Opening of Muslim Peace Garden at Woking, November 2015
On 12 November 2015 a ‘Peace Garden’ was opened at the 100-year old Horsell Common Muslim Burial Ground, as part of the restoration work on this site conducted by Woking Borough Council. The opening ceremony was performed by His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth, whose title is also the Duke of Wessex.
Information about the restoration work, and the background to it, is provided at the following links:
News of the opening of the Peace Garden can be read at the following links:
Our organization’s own report on opening of the Peace Garden
The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore (UK), which now represents the former Woking Muslim Mission, carried the news of this function in its monthly News Bulletin for December 2015. The President of AAIIL(UK) Mr Shahid Aziz and the Treasurer Mr Azhar-ud-Din Ahmad attended it by invitation of the organisers, and the Treasurer wrote the news report for the Bulletin. The following is an edited summary of that report:
“ During the First World War, Hazrat Maulana Sadr-ud-Din (d. 1981), who later was Head of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, was the Imam at the Shahjehan Mosque in Woking. The War was the first time the British Indian Army fought outside India. They fought at Gallipoli in Turkey and in France and Belgium. Those who were wounded in France and Belgium were evacuated for treatment to a hospital set up at the famous Pavilion in Brighton. Sadly a few did not survive. Hazrat Maulana Sadr-ud-Din worked tirelessly for a burial plot for the Muslim soldiers. Hazrat Maulana’s efforts bore fruit and the War Office approved a burial plot at Horsell Common for the Muslim soldiers.
Coming to the present time, Woking Borough Council announced that the Woking Peace Garden, created by renovating the Muslim Burial Ground at Horsell Common, will have its opening ceremony on 12 November 2015. Our Treasurer and our President were invited to attend. We arrived to find the whole area around the Mosque full of cars with very little parking space left. We reported to the reception desk where colour coded name cards were waiting for us. We were told to get into coaches, which had been hired to take guests to the Burial Ground.
We arrived at the Burial Ground to find that many people had already arrived. A marque had been set up on the right hand side. It had an army band playing and facilities for tea and coffee and small cakes of different varieties. Outside the marque there were a few chairs for people who could not stand for long.
The guests included Jonathan Lord, MP for Woking, the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, army officers to the rank of Brigadier, Muslim army officers decorated for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sunni and Shia imams including the Imam of the Woking Mosque, the Leader of Woking Borough Council, its Chief Executive Mr Ray Morgan, the project manager Dr Zafar Iqbal and his wife, and many others. A number of newspapers, Dunia TV and the BBC were present as well. We were mingling with other guests when Dr Zafar Iqbal came over and told us that our President was on the VIP list. This was a list of six important people selected by Woking Borough Council to meet HRH the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth).
A short time later, the army protocol officer started to give instructions about which guest was to stand in what position. The officer said he would first call out the names of the six VIPs. including our President. First, we commoners went in and lined up at the back! The press stood opposite us and then the VIPs came in and lined up just behind the plaque to be unveiled to mark the opening. The army protocol officer then checked their names and explained to them how to address HRH.
HRH entered the Garden exactly on time. The army protocol officer accompanied him. He shook hands with each person and had a brief word. He asked our President what connection he had with the Garden.
Mr Shahid Aziz explained in one sentence that the Imam of the Shahjehan Mosque who arranged with the government to allocate a burial plot for Muslim soldiers, a hundred years ago, belonged to our Jamaat and later became our Head and we feel that this function and Garden honour him as well.
HRH was then introduced to the people involved in the project and walked to the plaques with names of the fallen soldiers. He stood to attention, as did Dr Zafar Iqbal, as a bugler played the Last Post, followed by the one-minute silence. The army Christian chaplain read out a prayer. He was followed by the army Muslim chaplain, Imam Muhammad Hafiz who recited the Fatiha in Arabic and in English translation. HRH and Dr Zafar Iqbal walked to the front and to the unveiling of the plaque. The Mayor of Woking and HRH then unveiled the plaque together. HRH shook hands with the Mayor and walked to the door — the chatari, as it is called — and stood to attention as a few bars of the national anthem were played.
We then mingled with media. Mr Shahid Aziz spoke to the BBC’s head of Religious Minorities Unit. Our Treasurer spoke to the representative of Dunia TV and persuaded him to interview Mr Aziz. He promised that he would try to get it on the TV news the same evening. He also promised that he would try and cover our other events. Our Treasurer also met the Shia mujtahid who showed great interest in our work in acquiring the land for the Muslim burials. He requested Mr Azhar-ud-Din Ahmad to take him to the Brookwood cemetery to visit the burial places of Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali, translators of the Holy Quran.
We boarded coaches and got back to the Mosque. There were to be speeches in the Mosque, including one by the Defence Minister, but we did not stay for them. We took the opportunity to visit Brookwood Cemetery where we said prayers for those associated with the Woking Muslim Mission and our members. We said special prayers at the burial places of Mrs Akhtar Jabeen Aziz, mother of Mr Shahid Aziz, and Mrs Nasira Tufail, wife of the late Maulana Shaikh Muhammad Tufail (who was Imam of the Woking Mosque till 1965). ”
From the gallery mentioned above, we select below four photos in which the President of AAIIL(UK) can also be seen.
Prince Edward meeting invited guests. The three people from the right are: Aaqil Ahmed (Head of BBC’s Religion and Ethics), Mr Shahid Aziz, and Revd. Dianne Gwilliams.
Woking Mayor Councillor McCrum inviting Prince Edward to unveil plaque.
Prince Edward meeting Dr Zafar Iqbal. Mr Shahid Aziz is in the background, extreme left.
Prince Edward with the Horsell Common Preservation Society.