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King’s professor who founded UK’s first purpose-built mosque

King’s rich multicultural heritage has been recognised after a mosque founded by King’s professor, Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, has been awarded grade I listed status. The Shah Jahan Mosque, built in Woking in 1889, was Northern Europe’s first purpose-built mosque.

Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1840 to a Jewish family. He was brought up as a Protestant Christian and was a gifted linguist, able to speak 15 languages by the time he left school.

Dr Leitner came to England aged 17 to study at King's College London. His passion for Islamic and Hindu culture meant that, aged just 21, he became Professor of Arabic with Mohammedan Law at King's. After his time in London, he went on to become Principal of the Government College at Lahore, an expert on Kashmir and, in 1883, founder of the Oriental Institute in Woking – a centre for the study of the culture and history of India and the Islamic world. There he commissioned the Shah Jahan Mosque.

Leitner was a tireless advocate of the fair treatment of Islam by the West, including in 1889 producing a pamphlet entitled Muhammadanism, explaining Islam and refuting attacks on it. His genuine sympathy for the cultures of Asia marked him out as an early advocate of what is now termed ‘multiculturalism’, many decades ahead of its time.

Find out more about the Shah Jahan Mosque here.