London’s First Mosque: A study in history and mystery

London Mosque

The morning of the 3rd of October 1926 dawned upon London as another regular Sunday morning, but for the residents of Putney, it had been long awaited. The construction of an unusual building on Melrose Road SW18 had been ongoing for two years now, and had been of great interest for the local residents of Putney and Southfields. It had also attracted immense press attention ever since its foundation was laid in 1924, by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad [ra], the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the time. The residents
had witnessed famous architects such as T. H. Mawson visit the site 1 during the planning phase and then members of the local community voluntarily taking part as labourers in the construction phase. 2

Now, on this morning, it was ready for its inauguration—an event that was scheduled to occur later that afternoon. What made the event historically so important was the fact that it was set to be the opening of London’s first ever Mosque. 3 There had long been a Muslim presence in Britain; organised communities, such as that of Abdullah Quilliam had emerged (and dispersed). Various houses had been what Muslim Londoners later called the East London Mosque, but the need for a purpose built Mosque in London was long felt by Muslims in Britain. This gap was to be filled by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, 4 adding a new dimension to the historical importance of the Mosque.

During research, the author obtained original drawings of the Fazl Mosque, discovered at the Kendal Record Office. T. H. Mawson (1861-1933) lived by the Windermere Lake and his works were passed on to the Cumbria County Council following the closure of Thomas H Mawson & Son. These plans of the Fazl Mosque are part of the 14,000 plans and drawings that comprise the T. H. Mawson Archive.

London being at the crossroads of the world—both geographically and sociologically—meant that this event was important, not only for the history of Islam, but also for the history of Great Britain. Having ruled India for an extensive time period, the British Government was fully aware that a Mosque for Muslims was not only a place of worship, but also a place of much more significant social value. The community which built this Mosque was none other than the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The community was known for its zealous missionary activities, and for its members who boldly professed their faith and strove to proselytise their beliefs. The question was, how would they be received? Would it be similar to how Muslims had received the Christian missionaries in India, or would they be welcomed? While local residents were excited merely by the thought of a Mosque being built in their neighbourhood, the authorities as well as citizens with a greater sense of history and sociology were considering more seriously the avenues that would open with the establishment of the Mosque.

The Fazl Mosque under construction, 1925 at this juncture, it would be quite appropriate to provide a background to the community that was behind the building of this Mosque. The Ahmadiyya Community is a sect of Islam founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad [as] in 1889 in Qadian, 5 a small town in the Gurdaspur District of Indian Punjab. It is known among religious circles, apart from many other aspects, for the heresy attributed to it by the mainstream orthodox Muslims, who believe that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s [as] claim of bei ng the Promised Messiah and the Imam Mahdi is not in accordance with the doctrine of the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad [saw], 6 the Prophet of Islam. This stance is self-contradictory as all Muslims await a person to fulfil this role, while still claiming to believe in the finality of Prophet Muhammad[saw]. 7 There is, however, a difference in the understanding of the nature of the Second Advent—other Muslims taking it to be literal and physical and Ahmadis take it to be metaphorical. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad [as] carried metaphorical meaning and that he himself was the personification of the awaited Messiah. 8

A newspaper report one day before the Mosque opening. The caption under the photo of Prince Faisal reads: ‘The first Muslim Mosque in London, which is to be opened to-morrow by Prince Faisal.’This allegation of heresy by the Muslim orthodoxy has led the community to being declared outside the pale of Islam 9 by other Muslims, and hence a non-Muslim minority for the Muslim world. This again contradicts the teachings of Prophet Muhammad [sa] who, in many traditions, is said to have defined a Muslim as one who believes in the Oneness
of Allah, in Muhammad [saw] as His messenger. 10 The Ahmadiyya Community claims to believe in exactly this and a study of their literature is ample proof of the claim. 11 Having been declared heretics by the Ulema 12 of the orthodoxy, it is thought by many orthodox Muslims as legal to drive Ahmadis out of Muslim majority neighbourhoods, boycott them socially, and in some circles, even kill them if the state fails to do so. 13 Extremist Muslim groups, for this reason alone, have killed many Ahmadis in Pakistan 14 and other parts of the Muslim world. 15 However, this is not supported by the practice of Prophet Muhammad [saw] or the Sunnah, which is claimed by the orthodox Muslims to be of a prime source of guidance, only second to the Qur’an. Despite all this opposition and persecution, Ahmadis are renowned for conveying the peace-loving message of Islam to all accessible inhabited parts of the globe.16 By 2011, they officially claimed
King Faisalto be established in 200 countries. 17 The post 9/11 world has seen a rise in the trajectory of Islamophobia, as never witnessed before. 18 While Islam is seen to be synonymous with terrorism, the Ahmadiyya Community has been at the forefront among the few Muslim sections that promote Islam as a peaceful faith and demonstrate this in their practice. 19 

Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia is received at Paddington Railway Station in London. On the extreme left is Maulana Abdur Raheem Dard [ra], the first Imam of the Fazl Mosque and a Companion of the Promised Messiah [as]. 

