, by G.N. FALAHI
The Arabic word for mosque is masjid which means house of worship, used for calling the faithful to prayer or the place of worship. It is considered an esteemed and holy place in Islam. These are the most numerous institutions and symbols that Muslims have established throughout history, wherever they went. It is obligatory upon Muslims to find a place for worship wherever they go. Its roots could be traced back in the 7th century of Arabia, when Prophet of Islam Muhammad (may Allah bless and greet him) migrated to Medina. The first task to which the Prophet attended on his arrival in Medina was the construction of a mosque, on the very site where his camel knelt down. The land, which belonged to two orphans, was purchased. The Prophet himself contributed to building the mosque by carrying adobe bricks and stones while reciting verses: “O Allah! No bliss is there but that of the Hereafter, I beseech you to forgive the Emigrants and Helpers.”
The mosque in Medina was in practice an open court and it served as a meeting place, a community hall, the first Islamic university, and a court of Justice for the faithful and the community as whole. It is also a place of worship. It was in the mosque that Muhammad (may Allah bless and greet him) addressed the community and from there that he directed not only the religious but also the social and political activities of the community. The Prophet’s Mosque in Medina was to serve as a model for all later mosques. However in the formative period of Islam it was one of the duties of the local governor to build a mosque for the community; later it became a pious action which prominent Muslims performed. Founding a mosque ceased to be primarily a response to existing needs but was a religious action which bestowed; it took place through the legal instrument of an absolute pious foundation (waqf, habous).
To Muslims a mosque means more than a place of worship. It is at the same time a place where people can meet and where a sense of community exists. It is also a place where teaching of the Qur’anic instructions is given and religious literature can be obtained. ‘To the outside world, especially non-Muslims, the mosque functions as a symbol of the presence of Islam, this perhaps explains the irritation of some Non-Muslims at the existence of mosque in their countries.’ A mosque, whether serving a large or small community, has always been the centre of the religious and civil life of the Muslim community. It expresses the strong relationship with Islam; Muslim emigrants followed the footsteps of their beloved Prophet in the same way to establish the Islamic centres throughout the West.
At present these institutions are symbols of their faith, recognition of their religion and culture. Therefore it is a salient Islamic voice at the horizon of British multi-dimensional society. These ‘symbols’ are indications of the reconstruction of Islam in the Western World. There were only 13 mosques in whole Europe up till 1960s, now there are more than two thousand mosques in Britain only, registered with planning and permission commission.
In their early days in Britain, due to the absence of a mosque in the locality, Muslims were praying at rented accommodations or wherever it was possible for them to perform their duties. According to Islamic teachings, Muslims can offer their prayers anywhere as long as the provided place is neat and clean. Muslim scholars throughout history have tried to adjust and accommodate themselves with the social coherence and existing institutions and practices of the host societies.
The history of British Muslims revels that the early migration of Muslims from South Asia, there were settlers who were the civil servants of the British Empire used to visit the United Kingdom either to acquire work experience or to take further studies in order to gain promotion in their services. Others came as students for higher education. In 1905 a number of enthusiastic Muslims, prominent among whom were people such as Abdullah Suhrawardy (Calcutta), Abdul Qadir (Lahore), and Abdullah Yusuf Ali, a civil servant and translator of the Qur’an, lived, married and died in Britain.
The earliest institution in Britain seems to have been the Liverpool Muslim Institute founded by English Lawyer, William H. Quilliam, during the late 19th century. It was his efforts and intellect that led to the first mosque in Britain being established in Liverpool nearly 200 miles away from the British capital, London. The foundation of this mosque at the beginning of the 1890s is closely associated with one of the most singular characters in the history of British Islam. The methodologies for the propagation of Islam adopted by Quilliam to reach wider society in non-Muslim culture were different.
Mr. Qulliam embraced Islam in 1887 after a visit to Morocco. The Ottoman Sultan who gave him title of Shaikh al-Islam of Britain (Islamic Leader) when he was invited by him to Istanbul. As a lawyer, he was well aware of the media and the power of the press, and was eager to utilise it for the propagation of Islam and the benefit of early British Muslim community.
