Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s report of his second visit to the Woking Mosque
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Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s report of his second visit to the Woking Mosque

Gives his first Friday khutba at Mosque

Encounters Abdul Baha, head of Bahai religion

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din sent the following report of a function held at the Woking Mosque, at which he had been invited to lead the Friday prayers. This, we think, was his second visit to the mosque and evidence shows it was on Friday 17th January, 1913. It appears from other sources that the function was hosted by Mr Henry Leitner, son of Dr G.W. Leitner. His report is entitled Opening of the Woking Mosque.

In my last letter I wrote an account of my visit to Woking and saying the isha prayers there. This week God the Most High enabled me to say well-attended Friday prayers there. I wrote in my last letter that the founder of this mosque was Dr. Leitner, who had built the Punjab University and Oriental College in the Punjab. When he left Punjab, he collected much funds from Punjab and India generally under the name of the mosque. Only Allah knows how much funds were collected and where they were spent. He did build at Woking, which is a town thirty miles from London, a fine oriental-style residential house containing some memorabilia from the East. About a hundred yards from the house is a small mosque in grounds of a few acres and a guest house named the Sir Salar Jung Memorial House. The courtyard of the mosque contains a fountain of Eastern style. The mosque has a dome, on top of which is affixed a golden crescent. The mosque is probably five to six yards square internally, in which there could be a gathering of perhaps forty people.

On Tuesday of last week we went to the funeral of a young Muslim and discovered there that this Friday the Head of the Babi religion, Abdul Baha, will come to Woking with his followers and the opening of the mosque will also take place. [note 1] To my knowledge, the Babi religion is not a sect of Islam but a separate religion. I was deeply saddened at this combination of the Head of the Babi religion and the opening of an Islamic mosque. At the funeral some Muslim friends were present. Anyhow, at the invitation of the Secretary of the Anjuman Islam the young Muslims of London were invited to Woking at 12 midday. The invitation card stated that the Jumu‘a prayer would be held and led by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din.

You are aware that whatever reform we manage to bring about in the religious condition of the people of Europe, that is yet to be seen, but the condition of our own people is bad enough. The young Muslims here have very little to do with Islam. The first thing I did after arriving in England was to gather them together by means of Jumu‘a prayers. As a result of the efforts of a few months, there is a sizeable gathering for Jumu‘a. When we went to Woking on Friday there were some twenty Muslim students with us. Muhammad Husain, a young man from Amritsar, gave the adhan in such a loud volume that it drew the attention of the neighbourhood. Having performed the wudu we went into the Divine presence, and before the khutba Shaikh Muhammad Husain again gave the adhan loudly. I delivered the khutba on the verse: “Certainly the first house appointed for men is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for the nations” (3:96). I then gave an exposition of the prayer of Abraham and showed that the prophecies indicated in his prayer were fulfilled in their letter and intent. The khutba was, as usual, in English. At the end of the khutba I became full of anguish and after rising for the second part of the khutba I addressed my young congregation as follows:

“My dears, this is your mosque. After the death of its builder it remained locked in the hands of non-Muslims for long. Today it is in your hands. But what is the difference between its past and present conditions if no one prays in it? Why are you happy today if no Muslim will come here to take the name of God? If it is again going to be locked, why are we celebrating today? Take heed of your responsibilities. Having come to Europe, why don’t you acquire the good qualities of the Europeans? They are a people devoted to their national identities. For God’s sake, think: you are Muslims who take the name of Muhammad (peace be upon him). You should have some communal identity as well. Why don’t you take up an Islamic identity as they have taken up a European identities? You shout and cry about nationalism, but to create a nation you need some identity. Do you not believe Muhammad, peace be upon him, to be the prophet and messenger of God or not? Do you not believe that whatever he did in his life was in obedience to the commands of God? Among the identifying features of Islam one he appointed for us is prayer. This is soundly based on the Quran. The Holy Prophet acted on this all his life. You people say that the benefits of prayer were required by the people of that time. I am not discussing here the benefits of prayer. This is not the time, otherwise I would have shown you that it is not by means of the sword, cannon or battle, but by means of developing certain good qualities and character that man comes to rule over countries and hold sway over nations. And I would also have shown the indissoluble link that exists between creating those qualities and character and the basic teachings of Islam, one of which is prayer. But I give you a simple way of deciding. You call yourselves Muslims and are the followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Did he prescribe prayer as a fundamental of Islam or not? If prayer is not necessary then you may give up prayer, but then also give up Islam. If by nationalism your aim is only to seek worldly betterment then you may as well become members of some other nation, such as Christians. In their case the belief in atonement has relieved them to a great extent from such religious obligations. You being Christian and the government also being Christian would make a good nation, so why are you bothering with Islam? But if you want to remain Muslims then why are you shy of prayer? Remember, you probably do not realize how deep an impression the maintenance of the Jumu‘a prayer will make upon the people of Europe, who are devoted to the idea of communal identities.

I have another request for you. If religion is indeed obsession and fanaticism, why don’t you rescue me from this obsession? I am a reasonable man. I have so far spent more than two thousand Rupees, and if I remain here another year I will need several thousands of Rupees. My family depends on me and they have expenses. I have abandoned my flourishing legal practice, which in the eyes of a worldly person is a great loss. I have no worldly aim here. If you consider religion to be an obsession then why don’t you save me from losing thousands of Rupees? I am your Muslim brother, so help me, and if you prove to me that I am needlessly wasting my time and money, I will go away. But if it is really a noble work, as some of you have said to me, then why don’t you become noble as well? Come and work with me and help me. I am not asking you to help me with money, but just come and join me for Jumu‘a prayer and if there are any future meetings then increase their attendance. Come, bring others, and advise me how to do my work. I am all alone and I need advice as I am unfamiliar with the ways of this country. I am ready to spend time and money and to sacrifice personal comforts. Are you not able to help me with advice and guidance? Today, in this house of God, the first house of God built in this country, I have conveyed to you my message before God with great pain, whether you accept it or not.”

