Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

Lord Headley

Life sketch
Photographic archive
Film newsreel archive
Contact us
Search the website

Lord Headley: Life Sketch and obituaries

The pride of place among Woking’s converts goes to Lord Headley, the 5th Baron of Headley (1855–1935), whose grave is situated in the top row on the right hand edge in the old Muslim plot at Brookwood. He announced his conversion to Islam at the hand of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in November 1913. In those days, conversion to Islam meant incurring the wrath and displeasure of family, friends and society, and in the case of those belonging to the higher levels of society, like Lord Headley, it meant losing the respect and reputation in which you were held. Not caring for any such worldly loss, Lord Headley boldly and openly proclaimed himself a Muslim and served the cause of Islam till his death in 1935. He toured Muslim communities in other countries in the company of his teacher Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, visiting South Africa in 1926, touring India in 1927-28, and performing the hajj in 1923.

He wrote several booklets about Islam and numerous articles in the monthly Islamic Review, the journal of the Woking Mission. He worked hard on plans (which were never fulfilled) to build a grand mosque in London itself. Land was obtained in West Kensington (close to the famous Olympia exhibition centre), and in July 1937 even the foundation stone was laid by the heir to the Nizam of Hyderabad.

As a member of the aristocracy, Lord Headley mixed with the nobility and royalty of England. He lost no opportunity to explain Islam in those circles. At one after-dinner speech, attended by various august persons, he spoke on the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Obituary of Lord Headley from the Islamic Review, September 1935 (pages 322–325)

In Memoriam

It is our most painful duty to record the death of the Right Honourable Sir Rowland George Allanson Allanson-Winn, Baron Headley (Al-Haj Shaikh Saifurrahman Rehmatullah El-Farooq), B.A., M.I.C.E.I., M.S.I.C. (France), F.S.E., F.S.P., which occurred in London on 22nd June 1935.

Lord Headley was 80 years old, having been born in London in January 1855. He was educated at Westminster School, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took tripos in Mathematics. He won for his College both the heavy-weight and the middle-weight Championships. After leaving College he engaged himself in educational work and later became Editor of Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Winchester. He was Secretary to Sir Frederick Seager Hunt, M.P., for several years and ultimately in 1892 took up Civil Engineering as a profession. He was engaged for many years in foreshore protection work in Ireland and used the low groyne system and extending these groynes into deep water by means of chains, cables and concrete blocks. He superintended some coast defence works at Youghal and Glenbergh and did similar work on the coast to the north of Bray Harbour. The problem of coast erosion always interested him. At Dover in 1899 he read a paper before the British Association on the history of the Reclamation of Romney Marsh. In 1896 as Assistant Engineer to Spedding & Co., Lord Headley came to India for the first time and was responsible for the construction of the Baramula-Srinagar Road which was 33 1/3 miles long and included 167 culverts and bridges. He was twice awarded the Bessemer Premium of the Society of Engineers as also the Silver Medals of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts and of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland. Later he was elected President of the Society of Engineers, London. He was twice offered the throne of Albania and on both those occasions he refused the offer. Lord Headley succeeded his cousin in 1913 and was the fifth Baron and the 11th holder of the baronetcy of Nostell, Yorkshire (created in 1660), and the fifth holder of the baronetcy of Little Warsley, Essex (created in 1796). The Peerage dates back from 1797.

Lord Headley in his public life was always characterised by his world-wide outlook, his shrewd intelligence and his sound judgment. His deep sense of loyalty to the cause he espoused always brought him to the front. He was dauntless in the face of opposition and unflinching in the presentation of his selfless aims. He always stuck to them with tenacity, courage and boldness.

It is, however, with the religious aspect of his life and his services to the cause of Islam that we, of the Woking Muslim Mission, are chiefly concerned. Brought up as a Protestant he also studied Roman Catholicism and was struck by what he called their “believe this or be damned” attitude. “It is,” he said on one occasion, “the intolerance of those professing the Christian religion, which more than anything is responsible for my secession. I was reared in the strict and narrow forms of the Low Church party. Later, I lived in many Roman Catholic countries, including Ireland. The intolerance of one sect of Christians towards other sects holding some different form of the same faith, of which I witnessed many instances, disgusted me. …”

On another occasion while explaining that he had been a Muslim for over 20 years he remarked:

