On the trail of the Makkah of Europe: Woking’s Islamic heritage

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The mosque was built as part of a vision by Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, to include the main religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism), but he passed away before he could fulfill his commitments. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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Several Muslim kings, princes, princesses, sultans, Victorians, soldiers and other prominent figures lay rest at Britain's first Muslim cemetery. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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The Woking Muslim War Cemetery, now known as the Peace Gardens, played a prominent part in the remembrance of the centenary of the World War I. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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The Woking Muslim War Cemetery was the final resting place of 27 Muslim soldiers who fought for the British Empire and the Free French Forces during the conflict. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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Lord Headley, also known as Sheikh Rahmatullah Al-Farooq, an Irish peer, and one of the leading members of the Woking Muslim Mission who helped the Shah Jahan Mosque flourish, with the aim of bringing it back to life as a platform for promoting Islam in Europe, was also buried in this cemetery. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (tomb pictured) established the first purpose-built mosque in northwestern Europe 130 years ago. Five years earlier he had also acquired a plot in the nearby Brookwood cemetery for the purpose of Muslim burials. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (tomb pictured) was a British Islamic scholar known for translating the Qur'an into English, is also buried at the Brookwood cemetery. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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The Woking Muslim War Cemetery, now known as the Peace Gardens, played a prominent part in the remembrance of the centenary of the World War I. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)
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The 'Makkah of Europe' - the Shah Jahan Mosque is the first purpose-built mosque in Britain.
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The Woking Trail - Britain's first Muslim heritage trail, incorporating three of the country's most important Islamic sites.
Updated 30 July 2019

On the trail of the Makkah of Europe: Woking’s Islamic heritage

  • Everyday Muslim announced the discovery of a forgotten Arab/British princess directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad
  • Buried in a Muslim plot at the Brookwood Cemetery near Britain's first Muslim Cemetery

LONDON: The grave of a British Muslim, believed to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), has been discovered in a suburban town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of London.

Nestled in the woodlands of Woking, Surrey, Princess Sharifa Musbah Haidar El-Hasimi (also known as Musbah Khanum and Musbah Haidar El-Ghalib) lies in one of Europe’s oldest Muslim cemeteries, surrounded by the graves of other notable Muslim Britons from the late Victorian period and beyond.

The burial ground, the first Muslim cemetery established in Britain, was unearthed as part of a trail led by Everyday Muslim, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting Muslim heritage in the UK.

“Fascinating revelations on the history of this particular princess and her final resting place have been unearthed during a self-guided trail that takes visitors to three of Britain’s most important Islamic sites, offering an overview of each one,” said Tharik Hussain, the project’s manager.

It was Hussain who first discovered the story of the Princess when he stumbled across one of her books in a small bookshop in Brighton about six years ago. Captivated by this discovery, he began researching her background.

Princess Musbah Haidar, according to Everyday Muslim, was the second daughter of the Grand Sharif of Makkah, Amir Ali Haidar of the family of Devi Zeids, who claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. 




Princess Musbah Haidar was the second daughter of the Grand Sharif of Makkah, Amir Ali Haidar of the family of Devi Zeids, who claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. (Supplied, no known copyright)

Princess Musbah’s mother was an Englishwoman of Irish descent called Isabel Dunn, who converted to Islam and became Amira Fatima, the second wife of Haidar. She was employed as an English teacher for the children from his first marriage.

Everyday Muslim reported that Princess Musbah was born at the family retreat, known as Chamlujah, in Istanbul on Nov. 25 1918, and had an older sister called Sfyne and a brother named Faisal. 

She was initially brought up in the city, but following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, her family was forced to leave.

Later she moved to England, and married Maj. Francis Stewart Fripp, who later converted to Islam, taking the name Ghalib. 

The princess’s ancestry is not well known as, at the time, the Ottomans had installed the other side of her family on the throne in Makkah. In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain, the then Sharif of Makkah, Hussein bin Ali, led a revolt against the Ottomans to create a united Arab state.

Everyday Muslim states: “Her great grandfather was the late Emir Abdul Muttalib, who was the grandson of Emir Musaad, who was directly descended from the patriarch of the House of Devi Zeid, Muhsin, whose brother Abdullah was the patriarch of the House of Devi-Aoun, which is the family tree of the current monarchs of Jordan and the historic monarchs of Iraq.

“Both houses stem from Emir Hassan, whose lineage is traced directly back eleven generations to Emir Katada of Makkah in 1174 AD. Emir Katada’s lineage traces back a further eight generations to Abdullah, the son of Mohammed Al-Alaoui, who is the grandson of Abdullah, the son of Hassan Al-Mussema.”

Al-Mussema was the son of Hassan, the brother of Hussein, whose father was the fourth caliph of Islam, Ali, the husband of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. 

In her lifetime, the princess authored two books; “Arabesque: an account of Harem Life,” detailing her life as a Makkan princess, and “Dawn Beyond the Tamarisks.” Her death was announced in The Times in January 1977.

According to Hussain, the two other Muslim sites in Woking the organization promotes have also been in the media recently: The Woking Muslim War Cemetery, which was renovated a few years ago and featured in the centenary celebrations of the Great War, and the Shah Jahan Mosque, which became the first in the country to be listed as a grade I historic monument as the first purpose-built mosque in northwest Europe.

The latter of these, named after Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, ruler of the British Raj tributary state of Bhopal, has a significant history.




