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

A precious facemask

The war in Syria has dropped out of the headlines in the media. But there is still an ongoing and disastrous humanitarian crisis, with millions of Syrians displaced and struggling to make a good life for themselves and their families. The global pandemic has made their situations worse. Many who have found a little work are day labourers whose source of employment has been cut off because of the Coronavirus restrictions. Camps are crowded and often lacking in facilities making it more difficult for refugees to safely distance or wash hands frequently.

But in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan the resourceful Syrian refugee women in the sewing class have turned their hands to making face masks. As well as earning a little income to support themselves and their families, the facemasks help the crowded community to stay safe.

The facemask is imprinted with the words “made with love by the LWF women in Za’atari Camp”. LWF is All We Can’s local partner in Za’atari Camp.

It was wonderful to receive this facemask from Za’atari, and most of all to know that it was “made with love”.

Government to reopen Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme

The VPRS is set to restart in January 2021, having closed earlier this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Home Office statistics, since 2015, 19,750 refugees have come to the UK under the resettlement scheme, just short of the 20,000 places that were promised after the catastrophic displacement caused by the Syrian war.

Churches and other refugee agencies are calling on the government to commit to receiving numbers of refugees beyond that original target. There are still thousands more refugees in need of help who do not qualify under the VPRS scheme. During the past few years, refugees and asylum seekers have been attempting to enter the UK illegally in lorries, trains and using dangerously small boats to cross the Channel. The Government is being urged to create more safe and legal routes for refugees in a bid to alleviate the crisis in the Channel and elsewhere, although even that might not stop exploitation of vulnerable people desperate for a better life by people-trafficking gangs.

Too many lives have been lost already by traumatised people driven to risk everything to reach safety in the UK. Please remember the Iranian Kurdish family who lost their lives at the end of October as they attempted to cross the English Channel in an inadequate too-small boat (Post of November 3rd).

Jesus said : Love your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10.27)

Everyone is our neighbour, including refugees. Please pray that the UK will live up to its historic reputation as a safe haven for refugees and offer a welcome to those in need.

(See the article in the Church Times online November 19th for statement from church leaders re VPRS)

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM), highlights the threat of Islamophobic hate crimes and showcases the positive contributions of British Muslims to the UK. (

IAM was founded in 2012 by leading Muslim organisations and aims to challenge stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, working with Police and Crime Commissioners, local councils, MPs, Mosques, schools, community organisations and others. (The Methodist Recorder Nov 13th 2020)

It also turns a spotlight on the discrimination and abuse suffered by Muslims in this country. Many cases of hate crime go unreported and the annual campaign every November helps to provide encouragement to victims to come forward and make complaints about harassment and abusive treatment.

A case study on IAM’s website tells how Ali* (not his real name) had racist slurs painted on his fence; faeces being thrown onto his lawn and his car windows smashed. This abuse was coming from his neighbours.

He had approached the council, the housing association, and the police over the months, but had no real response.

IAM helped Ali to deal with the issues, by formulating a strategy, helping with administrative procedures and generally supporting him.

There is no place in society, or in our churches and places of worship, for discrimination or prejudice of any kind. Methodists are known as friends of all and enemies of none, and the abuse suffered by people like Ali* is totally unacceptable.

The Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley, who taught Methodists to acknowledge the work of God in all peoples of faith. To recognise the finger of God, to rejoice in God’s work, and praise God with thanksgiving for God’s presence and work amongst people of all faiths. (From the Letter of the President of the Methodist Conference marking Interfaith Week 2020 :

Coronavirus – refugees in Camps in Lebanon

This information comes from the November update from DSPR (Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees – Middle East Council of Churches).

In Lebanon the Coronavirus outbreak is increasing with the state of 6 million people recoding over 83,000 cases. Deep mistrust of the government, especially since the massive explosion in Beirut, means new measures have been resisted and people are less likely to co-operate with government instructions.

Refugees are ever more vulnerable due to the pressure on financial and medical resources but here are two stories of hope from the Bourj El Shamali Camp in Tyre, South Lebanon.

72 year old Ahmad Mousa suffers from back problems and struggles to support his 8 children, one of whom is mentally disabled. His only means of earning income is by collecting plastic bottles and selling them for recycling. Only his eldest child is earning any money, working in agriculture. The family are trying very hard to put in place the Coronavirus precautions and Ahmad only leaves the confines of the camp to collect medicine for his disabled child from the UNWRA clinic. He relies on other households and shopkeepers to give the family food so he was grateful to receive a credit voucher enabling him to buy food and hygiene supplies.

Nabiha Yousef also received a voucher to spend on food. Nabiha is struggling to save money for an artificial limb as she has lost her foot due to diabetes complications, She is the breadwinner for her three children, running a small shop from her home, so any help is welcome.

Gorup 194 :: Palestinian homes in Beirut's Dbayeh camp face demolition  threat
Dbayeh Camp

In Dbayeh Camp in Lebanon, Coronavirus has meant that families have lost income and work due to the quarantine restrictions and the already difficult economic situation in the country.

Hygiene and social distancing are a problem. Houses only have one bathroom, there is no extra space for isolating and the camp is crowded with people living in close proximity to one another.

In spite of Coronavirus adding to the hardships already suffered by refugees in camps in Lebanon the aid organisations including DSPR are doing all they can to provide practical help and continue their training programmes via social media.

The Executive Secretary of DSPR Dr Bernard Sabella offers this commitment :
“We remain steadfast in our determination to serve, to live with the virus and to hope for better days.”

Remembrance Day

The Kohima Epitaph :

The Kohima Epitaph is the epitaph carved on the Memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima (North-East India). It reads:

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’

The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greeks who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.

Read Rajindar Singh Dhatt’s recollections of liberating Kohima at’s-story

Rajindar as a young man

Rajindar today