With this being the background, Muslims could not have been too happy with the fact that the Ahmadiyya Community was going to take credit for establishing a Mosque, especially one of such socio-geographical importance. The extensive and widespread attention this Mosque had gained even before it was built is evident from the press reports on the foundation stone laying ceremony in October 1924. 20 What had sent a very strong message of goodwill across the religious sections of Britain was a result of the message of the Khalifa [ra], or the spiritual Head of the Ahmadiyya Community, that was inscribed on a slab that was erected as part of the foundation laying ceremony. The message was in Urdu language, rendered in English, and read:

‘I, Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, KhalifatulMasih II, Head of the Ahmadiyya Community which has its Headquarters at Qadian, Punjab, India lay the foundation stone of this Mosque to-day, the 20th Rabiul Awwal 1343 Hijra, to seek the pleasure of God so that His name be glorified in England and that the people of this country may also partake of the blessings which have been vouchsafed to us. I pray to God that He may accept this humble and sincere effort of all the members of the Ahmadiyya Community, both women and men, and that He may provide means for the growing prosperity of this Mosque; and may He make it for ever and ever a centre for promulgating the views of purity, piety, justice and love, and may this place prove a sun of spiritual light radiating forth in this country and in all the countries around the blessed beams of the heavenly light of the Holy Prophet Mohammad the Chosen one of God and the seal of the prophets and of Ahmad the Promised Messiah, the prophet of God, the Vicegerent, and the reflection of Mohammad (may peace and the blessings of God be upon them both). Amen.’ 19-10-1924

It was against this backdrop that the opening of the Mosque was to be staged. The Ahmadiyya Community, honouring him as the guardian of the Islamic Holy Places, had requested King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud of Hedjaz to open the Mosque. 21 The King had replied that he would not be able to attend, but would send his son, Emir Faisal, the Viceroy of Mecca (who later became King Faisal of Saudi Arabia) to inaugurate the Mosque on his behalf. 22 The Mosque’s administration had very happily accepted this and the following months were spent in making arrangements for the Royal visit on this grand occasion.

Plans

Only half an hour before the ceremony, a message was received from the Foreign Secretary of the King of Hedjaz, that the Prince would not be able to attend. The Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the time, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad [ra], Khalifatul-Masih II, requested Honourable Khan Bahadur Shaikh Abdul Qadir, the Indian Representative to the League of Nations, to officially open the Mosque instead. Photo: Hazrat Abdur Raheem Dard [ra] handing the silver key of the Mosque to Sheikh Qadir. 

All the aforementioned events were incidentally taking place at a time of great political importance for Hedjaz. The conquest of Hedjaz by King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud had recently taken place and Great Britain, for diplomatic reasons, 23 was among the nations that accepted his regime. The Political Agent of Great Britain to Hedjaz, S. R. Jordan, wrote to Whitehall in London to report that one of the reasons King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was sending his son Prince Faisal to Britain was to show gratitude to His Britannic Majesty, the King of England, for having accepted the King’s Government. The same letter also carried the indication that ‘it is also rumoured locally that whilst in England, Emir Feisal will inaugurate a Mohammedan Church’. 24

With all arrangements in place, the Prince arrived at London Paddington station on 23rd September 1926. As the major purpose of his visit was to inaugurate the Mosque, 25 he was received by A. R. Dard, the Imam of the London Mosque and other members of the Mosque administration 26 and then led to Hyde Park Hotel. The event was of great excitement for the Ahmadiyya Community whose simple, and mostly poor members in India had raised the money to fund the building of the Mosque; 27 the majority of the voluntary contributors being the women of the Ahmadiyya community. A vast majority of the women, being typical Indian homemakers, had sold whatever form of jewellery or valuable assets they possessed to attain this goal.28 The inspiration behind this huge step of voluntary resolve, to raise this large sum of money, is said to have had its roots in the sermons of the Khalifa [ra], 29 who had expressed how important the opening of a Mosque in London could be. 30 London newspapers confirmed that this event was taken to be a huge turning point in the story of ‘East meeting West’.31 However, the propaganda about the opening had sent a wave of excitement amongst the residents, 32 as well as the government authorities in London. 33

Around thirty members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords were due to attend and India Office records reveal that members of the Royal Family were also invited to the occasion. 34 The press had been covering the progress ever since the foundation was laid, but news stories highlighting the opening became more prominent in the National mainstream press as the big day approached. The Times covered the story closely on October 2nd 1926 and mentioned that Prince Faisal would arrive at the ceremony and how the series of events was due to unfold in course of the schedule, 35 the following day. The arrival of the Prince was to mark the commencement of the opening ceremony, followed by the Prince formally opening the doors of the Mosque with a silver key, and then the company would assemble in a marquee erected in the grounds of the Mosque to present an address to the Prince, who would reply to it. The keynote address was to be the message of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih [ra], the Head of the Ahmadiyya Community, which he was to send from Qadian, as he himself had not been able to make it for this occasion. 36

Hazrat Malik Ghulam Farid [ra], a Companion of the Promised Messiah [as], calling the first Adhan (call to Prayer) at the Mosque.

