Remembering the Brave

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					Remembering the Brave
The Muslim contribution to
Britain’s Armed Forces

A special report by the
Muslim Council of Britain
Remembering the Brave
The Muslim contribution to
Britain’s Armed Forces
An introduction by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari MBE
Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

                  Muslims have been with Britain in         democratic traditions that allow us to
                  good times and bad: contributing to       debate all these issues in freedom
                  its welfare, standing and defence, and    and without fear.
                  protecting the values of justice and
                  freedom that makes this                   This document highlights past
                  country what it is today. This short      polling data suggesting that British
                  pamphlet outlines the long history of     Muslims tend to take the
                  Muslims in the Armed Forces. It also      sophisticated enough stand to
                  covers the current contribution of        support our troops while dissenting
                  British Muslims to the UK military.       from the government’s decision to
                  Though Muslims are                        send those troops to controversial
                  underrepresented in the Armed             conflicts.
                  Forces, the number is growing and
                  their sacrifice is deep.                  With thanks to Professor Humayun
                                                            Ansari of the University of London,
                  In this publication, the Muslim Coun-     we also highlight how, in the past,
                  cil of Britain acknowledges that the      Muslims often took part in conflicts
                  operations which the Armed Forces         that were contested in the Muslim
                  are engaged in today are deeply           world.
                  controversial. But that is not simply a
                  concern amongst Muslims, it is shared     In addition, the document
                  by other British people also.             examines the Muslim Council of
                                                            Britain’s campaign to provide better
                  Nevertheless we are all proud to be       welfare for those Muslims enlisted in
                  part of a nation that actively            the Armed Forces.
                  encourages dissent and scrutiny of
                  our government while maintaining          The Muslim Council of Britain
                  a strong support for the welfare of       issues a necessary reminder to
                  the men and women who are sent to         British Muslims and society at large
                  fight on our behalf. We are also          of the Muslim community’s enduring
                  fortunate to be in a country that aims    contribution to the nation’s Armed
                  to apply higher standards to the          Forces.
                  conduct of our Armed Forces. That
                  value is coupled by strong civic and

                                       As we approach Remembrance              In recent years, our national
                                       Sunday, this publication is             discourse has skirted around
                                       dedicated as a form of tribute to       collective notions of ‘Britishness’.
                                       the heroism and bravery of our          Remembering the shared sacrifices
                                       Muslim soldiers, particularly in        of our armed forces who came
                                       those just wars of national survival.   from all faith groups and racial
                                                                               backgrounds can help us to unite
                                       Amongst the countless First and         around a ‘Britishness’ that has
                                       Second World War memorials              optimism and confidence about
                                       around the world are emblazoned         the future while being rooted in
                                       Muslim names, which represent           the shared and divergent histories
                                       the tens of thousands of Muslims        of our country.
                                       who have stood as part of this
                                       nation, who fought bravely, and         Remembrance Sunday is a formal
                                       who fell defending this country in      recognition of our achievements
                                       corners near and far all around         as a country, it gives us a moment
                                       the world. The poignancy of this        to pause and consider how this
                                       should not be lost on any of us,        country has evolved since the last
                                       especially Muslims who have now         wide-scale sacrifice of the Second
                                       made Britain their home.                World War. Today we have come
                                                                               to cherish values that uphold
                                       In 2008, an exhibition at               freedoms, diversity, human rights
                                       London City Hall entitled ‘We           and the rule of law.
                                       Were There’, provided many
                                       examples of sacrifice, highlighting     If the experiences of
                                       how over one million men from           Remembrance Sunday, and the
                                       the ethnic minorities served in         sense of unified national moment
                                       the Great War, with a very large        mean anything to us as a nation,
                                       number drawn from Muslim                then they must mean that we
                                       villages of the Punjab. In World        emphatically reject the malignant
Names of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and
Christian men who died serving the
                                       War II the Indian Army alone pro-       cancer of hatred and
Imperial Camel Corps in World War 1.   vided 2.5 million men.                  social division.
The names form part of a memorial to
the Corp at the Victoria Embankment
Gardens, London.

