LONDON – As the world marks 100 years since the end of the World War I, historians believe recognizing the contribution of Muslims in the British army can help tackle contemporary issues such as Islamophobia and rise of far-right.
“Muslim soldiers have been forgotten about over time,” Hayyan Bhabha, from the Muslim Experience, told The BBC.
“The core far-right narrative is that Muslims have never done anything for us.
“Well, actually, with facts that are over 100 years old, we can say Muslims fought and died for the history and security of Europe.”
A research by Dr. Islam Issa, Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, proved that 1.5 million Indians and 280,000 Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians fought for the Allies during the war, as well as soldiers recruited from other parts of Africa.
Nearly 3.7 million tons of supplies and more than 170,000 animals were shipped from India to support the war effort.
In the Muslim Experience, Bhabha and others are working to highlight the global contribution of Muslim soldiers to World War One, saying that raising awareness could silence anti-Muslim rhetoric by far-right groups in Britain today.
“Accessing archives from 19 countries, we have discovered that more than four million Muslims either fought or served as laborers during the War, from around the world,” he said.
Telling stories of forgotten Muslim soldiers, these groups work also to urge more British Muslims to find a personal link with World War One.
Dr. Irfan Malik, a GP in Nottingham, discovered in a conversation with a patient that two of his great-grandfathers had fought for Britain.
“One of my patients is a researcher of Commonwealth contribution to World War One and I told him about a village in modern-day Pakistan where I’m from that has a cannon commemorating the Great War,” he said.
“From that point four years ago, my journey began and I found out my two great-grandparents fought for Britain.
“I’m very fortunate to have images from 100 years ago. It means a huge amount to me. It’s made me feel more British as we have this shared history in common and I believe it helps community cohesion.”
A study by think tank British Future found just 22% of people in Britain knew Muslims had fought in the Great War.
Steve Ballinger, from British Future, says: “Finding out that Muslim soldiers fought and died for Britain to protect us and to protect the freedoms we enjoy today, that’s an important history for everyone to know.”
Luc Ferrier, the Belgian founder of the NGO Forgotten Heroes, the umbrella group for the Muslim Experience, headed a research team delving private archives in 19 countries for stories of Muslim soldiers in WWI.
“If the world really wants to reach out to the international Muslim community, then they need to know the enormous contribution these people have made, fighting a war none of their making,” he said.
“Only by recognizing and honoring the global Muslim sacrifices, not only these of the British colonies, we are reaching out to them and saying a genuine thank you.”