The day had started with the buzz and excitement that one would expect at such a historic occasion. Alongside Prince Faisal, who was designated as the chief guest, other dignitaries were also expected to attend. To watch this unique moment of historic importance, a crowd had gathered from early afternoon to catch a glimpse of the dignitaries who were to attend the opening 37 of the first ever Mosque in London. 38 Dignitaries had arrived at the Mosque by three o’clock in the afternoon, among whom were members of the British Parliament, members of the House of Lords, members of the Anglican Clergy, delegates from foreign embassies in London and dignitaries from other walks of life. Also attending on invitation were: Sir Harry Brittain MP, Sir P. J. Hannon JP, the Mayor of Wandsworth and Khan Bahadur Shaikh Abdul Qadir, 39 the Indian Representative to the League of Nations, to name but a few of the dignitaries. It deserves special mention that realising the importance of the occasion, Muslims from around London are also reported to have attended the opening. 40

It came with a sense of shock and disappointment when only half an hour before the ceremony, the Imam of the London Mosque received a telegraphic message from the Foreign Secretary of the King of Hedjaz, which said that Prince Faisal would not be attending the ceremony, and hence would not be able to inaugurate the Mosque. The telegraphic message read:

‘I very greatly regret having to inform you that his Highness the Emir Feisal Ibn Abdulla Aziz Al Saud will not be able to attend. This is a matter which occasions his Highness very great regret, and both his Highness and myself wish all success to yourself and all prosperity and blessings to the great Mosque. And we pray God to grant your work that success.’41

As one can imagine, this disruption at the eleventh hour, must have been difficult to take. Had it been an ordinary occasion, the Imam could have taken a spontaneous decision, but the grandeur of the occasion demanded thorough consideration and guidance from the Khalifa [ra]. 42 A telegraphic message was immediately sent out to Qadian seeking guidance as to what could be done in light of the new circumstances. The Khalifa [ra] [ra], Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad wrote back immediately to say that the opening should go ahead as planned, and directed that Khan Bahadur Shaikh Abdul Qadir be requested to open the Mosque. Thus, in the absence of the Prince, London’s first Mosque was opened by Khan Bahadur, the Honourable Shaikh Abdul Qadir, a former Minister in the Punjab Government, and then a member of the Indian delegation at the League of Nations.43 The rest of the evening went according to schedule. It was, indeed, a turning point in the history of both Islam and London. The Times, in its report the day before viewed this occasion in the following words:

‘The occasion is one of great importance in the history of religious movements outside Christianity in this country, for the Mosque, situated in the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth (whose Mayor will be present at the ceremony) is the first building erected in London for Islamic worship.’44 

The Daily Chronicle report on the same evening read:

It was a formal ceremony in an atmosphere curious even for London.’45

The Westminster Gazette described it as ‘an occasion of great importance in Muslim circles.’46 

The event, unique in its nature as it was, received a high presence of the National press and media with ‘a battery of cameras and kinematograph machines’47 in and around the compounds.

The Honourable Shaikh, although making it clear that he did not belong to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam himself, emphasised the importance of the opening of this Mosque. He said in the course of his address that:

‘…he was not in favour of ceremonies, but in these days they could not ignore the value of publicity, and that Mosque, which was the beginning of the missionary movement of Islam in London, would sink into obscurity were it not for the publicity which would be given to that ceremony.’48

Messages were read out from all over the world and from many well-known dignitaries who were not Muslims.49 After this, the keynote address by the Khalifa [ra] was read out; this was received by cable from Qadian, India. This message is an important document in understanding the intention behind the building of this Mosque in London. It shows how important a turning point this Mosque was in the history of London, the metropolis famous today for its religious and cultural diversity.

The message of the Khalifa [ra] read: 

‘We do not cherish feelings of enmity towards Christianity, but look upon Jesus Christ [as] as a true and great prophet of God…’. 

