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East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre

Mosques In Britain

, by G.N. FALAHI

Due to the lack of any proper place of worship, Muslims were performing prayers in ‘rented accommodations’. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Muslims of London were offering Friday and Eid prayers at Hyde Park. Some notable Muslim dignitaries were leading these congregations. Muslims are always in search of places of worship and raised funds for that purpose. In early days at Hyde Park and other places they raised funds for the purpose of providing a Mosque in London. The scheme received the financial support of prominent Muslims throughout the world.
The research shows that from 1914 to June 1916 Friday Prayer and Eid prayers were held under the auspices of the ‘London Mosque Fund.’ In April 1935 they decided to provide similar arrangements in the East End of London, where the resident and floating population of Muslims amounted to about 500 to 1,000. The Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, the local Muslim Association, was entrusted with the arrangements and the King’s hall in Commercial Road E1 was rented for the purpose. According to an annual Report of the London Mosque Fund published in 1936, the following statement was noted: “There is a most urgent need for a mosque in the East End of London where Friday and Eid Prayers are held. At present a hall is used, but a mosque and a permanent Molvi (Muslim Chaplin) who can lead the Namaz (prayers) everyday and teach the Qur’an and Muslim religious rites to Muslims and their children are necessary, but the present Fund is inadequate to build or maintain such a Mosque.” 
However, on 9th December 1938, a small sub-committee was formed, at a meeting of the trustees, who decided to purchase a site for a small mosque and hostel for Muslim sailors, in the East of London. Sir Abdul Qadir as a Chairman, with Mr Waris Ameer Ali and Sir Ernest Hotson were the key members of the committee. A building in Alder Street E1 was selected to purchase for not more than £3,000. Due to the World War I it was difficult to decide whether to lay the foundation stone on the site and leave it to be built after the war or to make interim arrangements for the period of the war altering and repairing the present buildings.
Research shows that, on 6th January 1941 Sir Hassan was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee in place of the late Lord Lamington. He obtained the authority to deal with this problem and premises, which has accordingly been converted into the East London Mosque and Islamic Centre. The Mosque received funds from the British Council and others donors. It was the first time in British Muslim history that they possess their place of worship in British Capital of London, which is not restricted to any group or sect of the Muslim faith. On 8th April 1941 a Thanksgiving Service was held on the occasion of the celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet (may Allah bless and greet him) and from 23rd May 1941, Friday prayers are being held regularly.
In 1975, the Greater London Council acquired the mosque premises at Commercial Rd, under compulsory purchase order and provided the land which housed the mosque at its present prefabricated structure until a permanent mosque at Whitechapel Road is built. The East London Mosque is now called East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre. The newly built Mosque at Whitechapel Road was opened by a grand Imam of Makkah Shaykh Abdullah bin Subayl, on July 12, 1985. Attached to the mosque is a Qura’nic school where more than seven hundred Muslim boys and girls are receiving Islamic instructions. The mosque also provides its own gymnastic and other youth related programmes for the Muslim community.
When the question of providing a mosque in London was first addressed at the turn of the century, the idea was to site the mosque in Central London. The first mosque was established, in East London where the growing Muslim community had already settled. However, as we learned from above that the first promoters were Indian Muslims. The earliest project Woking Mosque was sponsored by Indian female ruler. Another project was sponsored by the Aga Khan, who, in November 1910, called a meeting at the Ritz Hotel in London to discuss details. As a result a committee was appointed under the chairmanship of Syed Ameer Ali, the Indian Muslim lawyer who was then a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The question raises that, when there already existed a mosque in Central London, and the aim was one, why they needed another independent Mosque in London. A possible explanation for this might be that, there was a sectarian rift among the Muslim minority groups. Aga Khan’s project and proposal showing his leaning and approach towards Ismaili sect of Sh’ia Muslim community, as he was himself the head of this Ismaili sect, Woking mission was accused of being Qadiani or Ahmadiyya Movement. Headley’s trust and founded committee constitutes on Sunni orthodoxy. Due to this possible contradiction among them on sectarian grounds their approach to build a new mosque in Central London is quite reasonable.
It was Lord Headley and his enthusiasm which helped build a Central Mosque in London. The proposal he submitted to the right Honourable Austin Chamberlain Secretary of State for India during the British Raj is clearly stated in his hand-written letter dated March 23, 1916. It suggested the immediate allocation of £100,000 for the purchase of a site in London and the building of a mosque on it “in memory of the Muslim soldiers who died fighting for the Empire”. Mr Headley concluded his letter that “His Majesty’s Muslim subjects outnumbered those in any other denominations and yet have no suitable place of worship in London.”
A reading of the contents and comments on the letter reflects an unsympathetic view as words like the proposal is “unprecedented” for them and that it is quite strange and “unthinkable for a Christian government to be a party to erecting a mosque in a Christian Country”.