Proving Loyalty?
Muslims and Britain’s Armed Forces
By Professor Humayun Ansari OBE
Director, Centre for Minority Studies, Royal Holloway, University of London

                           The British Army’s recent                  armies of the British Empire,
                           operations in countries such               particularly in India, over a period of
                           as Iraq and Afghanistan raise              perhaps 200 years, there were
                           important questions about the              literally tens of thousands of
                           role of British Muslim service             Muslims who fought on the side of
                           personnel in it.                           the British. From the early
                                                                      Nineteenth century at least, with
                           Recent well-publicised threats to          British involvement in South Asia
                           behead one of their number as a            steadily growing, Muslim soldiers
                           protest against their having enlisted      started to represent an impor-
                           have highlighted, for instance, the        tant element in the ranks of those
                           need for British Muslim soldiers to        Indians who joined the various
                           feel confident that their religion is      regiments of the British India Army,
                           not being compromised by them              fighting on behalf of, first, Company
                           being part of the British Army.            and, later, Crown. The Punjabi and
                           Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq          Pathan Mussalmans (Muslims) came
                           raise complex questions of national        to be recognised as the backbone of
                           identity and loyalty; taking part in       the British Indian Army; they made
                           such campaigns can be quite chal-          up about a third of that army.
                                                                      With the consolidation of Britain’s
                           But, it is also increasingly clear that    empire, Muslim recruits continued
                           people have multiple identities and        to provide essential manpower,
                           that at any given time one identity,       fighting in Twentieth century wars
                           and indeed one loyalty, may take pri-      on Britain’s behalf. Indeed, between
                           ority over another. Thus, the com-         1914 and 1918 the British Army was
                           mitment to fight for one’s country         able to retain the loyalty and com-
                           becomes above all else understand-         mitment of these earlier Muslim
                           able.                                      soldiers without any serious
                                                                      difficulty. It seems that it succeeded
                           This has certainly been the case           in doing so, at least partly, by
                           historically. We discover that in the      incorporating elements of their

                                         religion into the rituals and           soldiers’ psyche; one wrote, ‘you
                                         ceremonies of the regiments con-        did things which were right in your
                                         cerned.                                 point of view even if it meant death’;
                                                                                 the British tradition of absolute
                                         There is ample evidence to suggest      loyalty to the regiment dovetailed
                                         that thousands of Muslims loyally       with the value of izzat; loyalty to
                                         fought and died on Britain’s behalf,    the regiment was paramount. and
                                         but their sacrifice has been rarely     these Muslims were convinced that
                                         acknowledged. Only now is the           only in the army any izzat could be
                                         heroic story of how Muslims from        acquired (Mahamod Mazafar Khan,
                                         Britain’s far flung empire held the     19th Lancers – France, Oct 1917).
                                         line during the First World War         For izzat, if necessary, they were
                                         beginning to emerge out of their        prepared to lay down their lives.
                                         letters written in the trenches of      To be sure, they were also moti-
                                         the Western Front in France.            vated to join the army to satisfy
                                         We now know that at the start of        their basic needs – many came from
                                         the First World War, within the first   poor families. This gave rise to a
                                         months, the British forces took a       relationship with the British often
                                         pounding; reinforcements were           referred to as ‘tasting the salt’ – the
                                         desperately needed. Two divisions       salt of Britain. So, when wars broke
                                         of the Indian Army were mobilised       out, it was time for them to repay;
                                         and Indian soldiers deployed on         for Jemadar Shamsher Ali Khan
                                         the Western Front. Though they          (34th Poona Horse) in April 1917 in
                                         played a crucial part in holding the    France ‘it is time for showing val-
                                         line, displaying great determination,   our’; this value of loyalty was greatly
                                         Indian soldiers received scant atten-   appreciated by the British officers
                                         tion in accounts of the War. Why        who led them – indeed, those who
                                         they fought so bravely was because      led the Indian regiments immersed
                                         they simply wanted to win honour        themselves in the cultures of India
                                         on the battlefields. Honour – izzat     and every effort was made to facili-
Indian Muslim soldiers attend Eid        – was very important to Muslims;        tate Muslim troops in the fulfillment
prayers at the old East London Mosque,
446-448 Commercial Road in 1942          it was deeply embedded in these         of the requirements of their faith