It went on to say that the objective of the Mosque: 

‘…will be to spread the worship of the one living and powerful God in this centre of unity with love and sincerity, and to establish the love of the Creator in the hearts of men. We will try to remove the feelings of hatred and enmity from betwixt the followers of different religions and will do our best to create the true spirit of search. We will try to reform morals and efface wrongs and transgressions. We will try to create feelings of sincerity and true equality, which recognises the legitimate differences of grades, and engender feelings of brotherhood and mutual sympathy and cooperation.’ 

‘And I avail myself of this opportunity by appealing to the Christian people that they also should not look upon Islam with feelings of enmity, and instead of trying to find faults with the Islamic teachings should search for its beauties, because the truth of a religion is not manifested by finding faults with others, but by proving the excellence of it’s own teachings.’ 

‘Brethren, the world of today is a sorrowful scene of polytheism, irreligiousness, hatred between nations, tension between classes. Hence it is the duty of every honest man who loves his God to wake from his sleep and make houses consecrated in the name of God strongholds of His unity and centers of union, instead of making them places of irreligiousness and means of disunion.’ 50

With the messages read out, the Imam of the Mosque gave a silver key to the Hon Shaikh Abdul Qadir, who formally opened the Mosque. 51 The fact that Prince Faisal, at the last minute, declined to attend despite the fact that he had travelled a long way with the intention to open the Mosque is interesting to consider. What led to the Prince pulling out from attending at the eleventh hour?

The Mystery of the Prince ( Part II) 

Why Prince Faisal declined to open the Mosque, and pulled out only a few hours before the official inauguration, is a mystery. Although the Prince later on disclosed the fact that he had been instructed by his father, the King of Hedjaz, not to go ahead with the opening, 1 he never explained why he had been instructed to do so. 2 Therefore, despite much speculationaround the incident, the reason behind this sudden change of plan, which led to the Prince dishonouring his commitment, was never disclosed. The speculation was intense—the absence of the Prince from the inauguration, which had supposedly been the main purpose for his long journey, made headlines in local and National newspapers. “Emir and a Mosque”, “Mystery of the Mosque”, “Emir Faisal Stays Away at Last Moment”, “Forbidden from Mecca”, “First London Mosque And Sect Dispute; Emir Forbidden to Open It” and “Prince Feisul Mystery” were some of the headlines given to the story by the mainstream press. As no explanation was given for the Prince’s absence in his memorandum, the press naturally turned to the authorities of the London Mosque to get their impressions on the incident.

Hazrat G. F. Malik [ra] , Secretary of the Fazl Mosque’s administrative body, expressed his opinion that the King of Hedjaz had been pressurised by orthodox Muslims not to let his son proceed with the opening of a Mosque that was being established by the Ahmadiyya sect. 3

The Imam of the Mosque, Hazrat Abdur Raheem Dard [ra], said that the King had accepted the request and agreed to send his son, Prince Faisal, to inaugurate the Mosque.

DardHazrat A. R. Dard [ra], the Imam of the Fazl Mosque, who was responsible for the arrangements of the opening by the Prince, stated that the King had accepted his request in August and had happily agreed to send his son, Prince Faisal, the Viceroy of Makkah, to inaugurate the Mosque. Plans had been made accordingly, but on the very morning of the day the Mosque was to be opened, he was suddenly informed by the Prince’s staff that King Ibn Saud had cabled the Prince, prohibiting his participation in the ceremony. 4

The Imam went on to say that both he and the Emir himself—and indeed, everybody else as well—were completely in the dark as to the real cause of the problem. Several suggestions were floated for the abrupt cancellation. It had been suggested that King Ibn Saud had been informed that this was not a real Muslim Mosque. The Imam said that such a statement was nothing more than absurdity. 5

The Honourable Khan Bahadur Shaikh Abdul Qadir, also believed that the fact that orthodox Muslims disapprove of Ahmadis as Muslims could have been a factor behind this unpleasant situation, and that perhaps their “machinations have been responsible for preventing the presence of Prince Feisal.” 6

Another suggestion, which the Imam was also informed of, was that Al-Ehram, a Cairo-based newspaper, had reported, with reference to the Morning Post London, that the Mosque would be open to all religions for all types of worship, which meant it could not be classified as a Mosque. 7

Another possible reason for the cancellation might have been the political significance of the Prince’s visit to England. Yet close scrutiny of India Office Records file of the Political and Secret Department reveal that political motives were negligible. Correspondence from then Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, states in as many words that the Prince’s visit was taken to be untimely, and that it was tactfully communicated to the King, Ibn Saud, that the Prince could come to England but the visit would be classed as unofficial and incognito. 8

That the King accepted this condition makes it less likely that the Prince’s visit to England was undertaken for other political reasons, leaving the inauguration of the Mosque as the prime reason of his visit.