According to the records, Lord Headley along with his right hand Khawaja went on pilgrimage to Makkah in 1923. On their return they revived their idea of a mosque in London. It seems that ‘Lord Headley and his Muslim associates especially Khawaja at the Working Mosque had started talking of a central mosque for London in early days. Before they move to London, they initially may have received an unrealistic dream, which gave them a boost when a central mosque was opened in Paris in 1926.
Another significant event was Lord Headley’s conversion to Islam, which gave much moral and practical support to Muslims. Later, as president of the Muslim Society at Woking Mission or at Caxton Hall in London, and with zeal of a convert, he conceived an imaginative idea of recommending the building of a mosque in London to the British Government.
His initiative and deep religious desire is unambiguously stated in the above mentioned hand-written letter dated March 23, 1916 to the Honourable Austin Chamberlain, Secretary of State for India. In an impressive expression the hand-written letter states that this proposal would provide the Muslims in India and elsewhere ease and comfort, and a good expression of the British empire.
Later, after the dissatisfactory reply from the British Empire, Lord Headley approached Nizam of Hyderabad, an Indian ruler, when he went to India in 1928-1929. He forwarded his project and presentation worth about £1,00,000 and explained to him his aspirations regarding a Mosque in London. Naturally the Nizam, a Muslim ruler, must have been greatly impressed, for he contributed the sum of £60,000 towards the construction of the mosque. It was this gift by which a Trust was established in 1928 and was called “The London Nizamiah Mosque Trust Fund”.
After this initial step a well-known English architect was commissioned to propose a design of a mosque. The mosque was to have a dome and a minaret as well as a lecture hall, library, residence for imam and a hostel for students. The cost was now estimated at £170,000. Research reveals that in 1938 the British Empire called a conference on the question of Palestine to which representative of the Arab States were invited. As Lord Headley and Khwaja Kamaluddin, leaders of the Woking Mosque, had been pressing the British Empire since the mid-1920s for a piece of land in London on which a London Central Mosque could be built to act as the central point and as representative authority for British Muslims, nothing happened until during the World War II.
In November 1944, both the Mosque and the Islamic Cultural Centre were opened by King George VI in Central London. It has been recorded that in 1940, the Churchill war cabinet approved a grant of up to £100,000 for the acquisition of such a site. But it was not possible before the Saudi Arabian ambassador, Shaykh Hafiz Wahbe, became interested. A site became available, when King George V1 donated a plot in Regent’s Park by Hanover Gate as an exchange for the site in Cairo donated for the new Anglican cathedral. Three years later the ambassadors and high commissioners of some 13 Muslim countries formed the Central London Mosque Trust and raised money to build a mosque.
A foundation stone was laid in 1954. After an architectural competition in 1969, it was possible again to start construction, and the new mosque was finally opened in 1977. It is now clear that in 1940 the Government donated £100,000 towards the building of the first mosque in London, now the Regents Park Mosque or Islamic Cultural Centre – is in recognition of the bravery and courage of Muslim soldiers who fought and died for Britain in the World War I. The proposal and project of Lord Headley for Central Mosque in London in 1916 finally got its roots and his demand of £100,000 from the British Government in 1928 was granted later.
The Mosque is presently managed by 29 Trustees from among the original 13 Islamic governments represented in London. The Director is from Saudi Arabia. As in all other Mosques, its educational programmes for children and adults are extensive, ranging from Arabic to Islamic Studies at all levels often conducted by the imams. The Mosque also provides counselling services for anyone in the congregation who may face with family or personal problems. All the imams are graduates from al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the most prestigious Islamic universities of the Islamic world. The Mosque with its position attracts a number of people, both men and women, as it has excellent provisions for women and their infant children.
The project was not revived until 1969 when the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, and some others took it up. While recognising the major role played by Egypt in the beginning, Saudi Arabia took the major role in getting it started again in the late 1960s. This explains why the administration of the Mosque is shared by both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The later is responsible for the Directorate of the Mosque, and the former provides the imams, spiritual leaders of whom there are three or four at present. The Islamic Cultural Centre is wholly controlled by Saudi Government; all the function are organised according the Saudi calendar.
Historically, Muslims living in Britain or elsewhere in particular in non-Muslim areas have sought to maintain at least the core features of their faith and cultural traditions.
One thing is important to note that in Britain these institutions were established to organise Muslims according to recognised ‘religious’ and material needs to formalise and develop Islam in the British context. As the example of the Bradford and Birmingham in particular indicate, mosques appear to have been fairly natural on the part of Muslims settling down in Britain. This proves that ‘British Islam’ is being forged by ‘native’ converts such as Quilliam in Liverpool and Lord Headley in Woking.

More precisely, a number of essentially charismatic community ‘leaders’ Quilliam, Kamaluddin, Ameer Ali, Suhrawardy –to name only a few – personally sought to ensure that the ‘Islam’ with which they identified engaged constructively with the wider society in which their communities were operating particularly in Liverpool, London and Woking.

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