Leitner and the Woking Mosque:Muslim P Salamat
By Khalid Ahmed
A Miracle at Woking: A History of the Shahjahan Mosque;
By Muslim P Salamat;
Phillimore London 2008;
Pp130; Price £9.99
Leitner's genius was 'excessive'; he never knew when to stop. Studying a language meant studying a people, then catering for their educational needs meant looking after every aspect of their welfare
Author Muslim Salamat was born in Lucknow in 1926 and educated at Aligarh University. In 1947, he got a degree in civil engineering; he joined the Pakistan Army the following year. From 1950 to 1952 he attended a works course at Loughborough College and, in 1956, the Australian Army Staff College course. It was during his stay in the UK that he became involved in the affairs of the Woking Mosque and has finally written a very informative book on the subject.
The mosque was built in 1889 in a town where no Muslims resided. The man behind the project was a Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Jewish German by birth who became an Anglican later in life, but is not known ever to have converted to Islam. The main financier of the project was Shahjahan Begum, the ruler of Bhopal, who never visited England but was persuaded by Dr Leitner to donate the money to make his mosque possible.
Woking was home to the Royal Dramatic College that had fallen into disuse and stood more or less abandoned. Leitner bought this institution for £4,500 and converted it to 'The Oriental Institute'. (This site is now occupied by the Lion Retail Park.) While plans were being drawn up for the Oriental Institute, Leitner decided to build a mosque on the estate. He approached the Begum of Bhopal for a donation. She came up with £5,000. Construction of the mosque started in late 1888 and was complete by September/October 1889. (p.3)
Leitner died in 1899 and with him died the Oriental Institute, throwing the mosque into disuse. Gottlieb Leitner was born in the Pest half of Budapest on September 15, 1840. His name at birth, which was registered with the Jewish community of Budapest, was Gottlieb Saphir. He was the only son (there was a younger daughter) of Leopold Saphir. While little else is known of the father, he was certainly the younger brother of Moritz Gottlieb Saphir (1795-1858), a renowned German-language satirist and editor. He was also the brother of Israel Saphir, a merchant of Belgrade whose own son, Adolph, converted to Protestantism and moved to London where he became a well known Presbyterian minister and theologian.
Author Salamat provides more information on the great man. Leitner's father died when Leitner was yet a boy, possibly in consequence of the failure of the 1848 revolution in Hungary. His widow mother moved to Constantinople with her two children. There she married D Johann Moritz Leitner (1800-61), a Hungarian-born physician who had converted from Judaism to Protestantism. At that time, Dr Leitner was serving as a medical missionary to the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, mainly in Palestine under the auspices of the London-based Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. (p.13)
Dr Leitner adopted his wife's two children. In 1861, while applying for British naturalisation, Gottlieb Leitner stated he was an Anglican, thus concealing his Jewish origin. His obituary finally did appear in the Jewish Chronicle. Jewish biographical dictionaries claimed him as Jewish. (p.13) He knew eight different European languages by the time he was nine; he had learned more by the time he left school and apparently knew 50, including the dozens that he picked up in Pakistan's Northern Areas, by the time of his death.
During the Crimean war, Leitner took up a teaching appointment at Bursa, north of Izmir, in Turkey. In 1858 he enrolled in Malta Protestant College, where he studied for seven months. In 1858, he moved to London and joined King's College, London, and in 1859 received Certificate of Divinity. The same year he became a Lee Lecturer in Arabic, Turkish and Modern Greek. At the age of 21 he founded the Oriental section of the King's College and became its first Professor and Dean. By the time he was 23 he was a Professor Dean, Master of Arts, a Doctor of Letter and a Doctor of Law. (p.14)
In 1864 the Government of India advertised the post of Principal of Government College Lahore for which Leitner applied and, despite his youth and his non-British upbringing, was appointed. Lahore was a special case, capital of the Punjab province annexed only 15 years earlier enjoying a reputation for dynamism and experimentation. Unfortunately, it soon transpired that the authorities had got more than they had bargained for with Leitner.
What the administration expected from the college was an inexhaustible supply of literate, English-speaking Punjabis who could fill the lower echelons of the Civil Service for Leitner this was anathema. For him education was not about turning out clerks, but encouraging the individual student to appreciate and contribute to his culture.
