I have been visiting Shah Jahan Mosque and the Brookwood cemetery in Woking for a few years now. Woking, is a small town almost 30 miles from London. The town is famous for it’s first purpose built mosque in the UK. During, the two great wars this mosque served a purpose of spiritual centre for Muslim soldiers in Britain. A few miles from the mosque lies a burial ground which was a designated ground for Muslim soldiers of WWI. Later, it has been transformed into a memorial park.
Brookwood Cemetery is situated almost five miles from the Shah Jahan Mosque. The Cemetery is one of the largest in Europe. There are a number of famous Victorian Muslims resting here. Today, Woking has large Muslim population, mostly from Pakistan and they are very active in the community and maintaining the mosque very well.
My, very first trip was unplanned and somewhat impulsive. Though it was incredibly enlightening as well as moving. In 2016 after Eid prayer, on a spur I decided to drive my family to Woking. At the time I had only two boys; My eldest was 3 and his brother a year old. I had no idea how to reach to the mosque and locate graves of the early ‘Victorian Muslims.’ However I was committed to do both on the same day. On my SatNav I entered the postcode of Shah Jahan Mosque.
After two hours of drive we reached the Shah Jehan Mosque. There, we saw young and old, boys and girls in Asian Eid costumes. Contrary to the typical British cloudy weather it was a sunny day. Green dome of the mosque and good size open space with another impressive brick building gave an impression as if we are in a small but an affluent village of India.
The festive mood and the perfect sunny day was inviting us to explore and finish the target. After spending an hour there, we decided to drive to Brookwood cemetery. The most challenging part was to locate the old Muslim section of the cemetery, where I wanted to the visit graves of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall and Lord Headley. To solve the problem, after reaching the cemetery gate; my intuition suggested me to drive only on the road which took us to the right side of the cemetery. First right, second right and then the third right. After a very short drive it was evident that the direction of graves has started changing, Muslim names with some Islamic symbols – crescent and stars on grave stones reassured me that we have entered into the Muslim section of the cemetery. In the end I reached to the place I wished. It was not easy to recognise Mr. Pickthall’s grave, three rows further, very close to the road is buried my favourite Abdullah Yusuf Ali the well known translator of the Holy Qur’an in today’s contemporary world who passed away in 1953. I was in search of another unmarked grave of Mr. Abdullah Quilliam, when my wife called me to show something. She excitedly pointed to a marked grave of the first Prime Minister of Bihar.
My wife is born and brought up in the UK. However she is fluent in Urdu and has enormous interest in her Indian roots. She located the grave of the ‘First Prime Minister of Bihar’- Haji Mohammad Yunus. It was a huge surprise for me.
I don’t have any direct relationship with Late Haji Mohammad Yunus Saheb. However one of his nephews was my grandfather’s junior in the court and was a very close friend of his. My paternal grandfather was a successful and famous criminal lawyer who practiced in a small town in Bihar. Both of them worked in the same Court. In the 1940s my grandfather’s friend (Haji Yunus’s nephew) was the only Muslim in the town who had a Radio.
In fact in our ancestral town it was his radio that broke the bad news of Mahatma Gandhi’s cold blooded murder. Broadcasts from his Radio clarified that the murderer of Gandhi was ‘not a Muslim but a right wing Hindu.’ Which was a momentous relief for the frightened local Muslim population during the violent and uncertain communal climate of the partition of India. So, finding his grave reminded me of the old story of partition. When I was in school, our eldest uncle shared his experience as a child and narrated us with many stories of the partition; further, how they were taken to a safe place in Bengal for a short period of time by train.
Below are photographs of Haji Mohammad Yunus grave stone and other famous British Muslims residents of the Brookwood Cemetery. May they all rest in peace; may Almighty Allah accepts their deeds and grant them highest place in Paradise. Ameen.