This was the last part of the khutba. After this I led the prayer and recited the Quran in the loudest possible voice.

I have forgotten to write that as I was standing delivering the khutba Abdul Baha arrived with a few friends in a motor car and stood at the gate of the mosque, some fifty yards from me. He saw us, stood there for a few minutes and then went towards the guest house. He is after all the son of a Muslim, and used to be a Muslim and knows what the Jumu‘a prayer is. After finishing the prayer, when we went to the guest house, we found Abdul Baha seated at a table with his food. Our eating arrangements were in the same room. When they finished and emerged from the room, Abdul Baha extended his hand towards me and greeted me. After a formal exchange of words, I said to him: You came here in connection with the opening of the mosque and today was Friday. Why didn’t you join the prayer? Being familiar with worldly expediency, he replied: The prayer time came when we were still at home, so we performed this duty there. I said: Yes, but now the time for asr is approaching.[note 2] He would have to join in it. He had no choice but to answer in the affirmative.

Anyhow, we entered the dining room, and as I emerged after the meal Abdul Baha approached me and began to walk with me, taking me to the mosque while talking to me. Finding the mosque empty he immediately entered it, called out the takbir and pointed me to lead the prayer. If he had said his prayer at that time no one else would have known what happened in the mosque. I said to him that there were many Muslims who had yet to pray and he should wait till the congregation was ready. He was about to say something when I went outside and called everyone to come inside. Immediately I had the adhan called loudly for the asr prayers. People started to gather. Meanwhile Abdul Baha had started praying and performed the prayer in the manner of Sunni Muslims. While the adhan was being called out he finished his prayer. However, when the adhan came to an end he said loudly La ilaha illallah Muhammad-ur Rasulullah like Muslims. Then we stood for prayers, which I led. Abdul Baha joined us in the congregation and two Europeans who were with him, probably Bahais, also joined. Others just watched. His Persian companions, including Hakim Mahmud, also joined the prayer.

After the prayer Abdul Baha stood outside at the threshold of the mosque and some forty people were present in the courtyard to listen to him, including ourselves and some other Muslim students who had not been able to come in time for the Jumu‘a prayer. The gist of Abdul Baha’s speech was that the basis of religion is harmony and love, and it was the mission of every prophet to spread harmony and love in mankind. This was also the real mission of Moses, Jesus and the Holy Prophet Muhammad. In past times there was much discord and ignorance. Now Bahaullah had brought light and his mission was to teach love, harmony and brotherhood. The reason for man’s existence is to show humanity and love, so we must adhere to love and brotherhood.

There was a Persian interpreter with him who translated each sentence into English. No doubt the speech was well constructed but it was certainly not impromptu.

Anyhow, after asr, having listened to this speech, we went to the railway station and reached home safely.

Badr, 20 March 1913, pages 9–11.

Notes by Website Editor

Note 1. Abdul Baha, original name Abbas Effendi, 1844–1921, was son of Bahaullah and his successor as head of the Babi or Bahai religion. During 1911 to 1913 he went on a tour of Europe and America, in which time this visit to Woking took place.

Note 2. As it was the month of January, the asr prayer would be shortly after the Jumu‘a prayers at about 2.00 p.m.

News in the Woking local Press

In January 2003 a news item appeared on the website of the Woking News and Mail under the title ‘Commemoration visit to Mosque’ from which we quote below:

MEMBERS of the Bahá’í faith visited Woking Mosque on Friday (January 17) to commemorate a similar visit made 90 years ago by the son of their founder.

Abdu’l-Baha — son of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Bahá’í faith — made his visit on the same date in 1913.

On that occasion Abdu’l-Baha was joined by members of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths together with distinguished visitors from east and west.

A special interest was taken in a copy of the Koran, which had been a gift from Queen Victoria.

On Friday Bahá’ís from Woking, Guildford, Godalming, Leatherhead, Camberley, Egham, and Bracknell visited the mosque for private prayer and the reading of a special prayer by Abdu’l-Baha.

The Bahá’ís present were representatives from several different countries including England, India, Iran, Tunisia and Zambia.

Afterwards members of the group were warmly welcomed by the secretary of the Shah Jahan Mosque, Munawar Ahmed, at a reception held in the Memorial House. This was the same place in which Abdu’l-Baha had been received after his visit to the mosque 90 years before.

The gathering was shown an article from the Surrey Advertiser from 90 years ago entitled "An Interesting Gathering".

Consulting the article in the Surrey Advertiser referred to in the above news item, we find that it covered the Woking function only from the aspect of the visit of Abdul Baha. It begins as follows:

“Representatives of East and West met at the Woking Mosque on Friday afternoon last week, the occasion of a visit by Abdul Baha (H.E. Abbas Effendi), the pioneer of the doctrine of Bahaism, which makes for unity of nations. His Excellency, who recently returned from a tour in America, was greeted by a large assembly of Christians, Mahomedans and Jews. The host for the day was Mr. Henry Leitner, whose late father, Dr. G.W. Leitner, built the Mosque in conjunction with the Begum of Bhopal some thirty years ago.”

The article lists among the company present a Dr. J. Pollen “representing East India Association”, and says near the end:

“Dr. Pollen, in a happy speech, extended a hearty welcome to the East, in the name of the West, and announced that the Mosque was a public place, open to all Mahomedans.”

Surrey Advertiser, 25 January 1913, p. 6.

Related links:

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s first visit to the Woking Mosque

Life of Dr. G.W. Leitner

Further information about Dr. G.W. Leitner on websites


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.