A large town thirty miles southwest of London, Woking is home to the first mosque in the country – the Shah Jahan Mosque. What’s more, it is home to a peace garden dedicated to Muslim Soldiers who fought for Britain in WW1. These Muslim soldiers were called over from India and other close by countries to help Britain combat their foes in the first world war. At first, the site was chosen as a dedicated cemetery for Muslim Indian soldiers who had died after being treated in the temporary military hospitals set up along the south coast (Ware, 2017). Later, due to vandalism and related incidents, the soldiers were carried over to the Brookwood Cemetery, six miles from the peace garden.
In 1969 the graves — by then 27 in number — were relocated to Brookwood Cemetery nearby and the walled grounds returned to the care of the Horsell Common Preservation Society. Today, thanks partly to the efforts of Historic England (HE, formerly part of English Heritage), together with funding from Woking Borough Council and other partners such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Sultanate of Oman, and the local mosque, the ruins of the former cemetery were brought back to life as an enclosed garden, reconfigured and planted according to Islamic design principles, and dedicated to the memory of the servicemen once buried there (Ware, 2017).
If you do visit London, take a trip down to Woking and visit the graves of some of the finest Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain. In the period around and just after the First World War, a small number of British people, often of upper middle class or minor aristocratic backgrounds, converted to Islam (Shearmur, 2014). Therefore, located within the Brookwood cemetery are a number of great Muslim scholars such as Marmaduke Pickthall. Having authored a number of Islamic literature, Pickthall also was known for translating the Qur’an into English. Discovering this cemetery and the first mosque in England made me realise that Islam can be traced back several centuries in Britain. We hope to travel more in the future around Britain to discover the history of Islam and Muslims in this great country.
Click here for the location of the Shah Jahan Mosque and here for the Horsell Peace Garden. If you want to visit the Brookwood Cemetery, click here.
Ware, V. (2017). From War Grave to Peace Garden: Muslim Soldiers, Militarized Multiculture, and Cultural Heritage. Journal of War & Culture Studies, 10(4), pp.287-304.
Shearmur, J. (2014). The Woking Mosque Muslims: British Islam in the Early Twentieth Century. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 34(2), pp.165-173.