The mosque was actually built by an orientalist named Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner. He was born of Jewish parents in Pest, Hungary.

His father died young and his mother moved to Istanbul where she re-married a Jew who had converted to Christianity and was working with a Protestant Missionary Society in the Levant.

For reasons that are not clear Leitner studied at madrassah schools attached to the mosques in Istanbul, and by his own account memorised large portions of the Quran. By the age of 15 he could speak 8 languages fluently including Turkish, Persian, Arabic and most European languages. On account of this he was employed as Interpreter First Class by the British High Commission in Istanbul, a position that carried the rank of full colonel.

‘Quilliams Liverpool mosque pre-dates Woking by a few months, but the Shah Jahan has the honour of being the first purpose built mosque in Europe outside of Muslim Spain.’

Dr Leitner came to England aged 17 and took a degree at Kings College London, by which time it is said he could speak 15 languages. After his degree he was appointed lecturer aged 19 and by the age of 21 was professor at the same college, in Arabic and Muhammadan Law. At the age of 24 he took up the post of Principle of the Government College Lahore, later the University of the Punjab. He spent most of his working life there, published journals and established libraries and educational institutes. He also befriended many notables.

He returned to England with the express purpose of establishing here an Oriental Institute. His search for suitable premises brought him to Woking, at that time a very under developed commuter town 30 miles from London. He purchased what had been the Royal Dramatic College, a large Victorian building in extensive grounds that had been built as a retirement home for retired actors. This project had not been successful but the building was ideal for Leitner’s purposes. Here in 1883 he established his Oriental Institute and with a donation from the Begum Shah Jahan, the Nawab Begum of the princely state of Bhopal, built England’s first mosque in 1889.

The purpose of the Institute was to enable visiting dignitaries from India to stay and study in culturally sympathetic surroundings. It also enabled Europeans being posted to India to learn the language and culture.

By the time of Leitner’s death in 1899 the Institute was awarding degrees through its affiliation to the University of the Punjab. After his death the Institute closed down and was sold and the mosque fell into disuse. Although there is no clearly documented evidence that he himself accepted Islam he was none the less an active sympathiser and supporter.


In the beginning the mosque was mainly used by visiting dignitaries and notables from Muslim nations. It fell into disuse briefly between 1900 and 1912 when a visiting Indian lawyer, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, was so moved by the neglect of this beautiful mosque that he was inspired to establish an Islamic mission here.

By the time that Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din arrived on the scene Leitner’s son was on the point of selling the mosque and its land to a developer. But the Khwaja took him to court arguing that the Mosque was consecrated ground and enjoyed the same rights and status as a church. He won and as a result was able to purchase the mosque and its grounds for a nominal sum from the inheritor.

‘Amongst one of the early converts was Lord Headley who became a lifelong friend of the Khwaja, and together they worked tirelessly for the cause of Islam.’

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was learned and charismatic and an inspired leader. He set up residence in the Imam’s house, established daily prayers in the mosque and with helpers brought from India, founded the Muslim Mission Woking to spread the message of Islam to the people of Great Britain. At home in India they considered him to be completely foolish, giving up a lucrative legal practice, to embark on a project that they were certain was doomed to failure.

But they had almost immediate success and very soon there was a small but growing group of influential, well educated and articulate converts who devoted themselves to spreading the Truth of Islam. Amongst one of the early converts was Lord Headley who became a lifelong friend of the Khwaja, and together they worked tirelessly for the cause of Islam.

This was something of a coup for Kamal-ud Din. England was very much dominated by class at that time and to have on board a well educated peer of the realm, who was qualified as an engineer, gave the movement a great deal of credibility. Visitors to the mosque were impressed by the equality within Islam, and the brotherhood that existed between those of such different backgrounds and social class, something that was lacking in Christian society.

Later Lord Headley campaigned avidly for the establishment of a mosque and Islamic centre in London and felt that the British Government should assist in making this happen. In a speech that he made to this effect in the House of Lords he pointed out that under the British Empire there were more Muslim subjects than Christians and the Government had a duty to ensure that the faith of its subjects was properly represented in the capital city. He compared the British Governments attitude unfavourable with that of France where there had been a central mosque in Paris since 1926.

The Woking Mission under the editorship of Khwaja Kamal-ud Din published a quarterly periodical called the Islamic Review, which was widely distributed, and highly respected, and was used not only to spread the message of Islam but also to inform and encourage the converts in their new religion. Regular meetings were also held both in Woking and London for the same purpose. Converts came from all walks of life, from the aristocracy through to workingmen. Amongst early converts were such figures as Lord Stanley of Alderlay. Charles William Buchanan Hamilton, Deputy Surgeon General in the British Army and nephew to a former President of the United States.


One of the things that is impressive about this early movement, and for this the Khwaja must take the credit, was the simplicity of the message. It is evident that this is one of the things that were most influential in persuading converts to adopt Islam. He preached a message that was free of cultural baggage, a pure message based on faith and belief that encompassed the spirit of Islam. He was always positive, always gentle and always good-natured. It was obvious that he embodied many of the qualities that believers would expect in a man of faith; peacefulness, kindness and a quiet certainty, but failed to witness in the clergy, where dogma and the ecclesiastical hierarchy were the dominant features.

Within a few years, through the work of Kamal-ud-Din and his Muslim Mission Islam had established a definite foothold within England and from this point onwards it grew steadily in significance. The Woking Mission was a focal point for meetings of influential Muslims in this country, where they discussed and planned the future growth and development of Islam in England, including the establishment of a central mosque in London.

‘Within a few years, through the work of Kamal-ud-Din and his Muslim Mission Islam had established a definite foothold within England …’

In 1924 it was estimated that there was a total Muslim population in England of 10,000, of which 1,000 were converts. Obviously in later years many other factors came to play a role in the growth of Islam in this country. But until the 1950’s Woking remained the pre-eminent centre of Islam in Great Britain.

Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din died in 1936, and although the Mission continued after his death the loss of his inspiration and leadership was significant. In fact within a space of 3 years the movement lost not only the Khwaja but also Lord Headley and Muhammad Pickthall.

After the Second World War there was a tremendous influx of Muslim immigrants from the British colonies into Great Britain and they established communities throughout the country. Gradually the influence of the Woking mosque declined as a national centre and from the 1960’s onward it has served mainly as the local mosque for the neighbouring Muslim immigrant population.

There is a moving story that when Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din arrived with a friend in 1912, to find the mosque dirty and neglected. There was a Quran on its stand and he opened it at random. His eyes immediately alighted on the following ayat:

“Most surely the first house appointed for men is the one at Bekka, blessed and a guidance for nations” 3.95

Bekka means place where people gather in multitudes. Immediately he made sajda with tears in his eyes and prayed: “O Creator of Nations a All-Powerful God, Thou madest Mecca the holiest place in the East, and did nations in multitudes to that city. Make this mosque, I pray Thee, in like manner the Mecca in the West”

The Mosque was under Ahmediya administration from the early 19th century, We strongly disagree with the beliefs of the Ahmediya along with most of the Muslim world and scholars.However Muhammad Picktall, Abdullah Qulliam and other big personalities and scholars were all of the classical Sunni/Sufi understanding of Islam and backed by the Sunni scholars from around the world. The Mosque changed administration in the 70’s when the Mosque was being misused and not functioning as a place of worship. All praise to Allah SWT since the 70’s the Mosque has been under the classical understanding of Islam Sunni/Hanafi/Sufi and the Mosque was revived back to serving the community as a place of worship and the centre of Islam in Britain.