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Woking Muslim Mission’s role in the creation of Pakistan

Ch. Rehmat Ali got his spark of inspiration in the Drawing Room of the Mission House

by Khwaja Salahuddin Ahmad

Reprinted in The Light & Islamic Review, July-August 1997, pages 5-8
on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pakistan’s birth

[This article was first published in The Light for 16 January 1966. The note about the writer occurring at the beginning was added by the editor of that issue. In the 1997 reprint two brief editor’s footnotes have been added as marked.]
  1. Introduction
  2. First meeting at Woking
  3. Second meeting at Woking
  4. Third meeting in Surbiton
  5. Khwaja Rahim suggests the name


(The writer is the son of the late Khwaja Kamal-ud-din, Founder of the Woking Muslim Mission, and was a student in England at the time when Ch. Rehmat Ali reached those shores in connection with his studies, brimming over with the idea of an independent homeland of Muslims in Northern India, that was put before the nation by Allama Iqbal in his famous Allahabad address before the All-India Muslim League in 1930. He was, however, just toying with this big idea, which took the first concrete shape accidentally at one of the Sunday meetings of the Muslims at the Woking Mosque, which Ch. Rehmat Ali, like so many other Muslim students in England, came to attend. In the following article Mr. Salahuddin Ahmad, a personal participant in how the Pakistan idea took definite shape, throws light on some of the missing links in the story. His purpose, as he explains, is to put the record straight while most of those who collaborated with Ch. Rehmat Ali are still alive and would be in a position to endorse his story.)

An article under the caption The Forgotten Hero appeared in the Pakistan Day Supplement of the Pakistan Times last August [1965]. The writer Mr. M. Anwar writing about Ch. Rehmat Ali recorded therein some important facts which will no doubt be most useful for future generations when records of events which led up to the establishment of Pakistan are placed in their proper and true perspective. …

Some controversy in the correspondence columns of the Pakistan Times ensued after the publication of Mr. Anwar’s article referred to above. In one of the letters someone even said that the people who originally worked with Ch. Rehmat Ali in England were dead long ago. I felt like contradicting that at that time but refrained from doing so. Since then a number of my friends who also know the actual facts, but themselves lack the authority of one who was present at those meetings have insisted that a record of those meetings should be made and that it was necessary that this should be recorded in the life time of those who took part in one or more of those meetings.

I, because of my particular connection with the Woking Muslim Mission, was an active participant in all the meetings that finally resulted in Ch. Rehmat Ali taking up the difficult task of fulfilling the Mission that he was destined for. Fortunately, by the grace of Allah, seven of us are still alive. All of the seven are well established in their own fields. Those people fill the gap in the sequence of events and answer the question why Ch. Rehmat Ali, an ardent follower of Allama Iqbal, should have begun this movement in 1933 after a sojourn in Cambridge and not earlier, particularly when he was in his own country?

First meeting at Woking

It was in the summer of 1932, it may have been June or July, that Ch. Rehmat Ali, who was then at Cambridge, came to Woking on a Sunday. Sunday at Woking is a day on which a small gathering of British Muslims come into contact with their brothers in Islam from other parts of the world. There is always a lecture in the afternoon by the Imam in the Mosque and this is followed by prayers and then a sojourn to the Woking Muslim Centre adjoining the Mosque, where discussions on religion continue till late in the evening. Ch. Rehmat Ali had on one such Sunday come earlier to lunch by invitation from the Imam Maulana Abdul Majid so as to spend the day with us.

With Ch. Rehmat Ali, even before we sat down to lunch, the only topic of conversation was Allama Iqbal. He certainly had intimate contact with the Allama and as a true disciple he had nothing but love and veneration for that great scholar. It was during these all-absorbing talks about the great poet that he began to lay great stress on the Allama’s one ardent wish that the areas predominantly populated by Muslims in India should become the homelands of the Muslims and Ch. Rehmat Ali repeatedly stressed that in this alone lay the solution for the future of the Muslims in India.

