This article was written at the occasion of the Centenary of the UK Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
As Ahmadi Muslims, we claim to be adherents of the most supreme of all teachings, a teaching that originated 1,400 years ago in the deserts of Arabia and was revived some 131 years ago in a hamlet in India. These realisations are truly humbling for us, especially for those of us living in the United Kingdom, as we observe the spiritual fruits of those blessed teachings being brought to these isles. It would be apt to examine the endeavours of pioneering Ahmadi Mus- lims more than one hundred years ago, endeavours that, with the grace of Allah the Exalted, laid the foundations for our current good standing in the global religious community. The spread of Ahmadiyyat, the true Islam, in this land harkens back to an inspirational vision of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) from as far back as 1891. It was revealed to him in times of relative obscurity, but today we are all witness to its grand fulfilment:
‘I saw [in a vision]that I was standing on a pulpit in the city of London and was setting forth the truth of Islam in the English language, in a very well-reasoned address. Thereafter, I caught several birds who were sitting upon small trees and were white, and their bodies resembled the bodies of partridges. I interpreted this vision as meaning that though I would not be able to travel to that country, my writings will be published among them, and many righteous English people will be attracted by the truth’ (1).
These have been a truly remarkable one hundred years at the heart of which lies a most beautiful mosque in London; its significance unmatched in the Western world. We note the word “pulpit” in the revelation mentioned above, which signifies a mosque. As momentous as this mosque has been in shaping our lives and beyond, the story of its inception is just as extraordinary.
The first Ahmadi Muslim missionary in Britain, Chaudhry Fateh Muhammad Sial (ra), who had arrived on these shores in 1913, had worked extremely hard to find a suitable property in London for the building of a mosque. Eventually, the property with its grounds at 63, Melrose Road in Southfields, was acquired in August 1920 from a Jewish seller. The sale price of the property was £2,223.00. Hazrat Khalifat-ul-Masih II (ra) had appealed for chanda (donation/contribution) for this in January of that year while the property’s survey and other legalities were being carried out. The property comprised of two houses on about an acre of land with fruit trees (2). The news of the purchase was wired to Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II (ra), who was in Dalhousie, northern India, at the time. A celebratory gathering took place on September 9 in Dalhousie, where the name of the mosque, Fazl Masjid, was chosen by Huzur (ra) (3).
Circa early days of the second Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya, soon after the initial Tabligh (propagation and outreach) activities had taken off in Britain, the thought of building a mosque had crossed the mind of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II (ra). Frequently moving rented properties that acted as a Jama’at base was quite detrimental to maintain the Tabligh momentum. However, the task to purchase property had thus far appeared difficult, and no real planning was done in this regard until 1919. Issues such as availability of funds, finding suitable land in London in a respectable area which was also adequate in size and had no planning permission restrictions, proved a hindrance. It was extremely difficult to purchase a piece of land or property in London and then build a structure of one’s preference on it. There was also the matter of construction and its super- vision and, last but not least, to attract people to it (4).
Yet, with the grace of God, all this was accomplished in a manner that surpassed expectations. Once the property had been selected, the first step was the availability of funds. After World War I, the price of the pound sterling fell sharply. Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II was encouraged to take advantage of this. On January 6, 1920 he called for the Nazir Baitul Maal (Director of finances) and instructed him to borrow Rupees 15,000 and send it off to London in the hope of getting a good exchange rate. However, when he put this in writing, rather than ‘Rupees 15,000’, he wrote ‘Rupees 30,000’, and instead of the word ‘borrow,’ he wrote the word ‘chanda.’ He later said that this had happened as if of its own accord. The same evening people were asked to gather at Maghrib time. Masjid Mubarak appeared somewhat inadequate capacity-wise, and the notice given was too short; nevertheless, just after the initial announcement, Rupees 6,000 were collected. The next day, January 7th, Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II appealed to the women in the morning, then to the men at Asr time at Masjid Aqsa and finally on Friday he made a general announcement in his Friday sermon. By January 11th, Rupees 12,000 were collected from Qadian alone (5).
