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  Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (1870–1932), by unknown photographer, 1918 Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (1870–1932), by unknown photographer, 1918
Kamal-ud-Din, Khwaja (1870–1932), Islamic scholar and missionary, was born in Lahore, Punjab, British India, the son of Khwaja Aziz-ud-Din. He came from a Kashmiri family with a tradition of distinguished public service: his grandfather, Abdur Rashid, was at one time the qazi (chief Muslim judge) of Lahore during the Sikh period (1762–1849). Educated at Forman Christian College, Lahore, Kamal-ud-Din graduated in 1893 and was awarded the Punjab University medal in economics. He was then appointed to the chair of history and economics at Islamia College, Lahore, later becoming its principal. On qualifying as a barrister in 1898, he established a lucrative law practice first in Peshawar and then in Lahore. Following his wife's death in 1912, aware of mounting pressures on Islam and Muslims globally, and inspired by his spiritual mentors Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and Maulana Nur-ud-Din, he answered ‘a strong insistent call from within’ (Islamic Review, Jan 1932, 1) and sailed for Britain to inaugurate his ‘jihad by persuasion’ in Europe (Islamic Review, Dec 1949, 5).

On his arrival in London Kamal-ud-Din first settled in Richmond. Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park provided him with the platform for his first public lecture on Islam. His speeches, sermons, and published articles made a powerful impression on his predominantly non-Muslim audiences. He made effective use of his considerable knowledge of the Bible, acquired during his student days, in theological discussion with Christian scholars. In 1913 he decided to take over the Shah Jahan mosque in Woking, built in 1889 by the retired registrar and principal of the University of Punjab, G. W. Leitner, but which had fallen into disuse following its founder's death in 1899. When Leitner's heirs, who planned to sell the property, tried to evict him, Kamal-ud-Din refused to go, had its disposal stopped, and laid the foundations of the Woking Muslim Mission as Britain's main centre for the propagation of Islam. For the first time since its construction, the mosque was now open to public worship, with Kamal-ud-Din one of its trustees and its first imam. Indeed his commitment to it was reflected in his later decision to create a trust and leave his entire property, valued at 150,000 rupees, as a Wakf for the Woking Muslim Mission.

In February 1913 Kamal-ud-Din started publishing at his own expense an authoritative monthly journal, the Islamic Review. (Its urdu version was published from Lahore under the title Risalae Isha‘at-i Islam, ‘Journal for the propagation of Islam’.) He remained its editor for the rest of his life (his son Khwaja Nazir Ahmad succeeding him in this role), and on its pages elaborated his views on Islamic doctrines as well as the many controversies and criticisms then being levelled against Islam. A prolific writer, he wrote over 100 books devoted mostly to Islam (including The Secret of Existence, or, the Gospel of Action, 1923, and The Ideal Prophet, 1925) and other religious issues. In particular, his treatise, The Sources of Christianity (1924), was noteworthy. His publications, imbued with rigorous scholarship, made a substantial impact on the British religious scene. Rarely, and only when he perceived there to be a direct attack on Islam and Muslims, did he feel moved to intervene politically. (For instance, his book India in the Balance: British Rule and the Caliphate, 1922, was a powerfully argued plea to the British government against the dismemberment of the Turkish caliphate.)

Kamal-ud-Din believed that for Islam to prosper in Britain, and conversion to make headway, it would have to shed its ‘exotic’ and ‘alien’ image. Instead of highlighting differences between Christianity and Islam, he emphasized commonalities within the Abrahamic tradition. His was thus a modernist interpretation of Islam: apostasy was not punishable by execution; likewise, Islam respected individual freedom of religion and conscience. Wearing the veil in the British environment was deemed by him to be impracticable; music and fine art were a blessing for humanity. His efforts soon bore fruit. A steady trickle of conversions, including that of Lord Headley, publicly announced in 1913, followed. Together with Headley as its president, Kamal-ud-Din was instrumental in founding the Muslim Society of Great Britain. Under its auspices, weekly lectures were conducted at the Woking Mosque and later at different venues in London. ‘At homes’, garden parties, and gatherings of Muslims and non-Muslims took place in fashionable London tea-rooms, hotels, and restaurants where questions about Islam were encouraged in relaxed informal settings. These public gatherings generally involved both women and men, as did religious festivities and larger congregations. With growing interest in new ideas of spirituality among London's influential circles, Kamal-ud-Din played a part in some notable conversions: Marmaduke Pickthall, novelist and ‘translator’ of the Quran; Sir Archibald Hamilton, deputy surgeon-general of the Royal Navy; and Lady Evelyn Cobbold, whose account of her pilgrimage to Mecca in 1934 (the first European woman to do so, notably unaccompanied by a mahram) aroused much interest.

Under Kamal-ud-Din's leadership the mosque at Woking emerged as the leading symbol of Britain's worldwide Muslim community, and was visited by Muslim dignitaries from many places and denominational backgrounds: the head of the Shi'a Ismaili sect, the Aga Khan, was welcomed with the same degree of dignity and warmth as the Sunni Amir Faisal of Saudi Arabia or King Faruq of Egypt. This non-sectarian acceptance was all the more remarkable since Kamal-ud-Din was a high-profile member of the Ahmadiyya community, considered by orthodox Sunnis as outside the fold of Islam. (He belonged to the Lahore section of the Ahmadiyya community which, while not claiming its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the promised messiah or a prophet, did recognize him as a mujaddid, or renewer of the faith). Aware of the dangers inherent in allegations of any kind of doctrinal bias, Kamal-ud-Din consciously rotated those who led the mosque's congregational prayers.

From the time that Kamal-ud-Din took over the Woking mosque, his reputation as an eloquent Islamic orator grew rapidly. Much sought after internationally by both Muslims and non-Muslims, he travelled widely in pursuit of his missionary duties, first to Europe and then to Africa and the Far East. After the First World War he visited France, Germany, and Belgium to assess their potential for missionary activities. Accompanied by Lord Headley, he travelled to Egypt and Saudi Arabia (where they performed the Hajj) in 1923, and in 1926 they visited South Africa at the invitation of Cape Town's Muslims; visits to Singapore and Java followed later.

Kamal-ud-Din gained much acclaim in his native India for his religious erudition. His services were recognized by Aligarh Muslim University when it conferred a fellowship on him, and appointed him to its court of trustees. When he died, in Lahore on 28 December 1932, particular mention of his ‘unique and unsurpassed’ services to Islam was made among the condolences expressed at the All-India Muslim League session at Delhi in November 1933 (S. S. Pirzada, ed., Foundations of Pakistan: All-India Muslim League Documents, 1906–1947, 1970, 2.210). But it is as the leading light and spiritual leader of British Islam in the early decades of the twentieth century that he will be best remembered, his pre-eminence marked by the British press's bestowal of the honorific ‘Very Reverend’ upon him during his lifetime.

Khizar Humayun Ansari


The Times (29 Dec 1932) · Islamic Review (April–May 1933); (Dec 1949); (Jan–Feb 1962) · H. Ansari, ‘The infidel within’: Muslims in Britain since 1800 (2004) · www.wokingmuslim.org, accessed on 19 March 2012


photograph, repro. in Islamic Review (April–May 1933) · photographs, Woking Muslim Mission, Woking; repro. in www.wokingmuslim.org/ [see illus.]