“These men       – for example, ‘which direction to
                 pray in and bury the dead’ (Dafadar
                                                        arms against their brother Muslims
                                                        and asked to be sent to some other
died fight-      Fazi Khan, 19th Lancers – France,
                 Oct 1916). British officers were
                                                        theatre of war; orders to fight near
                                                        holy sites of Karbala and Baghdad
ing defending    careful to observe arrangements for    were too much for the Muslim
                 key religious rituals like Ramadan     members of the 15th Lancers,
British rights   (or Ramazan) – Havildar Ghufran        almost the entire regiment refused
                 Khan of the 129th Baluchis, wrote      to march’ (Fateh Ullah, June 1916).
and              to Subedar Zaman Khan (4 Au-           However, even at such challenging

liberties and    gust 1915), ‘arrangements to keep
                 Ramazan are excellent’; In August
                                                        times many Muslim soldiers in the
                                                        British India Army did take part in
the nation’s     1917, Abdul Ali Khan (6th Cavalry
                 in France) informs how Eid was
                                                        those battles.

most cherished   celebrated on the battlefield –‘all
                 the Muslims of their divisions have
                                                        British Muslims supported the war
                                                        effort in quite rational terms: a
values.”         their prayer together; about 1,500     resolution, proposed by a leading
                 hundred men assembled and offered      Muslim convert Lord Headley,
                 their prayers for the King’.           seconded by the imam of the
                                                        Woking Mosque, Maulvi Sadr-ud-
                 There developed a tremendous           Din and unanimously passed by the
                 bond, attachment, between officers     British Muslim Society in September
                 and their men, further reinforc-       1914, expressed ‘delight to find that
                 ing loyalty. The real test of Muslim   their co-religionists in Islam were
                 loyalty to Britain came when, in       … carrying into effect the principles
                 November 1915, the majority of the     of Islam as inculcated by the holy
                 Indian Army was withdrawn from         Prophet Mohammed … freely pour-
                 France to fight in Mesopotamia -       ing out their life blood in defence
                 Germany’s Turkish ally, the Ottoman    of honour and for the love of truth
                 Khalifa (Caliph), presented funda-     and justice’.
                 mental dilemmas – Muslims troops
                 arriving there had to face Turkish     While largely forgotten until now,
                 Muslims in combat. What must have      at the time, Muslim sacrifices were
                 caused them deep anguish was the       acknowledged with gratitude.
                 fact that a year earlier, on           Wounded Muslim soldiers fighting
                 14 November, 1914, the Sheikh-         in France were treated in special
                 ul-Islam in Istanbul had declared      hospitals along the south coast in
                 Jihad on behalf of the Ottoman         Brighton, Bournemouth and
                 government, urging Muslims all over    Brockenhurst. Those among them
                 the world – including in the Allied    who died received burial rites
                 countries – to take up arms against    according to their religion. The first
                 Britain, Russia and France – ‘when     burial in this country of an Indian
                 the 15th Lancers reached Basra         Muslim soldier who succumbed to
                 they were ordered to fight Turks...    wounds received while serving in
                 they, however, declined to take up     France took place in the Brook-

