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Shah Jahan Mosque

A Grade I Listed Building in Woking, Surrey

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Latitude: 51.3227 / 51°19'21"N

Longitude: -0.5446 / 0°32'40"W

OS Eastings: 501514

OS Northings: 159180

OS Grid: TQ015591

Mapcode National: GBR GCY.14G

Mapcode Global: VHFV8.H0ZV

Plus Code: 9C3X8FF4+35

Entry Name: Shah Jahan Mosque

Listing Date: 6 January 1984

Last Amended: 9 March 2018

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1264438

English Heritage Legacy ID: 427831

Location: Mount Hermon, Woking, Surrey, GU22

County: Surrey

District: Woking

Town: Woking

Electoral Ward/Division: Mount Hermon

Built-Up Area: Woking

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Surrey

Church of England Parish: Woking St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Guildford

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Purpose built mosque of 1888-1889


The Shah Jahan Mosque, built 1888-1889 in Murghal style to the designs of William Isaac Chambers, commissioned by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner.

MATERIALS: dressed Bathgate stone, randomly coursed with ashlar quoins on the east, west and south elevations, with stucco render to the principal, north-facing elevation.

PLAN: square, of thee bays to each side with a wider front range accommodating the wu’du (wash room) to the east, and a storage room to the west.

EXTERIOR: the north elevation (façade) is articulated by four panelled piers crowned by open turrets, each with moulded pillars and cornices on which rest sphere finials in floral sockets. The turrets are linked by triangular, crow-stepped battlements. At the centre is a full height ogee arch with decorative bands to the arch surround, and metal arabesque work with blue inlay to the arch spandrels. Steps lead up to the recessed porch beneath the arch. A door on the left-hand side of the porch leads to the wu’du, the interior of which has been refurbished. A door to the right leads into the storage room. The central main door into the prayer hall has four decorative panels under a trefoil head, above which is a metal panel with circular motifs. To either side of the porch are ogee arches with panel doors leading to the side rooms, with pairs of decorative roundels above. The prayer hall is topped by a large onion dome with a band of stars around the middle and petal decoration to the top forming the base for a crescent finial.

The wu’du and storage room have segmental forms and are lit by three leaded-light windows in ogee-arched openings. The wu’du has a flat-roofed extension of 1964. The east and west elevations have three lancet windows with ogee-arched heads and ashlar dressings; the windows have star and hexagon glazing tracery. The rear wall has a central curved projection capped by a half-dome which corresponds to the Mihrab within.

INTERIOR: the Qibla (prayer wall) lies opposite the entrance, and has at its centre the Mihrab (semi-circular niche) with decorative panels. On either side of the Mihrab are panelled recesses with ogee-arched heads; the three windows to each side are also set in ogee-arched recesses. Above the Mihrab and windows are roundels painted with the names of God and the Prophet Muhammad. The ceiling of the dome is pierced with five stars. The Verse of the Throne is written in the ring at the base of the dome, and in the squinches 76 names of God are written. Elsewhere the Fatiha (opening verses of the Quran) and the Declaration of Faith are written on the walls. The Minbar (pulpit from which the Imam preaches) is believed to have been sold to a German museum by Leitner’s son.



Whilst records trace the presence of Muslims in Britain back centuries, the earliest Muslim prayer halls were to be found amongst the sea-faring communities of port cities from the late C19, as Muslim sailors (lascars) created the first settled communities. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 saw numbers increase from the Yemen area and by the early C20 there were around 10,000 Muslims in Britain.

Britain’s first mosque was established in 1887 in a converted house in Liverpool, followed two years later by the first purpose-built mosque, the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking (listed Grade I). The history of mosque building continued to be closely related to the history of post-colonisation, trade and Empire. From 1887 up to the Second World War there were only a handful of mosques in the country. There was a significant white British convert Muslim presence in these early years, and this influence was felt both in the establishment of the first mosques and the organisation of the emerging Muslim institutions. In addition were members of the Ahmadiyya movement, founded in the late C19 in India, who revived the Woking Mosque before going on to build Fazl Mosque in South London in the 1920s, the capital’s first mosque.

It was only after the independence and Partition of India that Muslim migration from certain parts of India and newly formed Pakistan increased rapidly, and subsequently so did mosque establishment. It was from the 1960s that the new migrant communities started opening mosques in the neighborhoods of the towns and cities where they settled, usually in houses. If a community needed a larger mosque, and was better resourced, then a more substantial building would be acquired and converted. In this way many other building types, from former churches or synagogues, to public houses, warehouses, cinemas and shops, were converted into mosques. These buildings would often be embellished with Islamic architectural iconography, internally and externally, to denote their new Muslim use.


The history of the Shah Jahan Mosque, thought to be the first purpose-built mosque in northern Europe and Britain, is entwined with the growth of Islam in late C19 and early C20 Britain. The mosque was commissioned by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (1840-1899), an Hungarian Jewish linguist, who spent most of his working life in British India. His ambition was to establish an educational Oriental Institute to enhance the study of culture and history of India and the Islamic world. In 1880 Leitner purchased the site of the Royal Dramatic College in Woking, a building of 1865 by TR Smith for John Anson set in large grounds, in which he established his Oriental Institute where scholars came to stay and study. The house is clearly shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1896, further east of the current Woking mosque complex, on the site of the existing retail park, and was standing at least until 1914. Leitner approached the Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, the female ruler of the Indian princely state of Bhopal, to contribute funding for the construction of a mosque west of the house, within its grounds. She provided £5,000 and construction started in 1888; the mosque was completed in the autumn of 1889. In addition to the mosque, the Sir Salar Jung Memorial Hall (named after the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad state) was built to the east to accommodate the Imam and hold community functions and meetings. Interestingly, neither the mosque or memorial hall is shown on historic Ordnance Survey maps until 1914.

