CAIRO – Aiming to raise awareness about Muslim heroism during the First World War, a British Muslim advisor has launched an initiative to acknowledge the sacrifices and bravery of thousands of Muslim soldiers in the lines of the French and Belgian army during the Great War.
“I started thinking about what it would have been like for our forefathers to come from India to fight this war and how much they prayed while fighting,” Community cohesion campaigner Faz Patel told Lancashire Telegraph on Monday, November 2.
Patel was talking about the forgotten half million Indian Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in WWI and gave their lives to the country.
The Muslim community cohesion campaigners visited memorial sites in Belgium and France to honor Muslims heroes and raise awareness about their sacrifices.
During his trip, Patel visited the museum in Ypres, the Tyne Cote Cemetery and the Menin Gate Memorial, which is dedicated to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in WWI.
“All of the Muslims of the division had their prayers together and the assembly was close to our regiment,” read literature by Abdul Ali Khan, who was stationed in France at the time of Eid in July 1917, Patel stated.
“I was shocked to see how they offered their Eid prayers. Many soldiers from the Commonwealth, including fellow Englishmen, fought in the war and it really took me back in time to comprehend what it was like,” Patel added.
The Blackburn Muslims also visited the Indian memorial of Neuve Chapelle, where over 4,700 Indian soldiers who lost their lives on the Western Front have no known graves.
“As the soldiers of the Duke of Lancashire Regiment started lining up along with the schoolchildren, I had the chance and the privilege to offer a reading from the holy Koran,” Patel said”
He went on saying: “That is the least I could have done. I asked everyone to pray for all those who fought for us.”
Around 1.3 million soldiers from undivided India fought for the British Empire during the war. About 74,000 of those soldiers died.
Some 8,500 Indian Muslim soldiers believed to have died during WWI that left 50,000 of them injured.
Though hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers fought in WWI, only 22 percent of Britons know their sacrifice, according to a recent survey by British Future, a think-tank dedicated to racial integration.
The survey also found that only 2% are aware of the scale of that sacrifice.
About 600,000 troops from France’s colonies took part in the 1914-18 war and about 70,000 Muslims lost their lives at the battle of Verdun in 1916, according to figures released by the defence ministry in 2010.
In 2014, long forgotten French Muslim soldiers have been remembered by President Francois Hollande who said France “owed a debt” to Muslim soldiers who died in World War I.
Hollande unveiled a plaque paying tribute to the 100,000 French Muslims who died fighting in the two world wars.