Remona Aly
Tuesday 17 December 2019 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

Woking Mosque & War of the Worlds

Woking Mosque and War of the Worlds
Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show


Late to the party, I finally watched the ‘War of the Worlds’ unleash itself on my telly last week. It wasn’t the general election, but the BBC dramatisation of the famous science fiction novel by HG Wells. He describes how aliens invade Earth and their mission of chaos and destruction begins on the lovely town of Woking in Surrey.

As well as trees, homes and a local church bursting into flames, the aliens indiscriminately destroy a famous mosque of the area.

I was geeking out on this literary discovery when I learned of it at an exhibition a few weeks ago celebrating one hundred and thirty years of the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking.

Britain’s first purpose built mosque has a pretty varied CV. It was used as a set for a Hollywood film in the seventies – and Paul Weller’s mum was a cleaner there.

I’ve visited Shah Jehan mosque several times and been wowed by the elegantly carved arches and emerald dome that tops it like a crown. Speaking of royalty, the mosque was part funded by its namesake – a female Indian princess who ruled the very city of Bhopal that my parents hail from.

For many like me who are the children of immigrants, or for anyone who gets that feeling of being an outsider, there can be hurdles in finding a solid identity and a single place to lay down roots. For me, this British mosque in Woking symbolises a space where my two worlds are not at war, but embrace each other in reconciliation. For a while I looked for my heritage elsewhere. Now I realise that my history is right here in Britain too.

It’s not always easy to find an anchor, and I reckon that many people can feel lost at one time or another. This is when the words of Hafez, a 14th century Persian Muslim poet, make so much sense to me. Hafez says, “This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”

Wherever I am in life, I believe it was mapped out for me. And it’s a circle that keeps growing to cover many worlds – even Woking. No Martian can take that away from me.