It appeared, however, that no Muslim luminaries had given much thought to the practical implementation of the dream, and therefore so far it was only an idea, a topic for discussion, and the danger now was that having remained an idea for so long it might remain just an idea. It seemed to all of us quite tragic that one of the greatest thinkers of the world had given expression to his feelings and so far it had not gone beyond the stage of being a topic for a drawing-room discussion, particularly when the destiny of a hundred million Muslims in the sub-continent was at stake. The danger was that it might only remain an idea.

At this stage Maulana Abdul Majid said: “Why do our people only talk, why don’t they do something? If Allama Iqbal has a message for his people, so far as he is concerned he has done his duty and if you are convinced that therein alone lies the solution, then why not do something about it?”

On Ch. Rehmat Ali’s query as to what could be done, Maulana Majid pointed to the photo of my father, Khwaja Kamal-ud-din, on one of the walls, adding:

“Do what he did. He had an idea in which he believed. He had seen with sorrow the 600 million Muslims of the world in restless slumber, seeping with Western influence, submerging under a defeated outlook and gradually losing sight of their own past heritage. With his faith abounding in the supreme teachings of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet, he decided to unfurl the standard of Islam in the heart of Christendom, and challenge Trinity on its own soil. He was convinced that the supreme message of Islam had to be revived from the West. He opened this centre and started the Islamic Review which he sent to the Muslim intelligentsia of the world.”

Footnote by
Editor: (1997)
Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, as he himself has acknowledged, received all his inspiration, urge and faith to do this work from Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Continuing the story as to how one man’s dream and determined effort led to the unfolding on British soil of the flag of Islam at Woking, the Imam Abdul Majid went on to say:

“Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar came here to see him on one such Sunday with a number of friends. During their talk Maulana Mohammad Ali suddenly got up and said: ‘Khwaja, I want to see your library, your Islamic Review is so full of Islamic theology that it must be very extensive, I am interested to see it’. Khwaja Sahib could only smile and followed him to the next room. But there was no library and the Maulana enquired where was the library? To this Khwaja Sahib replied by removing from the shelf a copy of the Holy Quran, saying, ‘This is my library’. The Khwaja worked relentlessly, like a reaper, sowing seeds as fast as he could and to let the seedlings flourish on soils all ready in crying need of revival. There is no doubt the seeds did take root, people from all parts of the Muslim World wherever he went, wanted to hear him personally and received him with open hearts. So, why don’t you follow his example and if there is something vital in this idea for the Muslims, it would take root, shall we say, in about ten years time?”

Ch. Rehmat Ali was visibly impressed and silently reflected within his mind. His feelings were stirred. After a while he spoke out: ‘Something definite must indeed be done.’ But to give it shape, he added, and for him to take the initiative, he would need the help of workers. This part of the work was not for the Imam and I therefore volunteered to take this on myself. I suggested another meeting the following Sunday at Woking, to which I promised to invite some friends of mine.

Shaikh Mohammad Jamil, Bar-at-law, son of the late K.B. Shaikh Noor Illahi Sahib, with Khan Mohammad Aslam Khattak, son of the late Khan Bahadar Kuli Khan, both of them studying for their M.A. (Hons) at Oxford, were then staying at 4 Hook Road, Surbiton, a town 20 miles from Woking. Both were affectionately disposed towards me and by their nature could be depended upon to stand for anything worthy of a support. Before Ch. Rehmat Ali left Woking that day it was settled by phone that both of them would come the following Sunday at lunch time. Ch. Rehmat Ali went back from Woking by the evening train, a determined and dedicated man, to give the idea a practical shape. On this particular Sunday there was also present a professor from Kashmir with his family. I do not recollect his name. It was his first visit to the Mosque. So intense was his interest in this matter that he came again the following Sunday and then again to the third and final meeting at Surbiton.