The Islamic World (launched in 1890) and The Crescent (1893 to1908) were the two first Islamic journals which he was circulating weekly among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Later the Islamic World was merged with the weekly journal The Crescent. The Crescent was devoted to local and national issues, as well as to publicise the activities of the Liverpool Muslim Institute. The Islamic World, a 32-page monthly publication, dealt with matters that affected Muslims throughout the world. By studying this journal, it seems that an Oxford University Journal of Islamic Studies was of its age, as it contains lengthy research articles about the Muslim World, contemporary politics of the globe, reports, features and other main issues about Muslims. Liverpool Muslim community was declined due to the departure of its founder. With its decline another Key Islamic Institution emerged to take place, some 23 miles to the South west of London, at Woking, which has an important place in the history of British Muslims.
WOKING MISSION AND ISLAMIC CENTRE
Britain’s first purpose-built mosque was opened to the public in 1889 and named after the principal benefactress and female ruler of Indian state of Bhopal, Shah Jehan. The building was designed by the Victorian architect WL Chambers and built in Bath and Bargate stone. It has been noted that it was the activities of a Hungarian Oriental’s Dr G.W Linter, an ex- Registrar at the University of Punjab. Woking Mosque was built as the centrepiece of an Islamic art and cultural, providing a hostel for students and a big library. The Mosque was also indented to be used for Islamic Studies. By the end of 1912 Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din. B.A., LL.B., left a legal practice in Lahore and came to England for the purpose of preaching Islam. With the help of three other friends he established a mission in a small country house adjacent to the Shah Jehan Mosque (internal measurements 16×16 feet). It was the result of his utmost efforts and by 1913 the Mosque became again an active centre of the Muslims and propagation for Islam in Britain.
But Woking mission and the Muslims got big boost when the news was published under the arresting headlines of “Muslim Peer” that Lord Headley accepted Islam. He had reverted to Islam in India later (Shaikh Rahmatullah El- Farooq as Muslim name). He announced his reversion to Islam at the hands of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in 1913. In those days, conversion to Islam supposed 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. It is useful to note his own words published in The Observer (23 November 1913) entitled “Why I became a Mohammedan?” Islamic Review has recorded: “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?”
The Woking Mission was surrounded by these two pioneer personalities; Lord Headley and Kamal ud-Din Khawaja. They were the sole organisers and the body of managements. For the propagation of Islam, they arranged public lectures and corner meetings in the mission house and members the community were praying in the mosque. A monthly journal, Muslims India and Islamic Review, better known by the second half of its title, was launched almost immediately in 1913.
To judge from the early issues the mission was remarkably successful, counting among its converts women with literary talents. One of them composed a poem on “The Little Mosque” with a crescent “beneath an alien sky”. The first line of a poem on the mosque by another women was “Thou edifice of beauty!” At the death of Khawaja, Lord Headley expressed his deep sorrow and emotions in these words: “Means permitting I should like to be buried with my brother Khawaja.” These last lines speak volumes of the bond of love and affection which existed between the two missionaries of Islam in the West. “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”
The people around the Woking Muslim Mission preserved a political profile and concentrated on welfare work, in particular for the widows and orphans of Indian soldiers who died in World War II. They also sponsored a Muslim Literary Society, of which both the Qur’an translators Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali were members.
Like Quilliam, they realised very early on that, to make headway, they would have to adopt approaches with which their audience were familiar. Weekly lectures in the Mosque on different topics were arranged. In keeping with well established traditions of discussion and persuasion, they applied rational intrinsic to Islam. Through the journal of the Woking Mission, The Islamic Review (distributed widely and free of charge), the Mission’s members elaborated their views on the position of women within Islam, polygamy, prohibition on drinking of alcohol, usury, gambling, circumcision, fasting and other relating issues. These issues aroused some anger and controversy among the host society. But they were cautious, instead of highlighting the differences between Christianity and Islam, they changed their pattern of terminologies of interpreting the Islamic names, such as ‘Muslim Bible’ for the Qur’an and ‘Muslim Church’ for the Mosque. There were other terminologies in uses as well. They might have used them as a strategy for the spreading the word of God and to avoid any rift or conflict between the host society and the emigrants.
The Islamic Review has noted that, ‘Woking Mission took different forms of Islamic activities and was carried out simultaneously from Woking and London. The British Muslim Society (BMS) was set up in December 1914 under the leadership of Lord Headley; the vast majority of its members were Asian Muslims as well as a number of white converts. In a nutshell all that we are observing today on the British horizon is a phase of that rich history and unforgettable contribution that was made to all aspects of British Muslim culture by these great names of the time.