                                   wood Cemetery in December 1914.           As Remembrance Day approaches
                                   Floral tributes were placed on the        our thoughts turn to observance of
                                   coffin by local Muslim converts.          commemoration of all those mem-
                                   In 1915 the burial of an Indian           bers of the British armed forces
                                   Muslim officer took place. At the         who lost their lives during the
                                   request of the imam of the Wok-           wars. Special services will be held
                                   ing Mosque, the local commanding          and wreaths laid at war memori-
                                   officer detailed fifty soldiers, headed   als throughout the country and at
                                   by an officer, to attend the funeral      London’s Cenotaph. But how many
                                   in order to pay military honours          of us will be aware of the
                                   to this gallant Indian soldier. Three     magnificent role that thousands of
                                   rounds were discharged and, in a fu-      Muslims played in those wars?
                                   sion of Muslim practices with British
                                   military traditions, the “Last Post”      How widely, for instance, is it
                                   was sounded by the bugle boys. The        known that more than 1.3 million
                                   Chairman of the local Urban               Indian soldiers served during the
                                   Council deemed it ‘an honour to           First World War, a large proportion
                                   have men who fell as a result of the      of them, Muslim? That they suffered
                                   war buried in the district’.              heavy casualties – 53, 486 died,
                                                                             64,350 wounded and 3,769 were
                                   The scale of the sacrifice                missing or taken?

                                   By the end of the First World War         The contribution of the Indian
                                   in 1918, India had sent over one mil-     army to the Second World War was
                                   lion volunteer troops to fight side       even greater. By 1945, 2.5 million
                                   by side with the British. Muslims         men had fought in the war. Again,
                                   were disproportionately involved.         a substantial number were Muslim.
                                   They saw action in France and             The price paid was heavy – 36, 092
                                   Belgium; in Gallipoli and Salonica; in    volunteers were killed or reported
                                   East Africa; in Mesopotamia, Egypt        missing, 64,354 were wounded, and
                                   and Persia. Over 47,000 were killed       almost 80,000 had to endure captiv-
                                   and 65,000 were wounded.                  ity as PoWs.
                                   During the Second World War over
                                   2.5 million men and women from            Moreover, Muslims employed in the
                                   the Indian sub-continent, formed          British merchant navy, over 50,000
                                   the largest volunteer force ever          by the beginning of World War I,
                                   seen in history. They served in           also took a heavy toll. During the
                                   Africa, Burma, Malaya and in the          First World War 3,427 Indian crew
                                   Middle East. Again over 24,000 were       members in British merchant ships
                                   killed and 65,000 were wounded.           were killed and 1,200 were taken
                                   As in the First World War, hundreds       prisoners. In World War II – 6,600
Picture courtesy of Imperial War
                                   of military awards were won. These        killed and 1,022 wounded, plus
Museum                             included thirty Victoria Crosses, the     1,217 PoWs.
                                   highest award for bravery.

At Tower Hill, half a mile from         ‘highly dangerous and shackled in
Aldgate, the heart of the Bangla-       chains. In 1944 she was transferred
deshi community in Britain, there is    to Dachau Concentration Camp
a poignant monument to the men          and executed. She was one of
of the British merchant Navy who        the few people to be awarded the
lost their lives in the two World       George Cross as well as Croix de
wars. Among the names of the            Guerre with Gold Star, the highest
26,833 merchant seamen killed in        British and French awards for non-
the 1939-1945 war, there are names      combat gallantry.
of Muslims: Miah, Latif Ali, Uddin.
Just a few of the 6,600 lascars and     Sources
1,022 wounded working in the most       Caroline Adams, Across Seven Seas
dangerous part of the ship. Their       and Thirteen Rivers, London, 1987.
sacrifice for ‘King and Country’ is
recorded and honoured in bronze.        Humayun Ansari, ‘The Infidel Within’:
                                        Muslims in Britain since 1800, Lon-
These men died fighting defend-         don, 2004.
ing British rights and liberties and
the nation’s most cherished values.     Humayun Ansari, ‘Burying the dead’:
Their ultimate contribution reflect-    making Muslim space in Britain,
ed the commitment and unity of          Historical Research, vol.80, no.210,
heroic proportions and deserves to      November 2007, pp.545-566.
be honoured in a fitting manner.
                                        Nile Green, Islam and the Army in
And one particular Muslim woman’s       Colonial India, Sepoy Religion in the
contribution symbolises this hero-      Service of Empire, Cambridge, 2009.
ism more than anything else. Noor
Inayat Khan (1914-1944) – daughter      India Office Records, The British
of Inayat Khan, a sufi musician from    Library, London.
Bhopal in India - joined in the Wom-
en’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF)         ‘The Muslim Tommies’, BBC 1, 2
in November 1940. Later she was         September 2009.
recruited by the Special Operations     Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain, 400
Executive during World War II. She      Years of History, London 2002.
was dropped in occupied France in
1943 to gather military intelligence.   Jean Overton Fuller, Noor-un-nisa
Betrayed to the Germans she was         Inayat Khan, London, 1988
arrested in October 1943 and
transferred to the Dachau
concentration camp. There she was
tortured, but showing immense
courage refused to divulge the se-
cret codes. Having attempted
escape twice, she was declared

