UK’s First Purpose-Built Mosque Marks 130th Anniversary

Shah Jahan mosque in the UK has been a familiar part of Surrey’s skyline since 1889, and it’s celebrating 130 years on its inauguration this November 2019.

“We are Sunni, we believe there is no god but Allah, the last and final prophet is Muhammad. Sunni and Hanafi [the most popular school of thought for Sunni Islam],” the mosque head Imam, Hafiz M Saeed Hashmi told Surrey Live.

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“We are moderate, we do interfaith and intrafaith. Interfaith is when you interact with other faiths, intrafaith is when you interact within your faith with other faiths.”

Imam Hashmi stands outside the main building (Image: Surrey Advertiser – Grahame Larter)
Imam Hashmi stands outside the main building (Image: Surrey Advertiser – Grahame Larter)

Participation in interfaith activities, including involvement with Woking People of Faith or non-faith events such as Remembrance Day services, help Shah Jahan’s worshippers break down barriers between religions which largely teach the same attitudes to life.

Imam Hashmi says: “[Islam] says if you have spare food and your neighbor is hungry, then you are not a Muslim. Take care of your neighbor, regardless of faith, culture or background.”

A postcard shows an image of Shah Jahan Mosque in the first half of the 20th century (Image: Surrey Advertiser – Grahame Larter)
A postcard shows an image of Shah Jahan Mosque in the first half of the 20th century (Image: Surrey Advertiser – Grahame Larter)

First Purpose-Build Mosque

The Shah Jahan mosque is not the first worshipping place for Muslims in the UK, with Qulliams mosque in Liverpool pre-dating it by several months. Yet, with its dome and minarets, it is the first purpose-built mosque.

The beautiful mosque was designed by architect William Isaac Chambers who incorporated elements of Middle Eastern architecture, a dome, minarets, and a courtyard.

The mosque was named after Sultan Shah Jahan, Begum of Bhopal, who partly funded the mosque. Shah Jahan was one of four successive women rulers or “Begums” of the former Indian state of Bhopal between 1819 and 1926.

The interior of the main building used as a prayer hall. Shoes must be removed before entering (Image: Surrey Advertiser – Grahame Larter)
The interior of the main building used as a prayer hall. Shoes must be removed before entering (Image: Surrey Advertiser – Grahame Larter)

Shah Jahan mosque was used as a place of worship by Muslim members of Queen Victoria’s household including Abdul Karim, the subject of the 2017 film Victoria & Abdul.

In March 2018, the British Minister of Heritage upgraded the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking from Grade II* to become the only Grade I listed mosque in the UK.

The Asian Orientalist style mosque is now on the same standing such as Brighton Pavilion and Buckingham Palace.