Huzur (ra) wrote:
‘Without the special succour of God so much chanda could not have been collected from this Jama’at of small means…The enthusiasm of the people of Qadian in those days was worth watching. Only those can have a true appreciation of this who saw it with their own eyes… Many women took off their jewellery, and a large number gave chanda once, and when enthused a second time, gave chanda on behalf of their children. Still not able to suppress their fervour they then gave on behalf of their deceased relatives. Such was the passion that a child who is the son of a poor and hardworking man sent me Rupees 13.50, saying that he had been saving whatever pocket money he received and had given all of it. Who knows with what longings had the child saved up the money, but his religious fervour sacrificed those longings along with the money in the way of God. Disadvantaged students of Madrassa Ahmadiyya, who number less than 100 and most of them are on stipends, have pledged Rupees 300. Keeping their financial situation in view, it can be said that they have accepted to forfeit even their necessities for a few months. A large number of men pledged chanda exceeding their monthly incomes, and among them was a substantive number of those who pledged three to four times the amount of their incomes. I came to know about some that they gave whatever cash they had and borrowed money to meet their living expenses. A person who could not give much in chanda due to his meagre means wrote to me most yearningly that he did not have much, could his shop be auctioned to pay chanda? Although I could not accept this request but it demonstrated the sincerity that was surging in his heart. Rather than pay gradually, people sold their jewellery, etc. to fulfil their pledge’ (6).
The initial appeal was for Rupees 30,000, and this was collected and transferred to the London branch of the National Bank of India within a week via the bank’s Lahore branch. Further instalments followed, the last of which was sent on February 21st, 1920. In total, funds to the value of £8194 were transferred to London. Although all the pledged monies had not been collected by then but with the exchange rate very favourable, a loan was taken out at the time to make up the amount to maximise the advantage of the opportune exchange rate (7).
There is another remarkable and poignant aspect of the financial contributions that enabled the building of this mosque. In 1923 after the land was purchased in Berlin, Germany, to build a mosque there, Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih announced that the construction of the Berlin mosque was going to be through the contribution of Ahmadi Muslim women and for this he appealed for raising Rupees 50,000 in three months. The target was later increased to Rupees 70,000. Ahmadi Muslim women responded overwhelmingly, donating their jewellery and cash and, most remarkably, raised the needed funds. However, due to the political and economic situation in Germany at the time, Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih decided to put the Berlin mosque project on hold. He instructed that the generous giving of the Ahmadi Muslim women be transferred to the funds to build the mosque in London. Thus, the sacrifice of women of Qadian and India facilitated the building of the mosque in London, the historical significance of which is unrivalled (8). Certainly, a substantial portion of the total sum raised, which was used to build the Fazl Mosque, was donated by Ahmadi Muslim women. (9)
Some four years after purchase of the property at Melrose Road, Southfields, the day finally dawned when the foundation stone for the intended mosque was laid by the blessed hand of Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II (ra) He had travelled to Europe after much deliberation and prayer primarily with the objective of Tabligh. It was his wish to lay the foundation stone, a wish among his other pious wishes which people who come to reform the world hold dear. There was a special connection between him and this mosque. His blessed father, the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) had experienced a vision which is recorded as below:
‘My eldest son who is alive, whose name is Mahmud, was not yet born when I was given intimation through a vision of his birth and I saw his name written on the wall of the mosque as (Mahmud)’ (10).
Indeed, spiritual visions and dreams can be interpreted in more than one way, but it does seem that there is an obvious connection between the name of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II (ra) and the mosque, and this was no ordinary mosque. How he inspired men and, in particular, women of meagre means to raise a tremendous amount within weeks for the construction of a mosque, which was oceans away was truly remarkable. Thus, the resolute plan that he masterminded in 1920 came to fruition on August 19, 1924, when he laid its foundation stone (11).