The Armed Forces
Reflecting Modern Britain
The Muslim contribution today
         There are an estimated four             choices that British Muslims, like
         hundred Muslims serving in Her          their fellow countrymen, can make
         Majesty’s Armed Forces, and,            in supporting our troops while
         according to the Ministry of            censuring the politicians who send
         Defence, that number is rising.         them into harms way.

         At a recent function for Muslim         This was exemplified in June 2009
         service personnel, the Chief of the     when the polling organisation ICM
         General Staff (the professional head    surveyed British Muslim attitudes
         of the British Army), General Sir       on our Armed Forces’ service in
         David Richards said Muslim soldiers,    Afghanistan. The ICM-run survey of
         sailors and airmen were “serving        500 British Muslims over the age of
         the United Kingdom with such            16, found that 78% said they
         distinction today and I have no         opposed Taliban attacks against UK
         doubt, in the future”.                  and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan
                                                 and three-quarters of those
         The Armed Forces and the                surveyed said it was wrong for the
         Muslim community                        West to intervene militarily in
                                                 Pakistan and Afghanistan.
         Though the number of Muslim
         recruits to the Armed Forces is         These nuanced views are possible
         rising, the number is still too small   because of the strong civic and
         to reflect the size and depth of        democratic traditions that allow us
         Britain’s Muslim community. This is     to debate all these issues in
         partly attributed to contentious        freedom and without fear in this
         operations that the United Kingdom      country. Loyalty does not mean the
         is engaged around the world.            suspension of our critical faculties
                                                 and failure to question our
         But it is wrong to believe that there   contested international
         is a widespread Muslim antipathy        engagements.
         towards our armed forces.
                                                 Despite the extremely difficult
         The actual picture is more complex      foreign policy pursued by the
         and demonstrates the sophisticated      government which appears to

                                             have a sharp and adverse focus on       Muslims to serve their country.
                                             countries with majority Muslim          We hope that we will see increased
                                             populations, Muslims in the United      numbers of British Muslims taking
                                             Kingdom have shown commitment           up positions in our Armed Forces
                                             to the country by being the second      just as they have done so in other
                                             largest faith group after the           sectors of our society.
                                             Christian faith in the Forces.
                                                                                     For this to be successful, however, it
                                             Recruitment within the community        is imperative that the high
                                             may be low, but the Muslim Coun-        reputation of our armed forces is
                                             cil of Britain also argues that this    zealously protected. It means also
                                             is also because of general difficul-    that we renew our commitment to
                                             ties that the armed forces have in      higher standards. We should ensure
                                             recruitment and retention.              that the actions of a few does not
                                                                                     diminish the overall expectations of
                                             Institutional Muslim support            our armed forces to abide by
                                             for the Armed Forces                    international laws of war and
                                                                                     uphold fundamental human rights.
                                             As has been demonstrated in this
                                             publication, there is a strong and      The MCB has consistently
                                             long-standing association between       campaigned since its inception that
                                             Muslim communities and British          the UK’s Armed Forces should truly
                                             Armed Forces. Our                       reflect the religious and cultural
                                             commemoration of Remembrance            diversity of present day British
Judge Khurshid Drabu, the MCB Advisor
                                             Sunday should solemnly celebrate        society. In turn, military leaders have
on Constitutional affairs, who is also the   the immense sacrifices made by the      engaged positively with faith
Muslim member of the Ministry of De-
fence’s Religious Advisory Panel with the
                                             soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of   communities, and recognise that
former Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief      whom were Muslims, killed in the        there is a long way to go to ensure
Marshal Sir Glen Torpy and civil liberties
campaigner Shami Chakrabarti
                                             First and Second World Wars.            an inclusive service culture.

