To mark International Women’s Day on 8th March 2021, Woking People of Faith facilitated a virtual tour of Shah Jehan Mosque, the first purpose built Mosque in the UK and North West Europe.
The link between International Women’s Day and this Grade 1 listed Mosque, built in 1889, is that it was largely funded by Shah Begum Jehan, Nawab Begum of Bhopal in central India. Shah Begum Jehan was one of four female rulers of Bhopal in the late 1800s when Bhopal was a princely state, an unusual role for a woman at the time.
The mosque was the concept of a remarkable Orientalist, Professor Gottlieb Leitner, Born in 1841 to Jewish parents in Budapest, after his father died, his mother moved to Istanbul and married a Christian. The young Leitner mastered 8 languages including Arabic and went on to have a distinguished career as an academic and head of the University of Punjab. He had a vision for providing a European Institute of Oriental Studies and found suitable premises in Woking. The Oriental Institute for Learning and the mosque were intended to provide a sympathetic cultural environment for students, mainly from India.
After Leitner died in 1899, the mosque and institute fell into disuse but an Indian lawyer Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din and his associate and Muslim convert, Lord Headley, saved the mosque from demolition. The mosque now serves the 10,000 Muslims living in Woking and the wider community. During the past year of Covid 19 restrictions the Imam and the mosque team have reached out to people, providing meals for those in need, aid for the NHS and pastoral help and funeral services for the bereaved.
The mosque holds 60 worshippers, and is beautiful inside and out, glowing with colours like a jewel. Built by a Christian architect it includes elements of Moghul, Egyptian and Turkish architecture. The interior is decorated with the 99 different attributes of Allah in gold Arabic script, colourful carpets, and traditional features such as the clock showing the times of the five daily prayers, the mihrab (a semi-circular niche on the wall facing towards Mecca which indicates the direction of prayer) and minbar, from where the Imam gives his sermon.
Although there are now additional prayer halls to cater for the needs of the 2000 worshippers (in pre-Covid times!), the historic mosque is used for prayer every day. The Imam and mosque management team welcome visitors and for more information and a virtual tour of the interior please visit