More mosques being given heritage status in UK to celebrate history of Muslim communities

The North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park, London September 25, 2012. (Reuters)

The British government has decided that it is important to architecturally protect mosques in the UK and recognize their historic and cultural importance.

Five mosques now find themselves on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) and one of them has had its protection upgraded so that it is on par with Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth’s home in the capital.

Two London mosques – the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre in Regent’s Park and the Fazl Mosque in Southfields – have found a place for the first time on the list and will be given Grade II status.

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The Abdullah Quilliam Mosque in Liverpool in west England, which is believed to be the first fully-functioning mosque in the country has also now got a Grade II status.

The Howard Street Mosque in Bradford in north England, a town with a large Muslim population from the Indian sub-continent, has had its entry on the heritage list upgraded.

While the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, 23 km southwest of London and believed to be the first purpose-built mosque in the country has had its listing upgraded to Grade I, the highest protection any building can get. The NHLE is the official register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England.

Muslims pray at London’s Central Mosque in Regents Park on 15 July 2005. (AFP)

Muslims pray at London’s Central Mosque in Regents Park on 15 July 2005. (AFP)

‘The List’

“The List” originated in 1882, when the first powers of protection were established, and today holds almost 400,000 entries across the country. An organization called Historic England continuously updates The List and curates it for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS).

Once a building or landscape is on The List then its character cannot be changed without specific permission from the planning department and the DCMS. Even maintenance and repairs need to abide by the strict guidelines laid down.

The new and upgraded listing are a result of research carried out by Historic England for a new book called The British Mosque. There are around 1,500 mosques in Britain and nearly one million Muslims are believed to visit them per week.

The author of the book, Shahed Saleem, an architect, highlights a number of them including the ones which are listed. The Shah Jahan Mosque dates back to 1889 and has been upgraded from Grade II and becomes the only Grade I listed mosque in England.

Built in the Orientalist style, it was founded by Dr Gottlieb Leitner, a Hungarian scholar who had then recently retired as the first Registrar of the University of Punjab in Lahore in undivided India. Queen Victoria’s Indian secretary Abdul Karim and other Indian Muslim servants were known to use the mosque when the Queen stayed at Windsor Castle nearby.

The Abdullah Quilliam Mosque on 8 Brougham Terrace in Liverpool began functioning as a mosque in 1889 and has had its status upgraded to reflect its importance in telling the story of the emergence of Islam in England.

The Georgian terraced house was bought as a home for the Liverpool Muslim Institute founded in 1887 by an influential Muslim convert William Henry Quilliam, and also doubled up as a mosque for prayers. It was neglected in the early 2000s and is now being restored.

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The London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre in Regent’s Park is new to The List at Grade II. The fund for this mosque was first set up in 1910 and the government under Winston Churchill offered the prime land in the 1940s in recognition of the importance of Islam in the British Empire.

However, construction did not start till 1970 and was completed in 1977. The mosque which has become the center point for Muslims in London and a landmark of the faith in Britain has a prayer hall which can hold several thousand worshippers at the same time.

Designed by British architect, Sir Frederick Gibberd, it has a golden dome and a 44metre (144ft) high minaret combining British modernism and historic Islamic forms.

The Fazl Mosque is also new to The List and has been given a Grade II status. Constructed in 1925, it was the first purpose-built mosque in London and the funds for it were raised by the Ahmadiyya community in India and supported by voluntary labor.

With the fusion of Indian Mughal architecture and contemporary British trends it has a spherical dome on a buttressed square base.

The Central Mosque nestled between two residential houses in Luton 15 April 2004. (AFP)

The Central Mosque nestled between two residential houses in Luton 15 April 2004. (AFP)

‘House mosque’

The Howard Street Mosque in Bradford was already listed at Grade II, but it has had its entry updated to reflect its importance as a ‘house mosque’ converted from a home into a place of worship.

The Heritage Minister Michael Ellis said by listing the mosques “we are not only preserving the important places of worship, but also celebrating the rich heritage of Muslim communities in England”.

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Linda Monckton, head of Communities Research at Historic England said the organization had made a ‘decisive shift’ away from focusing solely on churches in order to fairly reflect the importance of buildings from other faiths.

“The mainstream narratives of architecture and architectural history haven’t taken into account the contribution of mosques largely because nobody knows what’s there and where it is, so it’s kind of been invisible,” said Monckton. Historic England is rectifying this with the new book and additions to The List.

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