The date for foundation-laying, October 19th, was finalized very late, a mere four days in advance. Although invitations were sent, with the general election taking place in the country on October 29th, London was abuzz with the excitement that precedes elections, and people were busy. The weather was also not very good. So, it was assumed that not many would turn up. Keeping the temperamental London weather in mind, Hudhur had instructed to arrange for a marquee. As it happened, the occasion was very well attended, including foreign diplomats and governmental dignitaries overall, more than 200 people came. Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister of the day, sent his good wishes, and a lot of press correspondents were in attendance. The ceremony started with a brief welcome by Maulana Dard Sahib, after which everyone headed for the foundation-laying. After the recitation of the Holy Qur’an, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II (ra) gave an address in English and later placed the foundation stone. He also erected a plaque with an inscription; Hudhur’s hand-written note of the original inscription in Urdu is reproduced here (12 ). The foundation-laying was followed by silent prayer, and then Asr Salat was offered at the same spot. A renowned London company provided catering, and the guests mingled in the most amiable ambience. The next day the event received good press coverage by newspapers like the Daily Chronicle and the Westminster Gazette.
Once Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II (ra) had departed for India, Maulana Dard Sahib, who was the missionary-in-charge, contacted several architects regarding plans for the mosque. When ready, the plans were sent to Qadian, and approval of Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih II (ra) was sought. Following approval, various companies were contracted for the construction of the mosque. One was Thomas Mawson and Sons. As landscape architects, they were assisted by the engineering firms of Moreland, Hayne, and Co. from London and John Booth from Bolton (13).
The construction work started on September 28th, 1925. As traditional, prayers were offered before the work commenced. More than a dozen Ahmadi Muslims had volunteered to dig the foundations. They did this while reciting the prayers that Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat Ishmael (ra) had made while raising the Ka’ba. The press watched in amazement. The names of those who personally dug the foundations are Sheikh Yaqub Ali Sahib, Syed Wazarat Hussein Sahib, Sheikh Zafar Haq Khan Sahib, Malik Muhammad Ismael Sahib, Khan Abdul Rahim Khan Sahib, Jibarel Martin Sahib, Sharif ud Din Sahib, Aziz Din Sahib, Henry Hinton Sahib, Abdul Aziz Sahib, Kundan Lal Sahib, Malik Ghulam Fareed Sahib, and Abdul Rahim Dard Sahib. An Ahmadi Muslim lady, Amatus Salam Aziz Din Sahiba, also had the privilege to participate in digging the foundations. It was suggested that sadqa (alms) should be given to commemorate the occasion and those present and who had been digging made contributions. The next day, September 29th, the Times of London and the Daily Graphic reported on the event in some detail (14).
Construction of the Fazl Mosque took ten months, and it was formally inaugurated on October 3rd, 1926, and the rest, as they say, is history; and what an illustrious history it has been! There is no doubt that Allah the Exalted has entwined the progress of the UK Jama’at very firmly with Fazl Mosque; over the years, at times subtly and at times assertively, this mosque has been symbolic of the rightly-guided Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya. As such, I am infinitely grateful for being given this opportunity to research the inspirational origins of this glorious mosque. It has been a humbling experience to look back and be able to appreciate the tremendous sacrifices made to raise this mosque as I, along with the rest of the UK Jama’at, continue to be fortunate enough to enjoy its blessings.
1. Izala Auham’, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3 p. 377 – Tadhkirah, English edition 2009, p.239
2. Al Fazl October 1926
3. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat t Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
4. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
5. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
6. Tehrik Ta’meer Masjid London, Anwarul Uloom, Vol. 5, pp.5 – 6
7. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
8. Friday sermon, 17 October 2008, Al Fazl International 9 November 2008
9. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
10. Tadhkirah, English edition 2009, p. 1888
11. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat Dr Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
12. Tareekh e Ahmadiyyat, Vol. 4, pp. 458 – 459
13. John Mawson, Life, Gardens and Landscapes’, p. 223
14. Tawareekh Bait Fazl London’, Dec 1927, Hazrat Dr Mir Muhammad Ismail, original edition
Last modified: July 2020