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Home Articles Articles Britain’s First Mosques

Britain’s First Mosques

The Shah Jehan Mosque in Oriental Road, Woking, Surrey is listed as Britain’s first purpose built mosque, constructed in 1889. Because of it, the first Muslim Cemetery is located nearby on Horsall Common, created in 1917, for the burial of Muslim soldiers killed in the First World War.

By definition, a masjid or mosque, is a building where the five daily prayers are held as well as the Jumma or Friday congregational prayers lead by a resident Imam, or prayer leader.

As such, any building will suffice, and a document dated 1641 refers to a community of ‘Mahomatens’ living in London’s docklands. It is very likely that as a jamat or community, they held regular prayers in a disused warehouse which served their communal purposes.

The Times Newspaper reported in 1788, that the Turks resident in London were prepared to finance the building of Britain’s first purpose built mosque. What a shame this never came about, as we would undoubtedly have an architectural gem to add to London’s heritage.

Britain’s first mosque recorded in the register of religious sites, is at 2 Glyn Rhondda Street, Cardiff in 1860. The Anjuman-i-Islam, later renamed the Pan-Islamic Society, was founded in London in 1880, and William Henry Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor, converted to Islam while in Morocco in 1887. He went on to found the Liverpool mosque and the Muslim Institute, and edited the Islamic World and the Crescent, a weekly publication. He also founded Madina House, an orphanage in Liverpool.

In 1914 an English convert Lord Headley a.k.a. Al-Haj El-Farooq established the British Muslim Society followed in 1928 by the establishment of the Nizamiah Trust in London to consider proposals for a central mosque in London. George V donated land in return for a site in Cairo for an Anglican cathedral. During the Second World War the Government allocated £100,000 to buy a site for a mosque in London, but in 1941 The East London Mosque Trust purchased three buildings in Commercial Road, Stepney, and converted them into London’s first mosque.

King George VI attended the opening of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regent’s Park in 1944, and after the war in 1947, thirteen ambassadors from Muslim nations set up the Central London Mosque Trust. The old Georgian House was demolished in 1976, and the following year, Londons first purposes built Mosque was completed, although it is known as a Cultural Centre, and administered by diplomats.

There are well over three hundred mosques up and down the country today, some of them purpose built, others converted houses or other such suitable buildings, but still there is no central coordinating authority to maintain an educated, salaried clergy of Imams, as under the old Ottoman system, much to the loss of the Muslim community these edifices claim to serve.

Footnote: There is a regular Naqshabandi dhikr at Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking every Thursday evening.

 

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