|Biographical detail : ||Co-restorer of the Woking Mosque in Surrey outside London.
Northern Europe’s first purpose-built mosque, Shah Jahan Mosque, mirrors some of the complexities in the variable relationship that Britain and Muslim world have enjoyed in the same period.
Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey, was founded in 1889. It flourished for a decade, and then fell into decay.
The mosque’s founder was Gottieb Wilhelm Leitner, a linguistic prodigy. Born into a Jewish family in Hungary, he was brought up in Turkey and converted to Anglicanism in Britain. At 19 he was appointed a lecturer in Turkish, Arabic and Modern Greek; at 23 King’s College appointed him professor in Arabic and Muslim Law; at 24 he became the principal of Government College in Lahore.
He returned to Britain 17 years later to set up an educational centre where East could meet West. In 1883 the Oriental Institute opened its doors to teach Asian languages to Europeans who wished to travel East and European languages, culture and professions to Asians.
To accommodate the students’ religious needs and with funding from the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Begum Shah Jahan, ruler of Bhopal, construction began on the mosque.
When the mosque was opened it quickly became a centre for British Muslims and visiting Muslim diplomats and dignitaries. The Shah of Iran visited for prayers. After Leitner’s death in 1899 the mosque fell into disrepair. Shah Jahan Mosque was abandoned until 1912, when a prominent Indian lawyer, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, travelled from Lahore to London for a court case.
Having found the structure desolate and neglected, being used as a barn for animals, Khwaja Kamaluddin set up the Woking Muslim Mission & Literary Trust to restore the Mosque and re-establish its legacy as a beacon of multicultural learning.
Khwaja Kamaluddin was also joined by an English Muslim convert, Lord Headley al-Farooq, in setting up the mosque as a symbol of multicultural Britain where East continue to meet West in peace. Now Shah Jahan Mosque is protected as a listed building: attended by over 100 daily prayer sessions.