In 2005 Surrey History Centre became involved in Islam Awareness Week, a campaign run by the Islamic Society of Britain to help communities come together in a climate of understanding and appreciation, and promote the sharing of information between cultures to remove misunderstandings. Organised by Sofia and Mubashir Khan of the Woking branch of the Islamic Society of Britain, Surrey History Centre is delighted to have been involved in these truly inclusive events to help celebrate the history of Islam.
Woking has a long-established Islamic connection: the Shah Jahan Mosque (Grade II listed) was the first purpose-built mosque in the country. Built in 1889 by Dr Gottleib Leitner (1860 to 1899), it was partly funded by the Begum Shah Jahan, the female ruler of the Indian princely state of Bhopal. The Mosque attracted royal visitors and many famous British converts including Lord Headley, who founded the British Muslim Society, and Marmaduke Pickthall who provided one of the most eloquent English translations of the Quran. Woking's Muslim Burial Ground was built during the First World War as the only designated place of burial for Muslim soldiers who died at the Indian Army Hospital in Brighton Pavilion.
As a result of Surrey History Centre's outreach and diversity work with the Mosque, several important deposits relating to the Muslim community in Woking have been placed with us for permanent posterity, including papers deposited by Mohammed Ilyas Raja, a trustee of the Mosque and former Woking Borough councillor (SHC ref Z/454), and works published by The Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust spanning over 70 years, including the Islamic Review (SHC refs 7831, 8382 and 9946).
As the official custodians of Surrey's history we feel it is important to preserve and build on these connections. We want our archive collections to develop in a way that reflects Surrey's diversity and hopefully this event will encourage the public to explore wider aspects of the county's heritage.
Surrey History Centre has another surprising link with Islam: Hugh Edgar, the architect who designed the Centre, was previously commissioned by King Hussein of Jordan to work on the Mausoleum Mosque and Holy Relic Building, purpose-built to house an original 7th Century letter written by the prophet Mohammed to the Emperor of Byzantium.