MealIndeed, the absence of the Prince was notable in that even nonMuslims had anticipated the importance of the inauguration. For example, the Maharaja of Burdwan, who was also amongst the dignitaries attending the ceremony, said that he had taken the event so seriously that even though he was not a Muslim, he thought it was his responsibility to attend. 9 In short, while the opening of the London Mosque was laying the foundations of a culture of tolerance in Great Britain, it was also accompanied with a whiff of intolerance—not from predominantly Christian Londoners, but rather, ironically, from other Muslims themselves.

Prince Faisal later made it a point to visit the Mosque on a state visit.

First Mosque in London?
The London Mosque was named ‘Fazl Mosque’ by the Khalifa [ra] of the Ahmadiyya Community. 10 It was on 3rd October 1926 that the Adhan 11 was heard being called out for the first time in London from the minarets of a purpose built Mosque. 12 One might reasonably assume that the London Mosque would receive the title of the first Mosque in London. Yet recently, the East London Mosque has often been referred to as the first Mosque in London,13 based on the fact that the London Mosque Fund (LMF) —originally set up in 1910—was later invested in the East London Mosque Project. Yet this claim open to historical challenge, as K H Ansari correctly points out. 14 While there is absolutely no doubt that the London Mosque Fund was set up on 13th December 1910, with the first formal meeting of the Executive Committee of the LMF held in London 15—nearly 16 years before the inauguration of Fazl Mosque—the setting up of the fund is not the equivalent of actually building a Mosque. The fund could be taken as a means towards this particular end, but that too in the case that it had been initially dedicated to that specific project. Yet the project was open ended, set up with the intention of establishing a Mosque. The famous jurist, Syed Ameer Ali, who later became the lifelong chairman of the LMF Executive Committee, is reported to have called attention to the need of a Mosque in London in 1908; he put it as follows:

‘It does not require great imagination or political grasp to perceive the enormous advantages that would accrue to the empire itself were a Moslem place of worship founded in London.’ 16

Syed Ameer Ali’s position became more and more tenuous, and eventually the LMF’s attempts to secure donations from Muslims in Britain and around the world failed.

Ameer AliIn other words, the motive for this project was to establish some Mosque in London—not any specific Mosque—and two years later, in 1910, this project became the LMF. This was the motive behind the project for which a fund was formed later in 1910, namely the LMF. However, in order to figure out which Mosque was really the first in London, it would be instructive to look at the history of the London Mosque Fund. After the initial excitement of a £5000 pledge made by the Aga Khan, contributions slowed and the LMF underwent a fairly static phase. 17 This amount was reached not before 1917 when the total amount received in donations totaled £5000. 18 Again, while initial enthusiasm was high, with the Begum of Bhopal contributing £7000 and the Ottoman Sultan and the Shah of Persia donating £1000 each, it receded fairly quickly due to various political and economic turbulences—the Balkan War and the First World War 19 among them. Moreover, it became more and more challenging to attract new subscriptions as Syed Ameer Ali’s position became more tenuous. The British viewed him as an activist with overwhelming Indian loyalties while the Muslims branded him a pro-British liberal. 20 Thus, when the LMF’s attempts to secure donations from Muslims in Britain and around the world failed, the only place they could turn to was the British Government itself.

A letter from Lord Headley 21 to Sir Austen Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for India shows how clearly state sponsorship was demanded for the LMF. 22 How the State officials opposed the idea is also clear from the note 23 given by A Hirtze, a bureaucrat at the India Office and later Political Department, on the same letter. In other words, up until 1914, the LMF, practically speaking, was nothing more than a static amount of £5,206 sitting in the form of cash or securities in the Bank of England. The LMF Executive Committee raised the issue of why there had been no progress, in its meeting on 30th April 1913. Indeed, no funds were put to any use until January 1914. It is then that the LMF committee agreed on giving Khawaja Kamaluddin 24 a sum of £120 a year to rent the Lindsay Hall in Notting Hill Gate (later moved to 39 Upper Bedford Place and then 111 Campden Hill Road) on Fridays for the weekly Muslim congregational prayer; Salaat-e-Jumu’ah.

Apart from the petty cash and administrative costs of the LMF Committee, this £120 remained the only expense used towards its actual purpose. But renting space was never the aim of the LMF. Indeed, even the proposal of purchasing a house for the purpose of a Mosque was rejected outright by the Executive Committee on 12th May 1926, calling the proposal ‘an infraction of the Trust, the purpose of which is the building of a Mosque.’ 25 In other words, not even the LMF executive committee believed that renting a room or building a house was the same as actually completing construction on a purpose-built Mosque. It is important to note here that this was in 1926, the same year that the Fazl Mosque in Southfields was inaugurated and had started functioning as a fully functional Mosque. This should settle the matter; it is clear that Fazl Mosque was the first Mosque in London. But while the construction of Fazl Mosque followed an easy path, the construction of the East London Mosque would take much more time. This alone leaves no room to doubt the fact that the Fazl Mosque was the first Mosque built in London. The discussion of which Mosque was the first to be built in London can be ended here; however, as there are a couple of decades still to cover before the opening of the ELM, let us continue with its history.

