Friday, 18 December 2015

Documentary on the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden Project

THREE-YEAR MUSLIM BURIAL GROUND PEACE GARDEN PROJECT TO FEATURE IN BBC TV DOCUMENTARY

The restoration of one of Woking’s historic, hidden gems – the Grade II listed Muslim Burial Ground – and the creation of the new Islamic-inspired Peace Garden, opened by the Earl of Wessex in November 2015, is the topic of a BBC One documentary scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday 3 January 2016 at 1.15pm.

Filmed over a three-year period, the BBC documentary team tracks the long-awaited and carefully planned activities of Dr Zafar Iqbal, Woking Borough Council’s Senior Policy Officer, and Elizabeth Cuttle, Trustee of Horsell Common Preservation Society (HCPS), to rescue the historic site from disrepair and restore the domed archway entrance (known as a Chattri), minarets and ornate red brick walls to their former glory, and in time for the First World War commemorations taking place from 2015 to 2018.

The 40-minute, one-off documentary follows the story of the restoration of a forgotten and dilapidated burial ground for 27 Muslim soldiers who gave their lives fighting for Britain in the two World Wars. Using archive, interviews with historians and surviving descendants, the film also reveals the stories of some of the Muslim soldiers once buried at the site, and through their experiences, the history of the Muslim contribution to the British war effort in World War One unfolds. The film 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, which first captured the interest of Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics, who 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 moment 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 was commissioned in 1915 to ensure Muslim soldiers could be buried in accordance with their religious rights.

Designed by architect T.H. Winney and completed in 1917 by local firm, Ashby & Horner, the site soon became the final resting place of 19 Muslim soldiers from the Great War and a further eight casualties of the Second World War. In 1969, following the exhumation of the servicemen’s remains by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission 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 site and new Peace Garden features 27 Himalayan Birch trees representing the number of servicemen buried at the site, a water feature incorporating a memorial stone bearing their names, bold strips of pink and white heather orientated towards Mecca, scented plants such as Rosa rugosa and Sarcococca orientalis, two stone ceremonial prayer mats and benches.

Talking about the project, Dr Zafar Iqbal said: “The restoration of the Muslim Burial Ground was a long-awaited ambition of Woking Borough Council and the Horsell Common Preservation Society. Following two decades of discussions and watching the site fall into disrepair, it wasn’t until 2012 when funding was provided by Historic England that plans could be finalised and the works delivered.

“Over the last four years, we have worked with a range of funders, stakeholders, the Shah Jahan Mosque and members of the community to reinstate a heritage site which will provide a focal point for acts of commemoration and quiet contemplation.“

Speaking about the new garden’s significance to the Borough, Cllr John Kingsbury, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “As well as enhancing pride of place, the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden is a significant heritage site for Woking. It is a lasting legacy for the Muslim servicemen who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend Britain and, for future generations, it acts as a tangible advocate for peace; representing reconciliation, harmony and reflection.”

The restoration of the Muslim Burial Ground and the creation of the Peace Garden was funded and supported by: The Armed Forces Covenant Grant Scheme; Department for Communities and Local Government; Historic England; Horsell Common Preservation Society; Shah Jahan Mosque; Sultanate of the Government of Oman; Surrey County Council; and, Woking Borough Council.

The Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden is owned and managed by the Horsell Common Preservation Society (HCPS). Entry to the site is free and it is open daily, all year round, for quiet contemplation and relaxation.

For more information about the site’s history and restoration works, visit www.woking.gov.uk/woking/heritage/peacegarden

For more information about the BBC One documentary, Britain’s Muslim Soldiers, visit www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2016/01/britains-muslim-soldiers


For further information, contact Woking Borough Council's Marketing Communications Officer, Kate Mair, on 01483 743021 or email kate.mair@woking.gov.uk