On Friday 12 April the Adventurers caught a train from Waterloo to Woking to visit the oldest purpose-built mosque in Britain. The Shah Jahan Mosque was built in 1889 as a centre for the study of Oriental languages and cultures. It was also intended to provide a place of worship for Islamist visitors from abroad. Its founder was a Hungarian-born scholar and traveller fascinated by the ‘exotic’. Dr Leitner (1840-1899) had a theoretical interest in a broad range of religions and philosophies. To encourage inter-faith tolerance and understanding, he planned to establish a mosque, church, synagogue and temple on the same Woking site – but an absence of funds and Leitner’s ill-health and premature death prevented this curious scheme from flourishing.
Today the Shah Jahan Mosque is a thriving centre of Islamic worship and activity, visited weekly by thousands of Muslim men, women and children. To promote awareness of Islam in the wider community, tours of the historic site are offered to school and student groups. On the day we visited, the Imam welcomed us into the beautifully-decorated mosque before taking us on an informative guided tour of the prayer rooms. These are situated in unassuming single storey-blocks alongside the ‘proper’ mosque, which is now a listed building but far too small to accommodate the numbers attending daily prayers in 2013. You can find out how to book a visit to the mosque here: http://www.shahjahanmosque.org.uk/education
Following our tour, we had almost two hours to spare before Friday prayers (the practising Muslims in the group had been invited to attend the service). With torrential rain falling, we reviewed our original plan to walk back into Woking to explore the town centre and instead headed for the shelter of a nearby retail park where we familiarised ourselves with the contents of Argos and Pets at Home. Some of the group took the opportunity to get their faces painted at Hobbycraft.
After Friday prayers at the mosque, we returned to Woking town centre to visit the Lightbox museum and gallery. A separate post on this will follow shortly.