By 1926 then, the rent on Campden Hill Road, (where the fund had moved from their Notting Hill location) had increased to the amount contributed towards the rent of 111 Campden Hill Road, risen to £130 per annum 26 and the executive committee decided that it was not worth the expense, given the decreasing number of worshippers there, so they terminated the tenancy. The expense was beginning to seem to the Executive Committee as too much and not worth the value in view of the falling number of worshippers at the Campden Hill rented room. The tenancy with Messrs G. N. Watts Ltd, who worked as the agent of the property, was, thus, terminated. In the wake of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syed Ameer Ali tried to take other Muslim rulers on board as patrons in hope of getting donations 27 but this goal was not reached until 1928, when Lord Headley returned from India with a £60,000 donation from Nizam of Hyderabad. This was a sharp rise in the trajectory of the LMF, albeit in the monetary aspect only. But even here what cannot be ignored is that this donation was not given to the LMF itself—rather, it went to a new fund called the ‘London Nizamiah Mosque Trust Fund.’ 28 This fund was partially used to purchase a piece of land in West Kensington and the foundation for a Mosque, to be styled the ‘Nizamiah Mosque’ was laid in 1937,29 but the ‘Mosque itself literally never got off the ground.’ 30

Further attempts to seek British state sponsorship in a more tactful way than Lord Headley had adopted resumed in 1937 and 1938, by Margaret Farquharson 31 and Ibrahim Mougy 32 respectively. These attempts tried to shift the focus of the government officials from the religious side of the proposed Mosque, to its potential socio-cultural and political aspects, 33 albeit to no avail. Next, Jamiat-ul-Muslimin appeared to further efforts and were the first British Muslims to be active in politics. The Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and Syed Hashim, the emissary of the Nizam of Hyderabad, both turned the focus of the LMF towards the East End of London and away from the proposed Mosque in the centre of London. 34 It took a further five years for the LMF to eventually purchase a property on Commercial Road 35 and a further year to bring to it to a functional state. The new Mosque, named the East London Mosque, housed its first Jumu’ah (Friday) Prayer on 23rd May 1941, and was formally opened on 1st August 1941. 36 As K H Ansari writes, ‘this, then, after thirty years, was the culmination of the LMF’s efforts.’ 37 With this historical evidence, it is easier to conclude that the Fazl Mosque in Southfields, built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, was the first Mosque to be built in London, inaugurated and attended by noted Muslims more than a decade before the East London Mosque materialised.

Out of the Fold of Islam?

From a historical perspective, it is fairly clear that the Fazl Mosque was the first in London. The only other factor that would put Fazl Mosque’s status as the first in London into question is a theological issue. This question has to do with whether or not Ahmadis can be considered Muslims or not—a question that has also always been raised by other sects of Islam. 38 We see, however, that this question has always been asked of other sects. Fatwas, or decrees, by Muslim jurists, have always been issued by one sect of Islam towards another, declaring another group kafir (infidel or heretic). If these fatwas were to be given any weight, no Muslim would remain Muslim and, hence, no Mosque could ever be classified as a Mosque.

One could argue that the difference with the Ahmadiyya Community is that all other sects unanimously agree on the fatwa issued against them. 39 While we do not have space here to examine this issue thoroughly, a detailed, theological debate can be had about this topic, however for the intents and purposes of this article, a brief understanding of how the Prophet of Islam defined a Muslim should suffice. When asked who was to be recorded as a Muslim in a census, the Prophet’s [saw] only criteria was that whoever claims to be Muslim should be recorded as a Muslim. On other occasions, the Prophet [sa] has defined a Muslim as one who bears witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad [saw] is His Messenger, offers Salaat, 40 pays Zakat, 41 performs Hajj and observes fasting in the month of Ramadhan 42. Ahmadis call themselves Muslims—thereby fulfilling the first criteria—but they also perform all the actions necessary to be a practicing Muslim, including implementing all the five pillars of Islam and acting upon all the commandments laid down in the Holy Qur’an. Indeed, hundreds of Ahmadis have been arrested in Pakistan for reciting the Kalima (The Muslim creed), displaying it on their Mosques, or wearing it on a badge. 43 Ahmadis are constitutionally prohibited from performing any ritual or act in a Muslim way in Pakistan. 44 In short, under the aforementioned criteria of what constitutes a Muslim then, Ahmadis fulfil the definition of Muslims.

IqbalProminent Muslim figures such as Sir Muhammad Iqbal, attended the Mosque, which throws into disrepute claims that the Fazl Mosque was and is not a ‘Muslim’ Mosque.