It is possible that some of my friends may imagine that I have been influenced by Mohammedans; but it is not the case, for my convictions are solely the outcome of many years of thought. My actual conversations with educated Muslims on the subject of religion only commenced a few weeks ago and need I say that I am overjoyed to find that all my theories and conclusions are entirely in accord with Islam? Even my friend Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din has never tried to influence me in the slightest degree. He has been a veritable living concordance, and has patiently explained and translated portions of the Quran which did not appear quite clear to me and in this respect he showed the true spirit of the Muslim missionary, which is never to force or even to persuade.
Lord Headley’s devotion to the cause of Islam was unique in many respects. He neither spared any pains nor money in the service of Islam. At the old age of 70, he undertook long journeys to Egypt, South Africa, and India for the cause of Islam. He performed the Haj in 1923 and in 1927 presided over the deliberations of the All-India Tabligh Conference, which was held at Delhi. He was President of the British Muslim Society, London, and Chairman of our Trust as well as the Woking Mosque Trust. During his visit in 1928 to Hyderabad he succeeded in raising funds for building a Mosque in London and it is a matter of great regret that he was not granted the time to see the fulfilment of his great plan.

Next to Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, Lord Headley was the one personality who may rightly be described as the founder of the Woking Mission. The names of the two are inseparable and the two looked upon each other with genuine love and affection. A few minutes before he breathed his last, Lord Headley scribbled a note for his son and heir and which ran:

“Means permitting I should like to be buried with my brother Khwaja.”
These last lines which he ever wrote speak volumes of the bond of love and affection which existed between the two missionaries of Islam in the West.

It is difficult to write adequately of him who has gone. Our praise seems trite and trivial, our most heartfelt tribute all unworthy in face of the colossal fact of his immense and unique personality. Lord Headley’s death has left a gap which time alone can fill. To say that he was popular would be belittling his character. He was charming, gentle, kind, lovable — a loving son, a loving father, a loving husband and a loving but, above all, a sincere friend. His was an extremely charitable nature, and God had gifted him with virtues of the highest order.

Lord Headley was a God-fearing man, a true son of Islam. He has left behind a fine tradition of selfless service, spotless character and reputation, which the present generation and that to come are not easily to forget. The whole of the Muslim world has mourned the passing away of one of its most distinguished sons and condolence meetings have been held from Japan to America, messages of sympathy and condolences have reached us and glowing tributes have been paid to the memory of the dead — a wonderful recognition of his services indeed, but would it make up the loss the Muslim Community has suffered?

We mourn the death of a worthy son of Islam, a trusted and influential champion of the Muslim cause. We, of the Woking Muslim Mission, mourn the death of a fellow-worker of Islam. We grieve over the loss of a valued and dear friend of a very long standing whose counsel and advice we had always welcomed.

May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon his soul! Amen!

Lord Headley’s son’s letter to the Imam of the Woking Mosque (published in the Islamic Review, September 1935, p. 353):

98 Portland Place, W. 1
July 3rd, 1935

My Dear Imam,

I am writing this letter to you in order to express my feelings of gratitude to yourself and other members of the Woking Mosque Staff for the great assistance that you have given me and my family in connection with our recent sad bereavement.

Your personal, kind and sympathetic help was, I can only assure you, greatly appreciated by us all. It gave me great pleasure to realize that in Khwaja [Nazir] Ahmed there was present at my father’s funeral, one of the sons of his greatest friend in the Muslim World, the late Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, a man whom I always remember with the greatest respect.

We all regret that we were unable to accept your invitation to meet the Crown Prince of Arabia, but, as you will realize, we all felt the need of quietness during that week-end.

With kindest regards,
Very sincerely yours

Additional information

A note about the life of Lord Headley published in The Light (Lahore), 5 January 1928, at the time of his visit to India, contains the personal details given in his obituary above, but has the following extra information:

  • Lord Headley was a direct descendant of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales.
  • He was Editor of Salisbury and Winchester Journal in succession to Sir William Laird Clewes.
  • He studied civil engineering under Professor Henry Robinson at King’s College, London.
  • He was (or “is” as the note says) Fellow and past President of the Society of Civil Engineers of London.
  • In 1923 “his lordship was offered the crown of Albania which he declined.”

Images of news of death and funeral from The Times, London

The Times, Monday, June 24, 1935, p. 9

The Times, June 26, 1935, p. 19, under ‘Funerals’:

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.