Muslim Soldiers and The World Wars

Muslim soldiers praying

Muslim soldiers should not be forgotten

This weekend, we came together to remember those who gave their lives for our country.

As we were united in remembrance, they were united in their sacrifice – men and women of all faiths and of none. Thousands of Muslim soldiers, Hindus, Sikhs and people of other minority faiths have served in the British Armed Forces across two World Wars. Their main goal to help keep Britain safe in its direst hours of need.

Few people know the story of the 400,000 Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in the First World War. Research from thinktank British Future found that only a fifth of people are aware that Muslim soldiers fought at all in the Great war of 1914-18.

Last week saw the anniversary of the first Victoria Cross for gallantry being awarded to a Muslim soldier, Khudadad Khan. He was a machine-gunner fighting on the Western Front in 1914. Despite being seriously injured and under heavy fire, he held off the enemy long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Khudadad Khan’s portrait hangs proudly in the India Room at Sandhurst.

There are hundreds of Muslims living throughout Britain whose fathers and grandfathers were soldiers in these two devastating wars. In November, many Mosques across the country remember the fallen soldiers, highlighting the significant contributions and sacrifices that Muslims soldiers made during World War I and II.

At a time when British Muslims’ loyalty to Britain is sometimes questioned, it’s only right that the heroism and bravery of Muslim soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars is also remembered.

There are many Muslims soldiers who still continue to serve in the Armed Forces defending the interests and values of this country. In my own home town of Leeds,  a member of the armed forces comes to pray at our mosque when he is on leave, visiting his family in Yorkshire. His family are proud of his achievements, and the community values his contribution.

Remembering how Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians and people of no faith stood side-by-side to defend Britain in both World Wars reminds us of the shared history and British identity that is common to us all.

A united Britain

We hear too much about what divides Britain’s different communities and not enough about the values we share that bring us together. Remembrance underlines the idea that the greatest sacrifice you can offer is to give your life for someone else regardless of their faith and background. If our past generations could give their lives, we can also move away from politics of hatred and division to respect and acceptance so that we can bequeath a more peaceful and better world to our future generations.

Global and catastrophic wars of the past century must also serve as a reminder of the sacrifices that continue to be made by those who are defending their countries. We must all resolve to work towards creating peace and harmony in the world. Understanding our past can help shape the present and our shared future.

This Remembrance Sunday, I was at a civic remembrance service in Leeds, along with other Muslims, ex-service men and women. Also in attendance were members of ex-service organisations and current military units, faith leaders and politicians to remember generations of the past who have defended our country and our way of life.

We can all choose whether or not to wear a poppy – many do, while others decide not to. That freedom to choose is one of the values that our ancestors fought for, and we should respect that. Remembrance Sunday is a powerful reminder of the best of values: unity, sacrifice and tolerance. Our faiths and cultures share a common love of humanity, honouring the fallen and cherishing the freedoms in an open and democratic society.

Lest we forget the honour showed by Muslim soldiers, Hindu Soldiers, Sikh Soldiers and people of all and no faith who gave their life during both World Wars in protecting this country.

By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
@QariAsim

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