Also of particular interest is the fact that the Fazl Mosque in Southfields was inaugurated by the Honourable Shaikh Abdul Qadir, who himself was a prominent Muslim, but was not a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He actually opened the Mosque saying that he was opening it “In the name of the Merciful God.” 45 His address on the occasion is evidence of that the fact that he held no sectarian sentiments for or against the Fazl Mosque, and that what was important to him was the fact that the Mosque would convey the message of Islam to the West. 46 Interestingly, this is the same Shaikh Abdul Qadir who was later requested to be on the board of trustees by the LMF in 1935 and formally attended the LMF meeting in 1936 47 for the first time. Hence, it is evident that the Fazl Mosque was considered to be a Mosque by at least some members of the LMF itself at the time of its opening. Indeed, both at the inauguration of the Mosque and decades afterwards, prominent Muslim figures such as M. A. Jinnah, 48 Sir Feroz Khan Noon, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Muhammad Shafi (renowned Muslim Journalist), the Aga Khan, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan and A.K. Fazlul Huq, who attended the Fazl Mosque and even offered Salaat, the Muslim ritual form of prayer. Even Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who had cancelled his appearance at the Mosque inauguration, made it a point to visit the Fazl Mosque on a later state visit.

It was at the Fazl Mosque where Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan (pictured below), announced his return to the Indian political scene, having been convinced to do so by the Imam, Hazrat A. R. Dard [ra].

It was at this very Mosque that Jinnah, after having withdrawn from Indian politics, informally announced his return to the Indian political scene by addressing the huge gathering of Indian Muslim students present at the Eid-ul-Adha 49 assembly at the Fazl Mosque. 50 He spoke at length on the British Government’s White Paper on Constitutional reform in India. This marked his return to Indian politics to take up the role that later proved vital in the formation of Pakistan. 51 Indeed, a vast majority of the Muslims living in Pakistan revere Jinnah as the leader of the Muslims of British India and later Pakistan. 52 It would be ironic and self-contradictory to then argue that Jinnah was not aware of who is and who is not a Muslim.

The Fazl Mosque Today

FazlFrom the day of its inauguration, the Fazl Mosque has been a fully functional Mosque, in which five congregational prayers are offered every single day. Since the shift of the Ahmadiyya Headquarters to London in 1984, 53 it has housed two Khalifas of the Ahmadiyya community: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad [rh] (1928-2003), Fourth Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad [atba], 54 Fifth and current Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Set deep in the midst of a unique and interesting historical heritage, London’s first Mosque stands on Gressenhall Road SW18, reminding Londoners of the message of tolerance and harmony it brought along 55 all the way from the Muslims of British India, at a time when it was far more challenging to build a Mosque than it is today. 56 The Fazl Mosque, the first Mosque in London, today.

The history of the East London Mosque provides an interesting aspect to the whole story. The most poignant facet of it could be that a project; to build the first Mosque in London; that did not materialise despite huge donations made by highly affluent and influential figures including the Begum of Bhopal, the Shah of Persia, the Aga Khan and their likes. Instead, the building of the first Mosque in London materialised in the shape of the Fazl Mosque in Southfields, by the funds collected by the poor women of Qadian, India. 57

____________________________

Endnotes

Part I:

1. Thomas H Mawson, “Details for Ahmadiyah Mosque, Southfields, London”, n.d., WDB 86/A, Mawson Archives.

2. “Mosque for a London Suburb,” The Daily Graphic, September 29, 1925, 8.

3. “The Muezzin of Putney,” London Evening Standard, October 1, 1926, 1.

4. “First Mosque in London,” The Times, October 2, 1926, 7.

5. Friedman, Y, “Ahmadiyah,” in Encyclopedia of Religion (Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2005), 200–201.

6. David Westerlund and Ingvar Svanberg, eds., Islam Outside the Arab World (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1999), 8.

7. Friedman, Y, “Ahmadiyah,” 200–201; Ishtiaq Ahmad, “South Asia,” in Islam Outside the Arab World, ed. David Westerlund and Ingvar Svanberg (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1999), 5–7.

8. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Nishan-e-Asmani, 5th ed. (Surrey: Islam InterNational Publications, 2009).

9. SE Brush, “Ahmadiyat in Pakistan,” The Muslim World 45 (1955): 145–171.

10. Narration of the Holy Prophet [saw] from the Hadith.

11. Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, 5th ed. (Tilford, Surrey: Islam InterNational Publications,

2007), 6–11.

12.Literal meaning being ‘scholars’ but commonly used as a term that refers to religious especially Islamic scholars. History of Islam bears witness that they have always tried to indulge in Islamic politics. Qasim Zaman, (2002) in his book ‘The Ulama in Contemporary Islam, refers to their self styled role of custodians of change.

