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The History of the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking

The Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, England is the fist purpose built mosque in the UK and reportedly in western Europe outside of Muslim Spain. It was commissioned by the linguist and orientialst Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner. Leitner was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 14 October 1840 to a Jewish family. At the age of fifteen he acted as an interpreter in the Crimean War. He entered King's College, London, in 1858, and in 1861 at the age of just twenty-one was appointed professor of Arabic and Mahammedan law. In 1864 he moved to India and took up the post of Principal of the Government College in Lahore which he developed into what is now University of Punjab. He was known to speak, read and write over twenty five languages. In 1883 he returned to England and established his Oriental Institute and with a donation from the Begum Shah Jahan, the Nawab Begum of the princely state of Bhopal, built England's first mosque in 1889.

The building is square with a three bay front articulated by four panelled piers with open turrets above linked by battlement type decoration. Built of dressed rubble stone, with stucco facing and a copper dome with finials. The mosques Indo-Saracen design was inspired by drawings taken from Prisse d’Avennes’ book L’Art Arabe. It was built by architects W. I. Chambers in Bath and Bargate stone. Its Onion Dome was once blue and gold and the entrance lay with fine mosaic. The fountain was initially built to be used for ablution but was later redesigned as an ornamental piece.

 After Dr Leitners death in 1899 the Oriental Institute soon closed and with that the mosque doors closed too. It fell into disrepair until Khawaja Kamal-ul Din rediscovered it in 1912 and managed to buy it from Leitner’s heir.

Many famous people have visited this mosque, they have included:

  • Begum Sultan Jahan, daughter of Nawab Begum of Bhopal, Begum Shah Jahan the major donor for financing the mosque - visited on Friday 9th October 1925.
  • Crown Prince Faisal (later King of Saudi Arabia)
  • Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Quaid-e-Azam), the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General. Visited 9th February 1932.
  • Prince Amir Saud (later King Saudi Arabia) - visited Sunday 30th June 1935
  • Emperor Haille Selassie - visited 25th August 1936
  • Nawab Salar Jang Bahadur, Prime Minister of Hyderabad and thought to be the richest man in the world. He was the grandson of Sir Salar Jang Bahadur whom the Memorial Hall is named after. Visited 6 August 1937
  • Princess Abida Sultana, great-granddaughter of Nawab Begum of Bhopal, Begum Shah Jahan - visited on Sunday 27th January 1957.
  • Sir Muhammad Shah, The Agha Khan visited on several occasions during various stays in England. He was a patron of the mosque.
  • Tenku Abdur Rehman, Prime Minister of Malaysia - 1961
  • Shah of Iran
  • Prince Edward, Duke of Kent visited 7th Novemeber 2003




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