General Sir David Richards with Group
                                             The Muslim Council of Britain           Securing the welfare of
Captain Ul-Haq, Imam Asim Hafiz and          recognises this link and respects the   Muslims in the Armed Forces
Corporal Mohsin Ali Mughal at the
launch of the Armed Forces Muslim
                                             professionalism and dedication of
Association                                  Britian’s Armed Forces. The MCB         As part of its engagement with
[Picture: SAC Stewart Paterson, Crown
Copyright/MOD 2009]
                                             has worked with all three Armed         government and military leaders,
                                             Services to encourage British           the Muslim Council of Britain has

“Muslims in the                          lobbied hard for the spiritual and      Imam Asim Hafiz, the first-ever
                                         welfare needs of Muslim service         Muslim chaplain to the British
United Kingdom                           personnel to be catered for.            armed forces, acknowledges the
have shown                                                                       hesitation some Muslims may feel in
                                         Many of challenges that face serving    enlisting: He encapsulates
commitment to the                        Muslims are no different to those       common dilemmas thus: “At the
country by                               faced by any other soldier. However,    moment, because our current
                                         it is also important to cater for the   conflicts are in Muslim countries
being the second                         spiritual and religious needs of        it could be more challenging for a
largest faith group                      Muslims just as for servicemen from     Muslim to join the armed forces.”
                                         other faith backgrounds.
after the                                                                        “Another challenge though is how
Christian faith                          The MCB welcomes initiatives by         the Iraq and Afghanistan war are
                                         our armed forces towards greater        perceived by Muslim communities
in the Forces.”                          recognition of the needs of their       in Britain. It can be hard to join the
                                         Muslim recruits. We hope that such      Armed Forces and there is
                                         initiatives will also allow increased   concern as to how you will be
                                         numbers of Muslims to take up           received back in the community.
                                         positions in our armed forces.          But I would like to stress this is no
                                                                                 different to Catholics serving in
                                         As a direct consequence of the          Northern Ireland. This is not an is-
                                         MCB’s work with the Armed forces,       sue isolated to Muslims.”
                                         the Ministry of Defence in 2005
                                         officially worked with the MCB for      “What we have to understand
                                         the recruitment and retention of        is that everybody has a variety
                                         the first ever Imam (Civilian           of identities that makes them an
                                         Chaplain) for the Tri Service.          individual – it could be their faith,
                                                                                 it could be their culture, it could
Secretary General Dr Muhammad Abdul      Conclusion                              be their job: at different times one
Bari attending a Rembrance Sunday        British Muslims join hands remem-       identity might take priority over
                                         bering the brave at a time when         another.”
Photos right                             current operations raises complex
Former MCB Secretary General Sir Iqbal
Sacranie with former Chief of the        questions of national identity, per-
Defence Staff General Sir Michael        sonal loyalty and what it means to
Walker at an MCB event encouraging
greater engagement with the Muslim       be British.

“To empower the Muslim
community to contribute
towards achieving
a cohesive, just and
successful British society.”
The Muslim Council of Britain is a national
representative Muslim umbrella body with over 500
affiliated national, regional and local organisations,
mosques, charities and schools.

The MCB is pledged to work for the common good
of society as a whole; encouraging individual Muslims
and Muslim organisations to play a full and
participatory role in public life.

The MCB has been built on consultation,
co-operation and co-ordination among Muslim
institutions and concerned Muslims throughout
PO Box 57330, London E1 2WJ, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 845 26 26 786 Fax:+44 (0) 207 247 7079

Cover photo: Indian Muslim soldiers attend Eid prayers at the old East London
Mosque, 446-448 Commercial Road in 1942

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