These include titles such as Message of Islam and Table Talk, which were written by the Indian lawyer Khwaja Kamal ud-Din, who founded the publishing house.
8. SIGNED BIOGRAPHY OF THE LAST EMPRESS OF INDIA
Presented to the mosque in March 2016, the archives hold a rare signed copy of the official biography of the last Empress of India. Titled Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother, the book details the life of the late Queen Mother, the wife of King George VI and mother of the current Queen of England. The book is signed by the author, William Shawcross.
Tharik Hussain is a freelance travel writer, journalist and award-winning broadcaster who specialises in Muslim heritage and Muslim travel.
(Writing by Tharik Hussain; Editing by Seban Scaria email@example.com)
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