The 130 year-old Shah Jahan mosque, in suburban Surrey, bears the name of its key donor, the Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, ruler of the British-Indian princely state of Bhopal. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)


It was the vision of Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, an orientalist born of Jewish parents from Hungary. A remarkable individual, according to the mosque’s website, aged 17 he “took a degree at King’s College, London, by which time it is said he could speak 15 languages.” He later went on to found the forerunner to the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The mosque itself was designed by Anglo-Irish architect William Isaac Chambers in a style that mirrored Indian Mughal architecture from the 16th century.

FUNFACT

In popular culture, the Shah Jahan Mosque was destroyed in H.G. Wells’ novel “War of the Worlds,” which was set in the author’s hometown of Woking.

Why Woking of all places?
Lietner, a religious scholar who lived and worked for many years in India and abroad, wanted to set up a college that would allow people to study the religions of the East.

“He came up with a site just outside London, in Woking, where this beautiful gothic building, known at the time as the Royal Dramatic College, had fallen on hard times and was up for sale. So it was really about convenience. It came with lots of land and it meant he didn’t have to pay the high prices that he would have paid had he found somewhere in London,” Hussain told Arab News. 

Lietner wanted to build free places of worship there as well, including a Hindu temple, an Eastern Christian church, a synagogue and a mosque. Because he anticipated people from all over the world would come, including Muslims, one of the first things he did in 1884 was secure a plot at the nearby cemetery (Brookwood) exclusively for the use of Muslim burials. 




The mosque (interior pictured above with the direction of the qibla) was built initially, along with a Muslim cemetery, as Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner understood that burial rites in Islam were a very important rite. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)

A stone still stands to this day inscribed with specific instructions on how to bury Muslims, as very few people in Victorian Britain understood the specific procedures.

His institute flourished and after five years he began building the mosque, but passed away before he could fulfill his vision.

The Shah Jahan Mosque was completed in 1889, but according to its website: “Abdullah Quilliam’s Liverpool mosque, opened in 1889, pre-dates Woking by a few months, but the Shah Jahan has the honor of being the first purpose-built mosque in Europe outside of Muslim Spain.”

FASTFACT

The Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking is the oldest purpose-built mosque in northwestern Europe and was known as the “Makkah of Europe” during the early 20th century, when it became the center of Islam in the UK.

Hussain adds: “So this is why Woking, because it had Britain’s first purpose-built mosque and Britain’s first Muslim cemetery, so naturally Muslims were drawn to it.”

Unfortunately, the mosque was neglected after Leitner’s passing for over a decade, but was then restored by an Indian lawyer, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, who had befriended influential Victorians curious about Islam, including a Lord who later became a convert. 

His name was Lord Headley, also known as Sheikh Rahmatullah Al-Farooq, an Irish peer, and one of the leading members of the Woking Muslim Mission who helped the center flourish, with the aim of bringing it back to life as a platform for promoting islam in Europe, even becoming home to one of the first Muslim publications in Europe, The Islamic Review.

That is why Woking has been dubbed the “Makkah of Europe” by the organizers of the trail.

The Muslim cemetries

The Woking Muslim War Cemetery, now known as the Peace Gardens, played a prominent part in the remembrance of the centenary of the First World War, between 1914-18. It was the final resting place of 27 Muslim soldiers who fought for the British Empire and Free French Forces during the two great wars..

But it is the other cemetery that Everyday Muslim is keen to highlight, which you could say was the Westminster Abbey of Muslim cemeteries.


“This site is probably the least known and ironically is actually the oldest Muslim space we know of in Britain. It is a plot of land originally known as the ‘Muhammadan Cemetery,’ founded in 1884, within the nearby Brookwood cemetery, by Dr. Leitner,” Hussain told Arab News.

Princess Musbah resides here alongside Abdullah Quilliam (1856‑1932), founder of Britain’s first mosque and Muslim publication, Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall (1875‑1936), author of the first ‘native’ English translation of the Holy Qur’an, Naji Al‑Ali (1936‑1987), Palestinian political cartoonist and creator of “Handalah,” Sepoy Ahmad Khan (died 1914), the first British Muslim soldier buried on British soil, and many other famous Muslims, such as Victorians, princes and princesses, sultans and so on.




The  cemetery in Woking is home to several important Muslim dignitaries. (Everyday Muslim/Tharik Hussain)

What is the aim?
Everyday Muslim wants to reach a point where sites such as these are not labelled as “British Muslim” heritage, but just “British” heritage.

Hussain, who also develops self-guided trails across the world for Lonely Planet guidebooks, said it should be recognized as a significant part of the island's history

Sir Laurie Magnus, chairman of Historic England, which is responsible for protecting and championing the country’s heritage, said “Muslim heritage is very much a part of Britain’s heritage and I am delighted to launch this trail,” to celebrate these beautiful sites.

The initiative was aided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as part of a bigger project concerning the heritage and history of the mosque and the surrounding area. 

Hussain said: “We wanted to put these trails out there so that Muslims and non-Muslims up and down the country could see the potential.”

He said they see this as a start, and hope to receive more funding to highlight Muslim heritage trails across the UK to make Muslim heritage in Britain more visible and a normalized part of the wider narrative.

“I think it’s really cool that in the process of trying to unearth British Muslim heritage, we are not only unearthing all these amazing stories of British people who were doing amazing things as Muslims and converts, but we find someone who has British blood and the Prophet’s blood. I think that’s just pretty fabulous, and something we should celebrate and embrace,” Hussain concluded.

The Trails developed by Hussain are available to download from here.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 51 min ago

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”