The mosque was designed by William Isaac Chambers, an English architect based in Woking in the mid-1880s, known for his expressive architectural style, easily adapted to the mosque’s popular ‘Orientalist’ style of the late C19. The architecture of the mosque is generally late-Mughal, with flamboyant architectural elements such as the spherical dome and sculptural treatment of the entrance combined with more traditional devices such as the stepped battlements. The Buildings of England volume for Surrey (1987, 531-532) records that the orientation towards Mecca (Makkah) was set by a ship’s Captain who went to Woking and took the bearings. The Buildings of England also state that Chambers did not design the courtyard and some of the decoration as there was a dispute between him and Leitner. It is assumed that Chambers designed the memorial hall, but this has not been substantiated.

Leitner died in 1899 (his family tomb at the nearby Brookwood Cemetery is listed at Grade II, National Heritage List for England 1391041), and the mosque quickly fell into disuse. It was revived and restored by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (1870-1932), an Indian lawyer who visited the site in 1913 and found the mosque locked, unused for many years. Kamal-ud-Din approached Sir Mirza Abbas Ali Baig, the Muslim advisory member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India, and the two purchased the mosque and memorial hall from Leitner’s estate. The Woking Muslim Trust was set up and Kamal-ud-Din appointed to run the mosque, which is said to have become the focus of Islam in Britain in the early to mid-C20. In 1913 Kamal-ud-Din established a publication issued from the Woking mosque called Muslim India, becoming the Islamic Review and Muslim India in 1914, shortened to Islamic Review in 1921; for 55 years it was the main Islamic journal in the western world. A reproduction of the first page of the first volume is found in Salamat (2008, p31); articles discussing the Bible and Quran and the ethics of Islam were included. In 1925, Kamal-ud-Din established a Muslim Literary Trust at the mosque with the intention of publishing non-sectarian Islamic texts in a separate mission to the mosque (Salamat, 2008, p33). It is understood that these journals were produced at the Salar Jung Memorial Hall.

Notable historic occasions at the time of Kamal-ud-Din’s imamate include the worship at the mosque by Muslim soldiers fighting for Britain during the First World War following treatment for injury at Brighton hospital. Some of those soldiers who died were buried at the Muslim burial ground of 1915-1917 on Horsell Common in Woking (designed by T Herbert Winney, listed at Grade II, NHLE 1236560). Approximately 400,000 Muslim soldiers fought for Britain during the First World War. The mosque was also known for the celebration of Eid following the month of Ramadan on 28 May 1922, possibly the first such public celebration of Eid in Britain, at which Kamal-ud-Din announced that the mosque would henceforth be known as the Shah Jahan Mosque in honour of the benefactress (Salamat, 2008, p35).

During the 1920s and 1930s, over 2,000 conversions were said to have taken place at the mosque which acted as a conduit between Muslim culture and English society. Historically significant figures associated with the mosque include Marmaduke Pickthall whose English translation of the Quran had a global reach and who edited the Islamic Review. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who had also translated the Quran into English, was a trustee of the mosque along with Pickthall. Lord Headley, who converted to Islam after returning from India, became an important figure in the British Muslim community and started the mosque trust and campaign that led to the establishment of the Central Mosque at Regent’s Park in London in 1944. All are buried at Brookwood cemetery.

Following the death of Kamal-ud-Din in 1932, and his contemporaries soon after, the mosque became more locally-centred, serving the new communities of Muslims mostly from Pakistan who came to work in light industries. A new trust was established in 1964, on which the High Commissioner of Pakistan, and others drawn from across the country, served. The memorial hall was extended in 1964, and, following a change in religious emphasis and the establishment of the Woking Mosque Trust, the hall was further remodelled; a small extension was added to the east side of the mosque at the same time. In the 1990s the mosque and memorial hall were restored having become neglected; the exterior and interior colour scheme of the mosque has been refreshed over the years. The facilities at the mosque complex were expanded from 1994 by the conversion of a former warehouse building of the 1950s on the north boundary of the site, to provide additional prayer and education space.

The central water feature in the garden to the front (north) of the mosque has been replaced many times over the years. The garden is defined by a curving wall, with a central main entrance defined by a pair of pillars.

Reasons for Listing

The Shah Jahan Mosque, built 1888-1889 to the designs of William Isaac Chambers, commissioned by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* a highly accomplished and little altered building in late-Murghal style, with sophisticated exterior detailing, particularly the rendered entrance topped with embattlements and open turrets, surmounted by the flamboyant dome;
* the interior architectural detailing carries through in the ogee treatment to the window openings, panelling to either side of the Mihrab in the Qibla wall and the open space of the dome.

Historic interest:

* the first purpose-built mosque in Britain and northern Europe, strongly linked to the growth of British Islam in the late C19 and early C20;
* associated with leading Muslim figures including Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, Marmaduke Pickthall, translator of the Quran into English, and Lord Headley.

Group value:

* with the gate piers, listed at Grade II and the Salar Jung Memorial Hall listed at Grade II.

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