Shah Jehan Mosque : The first purpose built Mosque in the UK

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

Interfaith Week

8th – 15th November 2020

Woking People of Faith ( been promoting a “Buddy” programme for women throughout September and October culminating in Inter Faith Week.

The idea is that ladies partner with someone of a different faith or belief to exchange views and initiate conversations, using social media or telephone, whatever means are most comfortable for them. They will have an opportunity to contribute to a virtual event in Inter Faith Week to share what they have discovered through this contact.

Kawther Akhtar, Surrey Faith Links Adviser, has suggested some possible questions that the buddies might consider together.

How does your faith or non-religious belief shape your daily life – including at this time of COVID-19?

What, in your faith or non-religious belief, encourages service to others in society?

Has COVID-19 brought any lessons about common values and action?


The Covid 19 pandemic has challenged all of us in different ways, through illness, bereavement, loneliness, home schooling, home working, and furlough. In addition government restrictions have meant that people of faith have been unable to worship together in the mosque, the church building or other religious houses. Worship has moved online, via Zoom or pre recorded services, or printed material posted or hand delivered. Faith leaders have had to grapple with these new methods of delivering the message and in many cases this challenge has been met with enthusiasm and thankfulness by leaders and congregations alike. One of the main benefits of online worship has been its accessibility to those who who are unable to physically come to a service.

Places of worship are now opening gradually, practising Covid secure procedures. The latest Government rules announced today are warning of a ban on gatherings over 6 people. There are exemptions, but possibly churches, mosques and other sacred spaces will have to revise their practise again and revert to online delivery of worship.

Whatever the challenges, people of faith can be reassured that God is with us in these difficult times. In the Old Testament Psalm 103 has these comforting words :

v 8 ….the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Faith informs action, and we have witnessed many faithful people and others inspired to help during this difficult time.

It has been a positive and heartening aspect of the Covid 19 pandemic to see the way in which so many people have helped their neighbours, with shopping, checking on them daily, contacting people to have a chat, using their time and talents to help the NHS (Thank you, Knaphill Syrian refugees who made laundry bags for the NHS staff at St Peter’s), delivering food parcels and generally being more aware of each others’ needs. Kindness and compassion have been expressed between strangers as communities have worked together to deal with the issues raised by the pandemic.

So there is plenty to talk about and share with each other as we contemplate the uncertainty of the months to come and recall with thankfulness the many inspiring stories of human and godly love that have already resulted from the strange times in which we are living.

As people of faith and other beliefs take time to talk to each other, may grace and love be at the heart of all their conversations.