Second meeting at Woking

The second meeting which took place on the following Sunday again at the Woking Mosque was an important one because we were now assembled not to consider the feasibility of the idea but to give it an immediate and practical shape. At this second meeting, the people present were: Maulana Abdul Majid, Ch. Rehmat Ali, a gentleman who was later also associated with him in his work, whose name I do not remember, Shaikh Mohammad Jamil, Khan Mohammad Aslam Khattak, the professor from Kashmir and myself. There was one other gentleman known to all of us, but whose name need not to be mentioned.

Both Shaikh Jamil and Aslam Khattak were very happy that some initiative to propel such a movement was being taken and were prepared to give their full support. They pointed out however that Muslim students in England, although full of fervour and generosity for anything of national interest, being in a foreign country, were not only dispersed all over but also had very limited time and means for anything else but their studies. They felt that the mantle for carrying this movement through to the end must fall on Ch. Rehmat Ali himself.

The following decisions were taken at this meeting:

(1) That the movement should be begun by Ch. Rehmat Ali from Cambridge.

(2) That he should start issuing a monthly pamphlet to give publicity and projection to this movement whenever possible. I had shown the meeting a copy of our Woking Muslim Mission Gazette which had a map of the world on top of the opening page with a minaret at Woking in England and suggested that the pamphlet could similarly have only a map of India in white, while the areas that were to be separated for Muslims were to be green. This illustration on top would speak for itself and convey the message pointedly.

(3) That it was agreed that I would give him the addresses of the subscribers of the Islamic Review, who consisting as they did largely of the Muslim intelligentsia throughout India, would be the appropriate people to send this pamphlet to.

(4) That large quantities of the pamphlet should be in readiness for distribution at our Eid Festival and Milad-un-Nabi functions arranged at Woking.

(5) That it was agreed that I would give the addresses of Muslims in England, whose contact is maintained by the Mission for purposes of invitation to religious functions.

The meeting continued till late in the evening, the last trains for their journeys back to their homes had to be caught by some of the participants. It was therefore thought that a third meeting was again necessary (1) to evolve a name for the Muslim areas, (2) to give it a formal shape, (3) that since the matter was now a political issue and had already reached the stage of political party we should hold the next meeting the following Sunday at 4, Hook Road, Surbiton, with Shaikh Mohammad Jamil and K. M. Aslam Khan as hosts.

Third meeting in Surbiton

At this third meeting, the people in the previous meetings with the exception of Maulana Abdul Majid were present but with the addition of Khwaja Abdur Rahim, Bar-at-law, and Mr. Inayaullah.

Khwaja Rahim suggests the name

At this meeting Ch. Rehmat Ali was formally entrusted with the work of the movement. This meeting is important because it was at this meeting that after a great deal of discussion, Khwaja Abdul Rahim suggested the name of Pakistan. This was accepted by all of us spontaneously instead of alternatives such as Muslimabad, Islamabad, etc. The name was not chosen because it contained the first letters of names of areas that were to be in Pakistan. The name was accepted because pak, meaning pakeesgi or purity, is a first necessity before our approach to God. In Islam, pak is cleanliness in its purest form. It is cleanliness distinct from the ‘Non-pak’ cleanliness understood by the Hindus with their cow worship mania. The name Pakistan had an invitation to be free from all un-Godliness and a place where they could humble themselves before Allah in all humility, should He bless us with such a place, and try their best to contribute a better practice in fulfilment of their faith.

The meeting ended. Thereafter the burden, the work and its success were all the achievements of Ch. Rehmat Ali. Wherever it was possible to send that pamphlet, he sent it. Wherever it was possible to distribute it, he was there with his friend and assistant to do it. He little knew that like John the Baptist he was heralding the coming of another, who finally in all his grandeur came, took up the standard and planted it in the soil which he with his clarion call claimed as Pakistan and succeeded where others had failed to give Solidarity, Unity and Faith to a people clamouring for a place which they could call their own Pak homeland.


[Footnote by Editor (1997): In the last sentence, “the coming of another” obviously refers to Mr. Jinnah.]