13. AS Pirzada, The Politics of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Pakistan 1971-1977 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000); Ishtiaq Ahmad, “South Asia,”

235.

14. Pakistan: Massacre of Minority Ahmadis (Human Rights Watch, June

1, 2010), www.hrw.org/news/2010/06/01/pakistan-massacre-minorityahmadis.

15.E Rauhala, “The Other Indonesia,” Time, 2012, www.time.com/time/ magazine/article/0,9171,2099185,00.html.

16.“The New Mosque for London,” London Evening Standard, September

23, 1926; Cragg, Kenneth, Call of the Minaret (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2000), 223.

17. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, “Friday Sermon: Blessings of Financial Sacrifice by Ahmadiyya Muslim Community”, November 4, 2011, www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2011-11-04.html.

18. Amardeep Singh, We Are Not the Enemy (Human Rights Watch, November 2002).

19. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, The Blessed Model of the Holy Prophet and the Caricatures (Tilford, Surrey: Islam InterNational Publications, 2006), 22–23; ibid., 33; Ahmadiyya Muslims, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, n.d., http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/january-20-2012/ahmadiyya-muslims/10124/.

20. Mainstream British newspapers like The Times, Evening Standard, Daily Chronicle, Daily GraphicDaily Express and The Daily Mirror covered the story of the foundation stone laying in great detail.

21.The Daily Telegraph, October 4, 1926.

22.“The New Mosque for London,” 4.

23. Correspondence regarding the Prince’s visit held at the India Office Records in British Library clearly establish the diplomatic reasons behind British accepting the regime of King Ibn Saud. Political and Secret Department IOR/L/P/11/270

24.India Office Records, British Library Political and Secret Department File IOR/L/P/11/270

25.“The New Mosque for London”; “Mystery of the Mosque,” Westminster Gazette, October 4, 1926; “First London Mosque and Sect Dispute,” The Yorkshire Post, October 4, 1926, 11.

26. Daily Express, September 24, 1926.

27. Mir Muhammad Ismail, Tareekh Masjid Fazl London, 1st ed. (Qadian, India: Book Depot Taleef-o-Isha’at, n.d.), 11.

28.Ibid., 20–21.

29. Khalifa literally means ‘Caliph’ and is taken to mean successor of the Prophet Muhammad and leader of the Muslims. However, as the issue of Caliphate fell into grave disputes after Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims have never again been able to agree upon various claimants of Caliphate. Ahmadiyya however take this word to mean ‘successor’ of Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Community and the supreme leader of the worldwide movement, (online), available at: www.alislam.org/Khilafat (20 March 2012)

30. Mir Muhammad Ismail, Tareekh Masjid Fazl London, 20.

31.“London’s Voice from the Minaret,” The Daily Chronicle, October 4, 1926.

32.“Mystery of the Mosque.”

33.“Mosque in London,” Bristol Evening News, September 24, 1926.

34.India Office Records, British Library Political and Secret Department File IOR/L/P/11/270, a hand written note by a Foreign Department official next to the paragraph that carries information that the Prince was to inaugurate the Mosque reads: ‘Prince Henry is also invited to attend the ceremony’

35.“First Mosque in London.”

36.Ibid.

37.“First Mosque in London,” The Northern Echo, October 4, 1926, 1.

38.“Mystery of the Mosque,” 7.

39.“First Mosque in London.”

40.“Mystery of the Mosque,” 7.

41.“London’s Voice from the Minaret,” 9.

42. Mir Muhammad Ismail, Tareekh Masjid Fazl London, 50.

43.“London’s Voice from the Minaret,” 9.

44.“First Mosque in London.”

45.“London’s Voice from the Minaret,” 9.

46.“Mystery of the Mosque,” 7.

47.“London’s Voice from the Minaret,” 9.

48.“First Mosque in London.”

49.“London Mosque Mystery,” The Morning Post, October 4, 1926.

50.“First Mosque in London”; “London’s First Mosque,” The Manchester Guardian, October 4, 1926.

51.“London’s Voice from the Minaret,” 9.

Part II:

6 Comments

  1. Asad says:

    I love Ahmadiyya.

  2. Hanan says:

    What a wonderful legacy for the Jamaat and the UK.

  3. Yousef says:

    Here is an MTA documentary on Fazl Mosque.

  4. Yousef says:

    The opening ceremony too!

  5. Admin says:

    We invite readers to share their memories -old and new- of the London Mosque. A deeper sociological and anthropological insight into how a wonderful part of shared English and Ahmadi heritage has impacted you would be valuable. Admin.

  6. Absolutely fantastic article. Beautifully crafted. Contains a story and a message. What a pleasure to read.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: