Restored Muslim burial site gets television fame

THE restoration of Woking’s historic Grade II listed Muslim Burial Ground – and the much admired creation of the new Islamic-inspired Peace Garden, opened by the Earl of Wessex in November – is the topic of a BBC One documentary due to be broadcast this Sunday (January 3).

Filmed over a three-year period, the programme (to be aired at 1.15pm) tracks the long-awaited and carefully planned activities of the council’s Senior Policy Officer, Dr Zafar Iqbal, and Trustee of Horsell Common Preservation Society, Elizabeth Cuttle, to rescue the precious site from disrepair.

The project restored the domed archway entrance, minarets and ornate red brick walls to their former glory in time for the First World War commemorations, which began earlier this year.

The one-off, 40-minute TV documentary follows the story of the revamping of a forgotten and dilapidated burial ground for 27 Muslim soldiers who gave their lives fighting for Britain in the two World Wars.

Using archives, interviews with historians and surviving descendants, the film also reveals the stories of some of the soldiers once buried at the site and, through their experiences, the history of the Muslim contribution to the British efforts
in the First World War unfolds.

The documentary ends with the voices of modern Muslims who believe this shared narrative is one of the ways that prejudice and distrust of Islam in modern Britain might be overcome.

It was the site’s forgotten heritage and national and international importance that captured the interest of Aaqil Ahmed, BBC Head of Religion & Ethics.

He said: “When I first saw the Muslim Burial Ground three years ago, I immediately felt that this forgotten part of British history was a story worth telling.

“It’s an architectural gem and a symbol of the little known shared heritage between Britain and Islam. Its history has helped to shape the world we live in today, which I know will appeal to our audiences’ thirst for knowledge.

“This documentary, just like the memorial garden, celebrates a mo-ment in time when people shared a common purpose. To ignore it is to not learn from our past.”

Located in the south east corner of Horsell Common and a short distance from the Shah Jahan Mosque (the UK’s first purpose built mosque), the original site was purchased by the War Office and a burial ground commissioned in 1915 to ensure soldiers could be buried in accordance with their religious rights.

It was designed by architect TH Winney and completed in 1917 by local firm Ashby & Horner, when the site became the final resting place of 19 Muslim fighters from the Great War and a further eight casualties of the Second World War.

During the 60s, the site became a target of vandalism and, in 1969, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ordered the exhumation of the servicemen’s remains, which were moved to the nearby Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Horsell Common Preservation Society took ownership of the site.

Opened by the Earl of Wessex in November 2015, the restored grounds and new Peace Garden feature 27 Himalayan Birch trees representing the number of servicemen buried at the site, a water feature with a memorial stone bearing their names, bold strips of pink and white heather orientated towards Mecca, plants such as Rosa rugosa and Sarcococca orientalis, two stone prayer mats and benches.

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