The Shah Jahan mosque, which became Britain’s first purpose-built mosque when it opened in 1889 in Woking, Surrey, has been elevated to Grade I listed status – putting it on a par with buildings such as the Brighton Pavilion and Buckingham Palace.
The mosque is one of five to be given new or upgraded listings as part of work by conservation watchdog Historic England to record and protect places of worship. Also given protected status for the first time is London’s Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, built in 1970s – some seven decades after a fund was established for its construction. The mosque is given the second highest listing category of grade II*.
The Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “I’m proud to be shining a light on these exceptional places of worship established by Muslim communities in England. Through listing we are celebrating some of our most significant examples of Islamic heritage, from the stunning Shah Jahan [mosque] in Woking to the landmark London Central Mosque.”
Britain has some 1,500 mosques and the diverse nature of the Muslim community results in a wide variety of buildings – from terraced houses to purpose-built structures – being used to worship. Fewer than 20 per cent of the UK’s mosques are purpose-built.
Situated in a wealthy corner of the Home Counties, the Shah Jahan mosque was commissioned by one of the more unusual figures from Britain’s Muslim history. Gottlieb Leitner was born to a Jewish family in Hungary before converting to Islam while working as a linguist in British India.
He returned to Britain in the 1880s with the aim of establishing a center for the study of oriental languages and the mosque was built initially to host visiting students rather than the public. Built by an English architect, William Chambers, in the Orientalist style and partly funded by the Indian female ruler of Bhopal, the mosque is still used for daily prayer.