At GC, Sanskrit and Arabic mattered as much as English. Leitner's role of educationist in India was responsible for nothing less than the revival of cultures and for inspiring a new Indo-European renaissance. He introduced studies of Western science and a curriculum based on Western education. (In this his collaborator was Muhammad Hussain Azad, who agreed with him that Enlightenment should be communicated through Urdu. And Leitner chose the Kantian Enlightenment slogan Courage to Know as the Government College motto without telling anyone.)
Leitner's early publications included three Arabic grammars, a history of Mohammadanism, an Urdu translation of Macbeth, a Journal of Sanskrit and Arabic criticism and two weekly English magazines. He also started an English daily newspaper called The Indian Public Opinion, which later became known as the Civil and Military Gazette, on whose editorial staff Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling worked for many years.
A sum of £32,000 was raised by private subscription so that the college could become the fully fledged University of the Punjab this ranks as Leitner's greatest achievement to which he was appointed as its first Registrar. However, this was only one of the hundred of schools and colleges that he frequently claimed to have founded. (p.15)
Leitner's genius was 'excessive'; he never knew when to stop. Studying a language meant studying a people, then catering for their educational needs meant looking after every aspect of their welfare. Leitner soon appointed himself spokesman for the entire Indian community. He started a bank and an agricultural cooperative such conduct was not popular. His rebuff of European intellectuals and his temerity to tell men twice his age how to do their jobs was exacerbated by his insulting manner: 'Every conversation became a debate; and whether he was right or wrong was immaterial'. (p.16)
He published a number of works on his explorations, notably Result of a Tour in Dardistan (1877) and The Languages and Races of Dardistan (1893). Leitner was soon widely acknowledged in Britain as one of the greatest experts on Indian languages and cultures. In 1872 Leitner exchanged jobs with the Punjabi Inspector of Schools and discovered yet another family of Himalayan languages. He discovered a quantity of Indo-Hellenic Gandhara sculptures and took these to Europe in 1873, along with one of the Kafirs from the Chitral region.
The next guardian of the Woking Mosque, Khwaja Kamaluddin was born in the Punjab, India, in 1870. He came from a distinguished Kashmiri family already known for their service of Islam. His grandfather, Khwaja Abdul Rashid, was a famous poet; he was also a one-time Chief Muslim Judge of Lahore in the Sikh Kingdom. (p.23)
Khwaja studied at the Forman Christian College in Lahore which explains his deep knowledge of the Bible an asset which he used fully while carrying out his Muslim missionary work n Europe. He even considered accepting Christianity. However, he was destined to play the role of propagating Islam in the Christian West. (p.23)
In the 1930s, the Shahjahan Mosque was venue of weekly meetings of Muslim youths. One such meeting was shifted to Surbiton (4 Hook Road) where Chaudhry Rehmat Ali was formally entrusted with the work of propagating what later became known as the Pakistan Movement. At the meeting, the name 'Pakistan' was suggested by Khwaja Abdur Rahim and was accepted by all instead of Muslimabad and Islamabad. (p.44)
Pickthall was the next moving spirit. Born on April 7, 1875, Marmaduke Pickthall was the son of the Rev. Charles Pickthall, a rector at Chillesford, Suffolk. Marmaduke Pickthall took to Arabic and translated the Quran. He decided to seek the approval of his effort by the ulema of the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, but Al Azhar rejected it. He tried the King but he too thought it a sin to translate the Quran. Earlier, Al Azhar had rejected Muhammad Ali's translation probably because of his connection with the Ahmedi Movement. (p.47)
The scion of the Begum of Bhopal, Shaharyar M Khan became high commissioner at London from 1988 to 1991, thus becoming ex officio chairman of the Woking Mosque Trust. Unfortunately, it was during his tenure in office that relations between the Mosque Trust and the congregation at Woking reached their lowest. Very little effort was made by the Trust to resolve the issues that had arisen.
It was during Shaharyar Khan's tenure that the centenary of the mosque too occurred. This was celebrated in a low key with very few locals invited. (p.54) Coming under the Lahori-Ahmedi influence with Kamaluddin, the mosque had become controversial. In 1968, it had been formally taken over by the Sunni Congregation. (p.79) Author Salamat's has contributed important photographs that tend to secure the Woking Mosque the place in history it deserves.
Curtsy:Daily Times: August 30, 2009