Not only but also – (the Shah Jahan Mosque Woking).

Not only was this the first purpose built mosque in the UK, it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful. I suspect my Muslim friends might suspect that if I call it the most beautiful, this might even be a sin, but I will risk their wrath and claim that it is indeed the “most beautiful.”

The Shah Jahan Mosque was built in 1869 by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, partly funded by the Sultan Shah Jahan Begum of Bhopal. The architect was a Jewish gentleman and Pevsner in one of his architectural guides describes it as “extraordinarily dignified.” I’ll stick with beautiful. What a testament to inter-faith appreciation!

The history of the building has not always been straightforward. After Leitner’s death there were question marks over its continued use, but the creation of a London Mosque Fund in 1910 prevented the sale of the building.

On a number of occasions since then the building has been saved and restored for worship by the charitable support of influential Muslims. It is many years since I first caught sight of this small but distinctive place of worship as I travelled between London and Portsmouth on the train. Today, because of the erection of prayer halls between the mosque and the railway line such a view is somewhat impeded. The mosque itself holds less than 100 worshippers and practising Muslims in the Woking area far exceed that number. So fresh worship space is needed.

Nevertheless the building has been beautifully restored and is in excellent condition both outside and inside. – Yes sure enough – I covered my head, removed my shoes and crept inside both to view, to marvel and of course to take pictures.

It really is a stunning sight in the sunshine. Worth hopping off the train for. And there seems to be a tradition among local Muslims to welcome any interested visitors, who wish to spend a few moments there in contemplation, prayer or even just silence.

I think it is a gem not to be missed and I appreciate the warm welcome I received from both the young Imam and his fellow worshippers.