UK: Calls to recognize contribution of Muslim soldiers in WWI, WWII
Bunglawala asks how the Punjabi Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain and the Commonwealth against Turkey in 1917 would have reacted following the Balfour Declaration. Had they known the Britain and France would renege on their promise to give the Arabs of Iraq and Syria independence.
I think the answer is very simple: They didn't. Maybe somebody could clarify this for me, but did the Indian Muslims of 1917 really care that they were fighting Turks? Or that Arabs in the Middle East didn't have independence? What about the other way around? Did the Arabs of Syria or Iraq really care that India was under British rule until 1947? Did anybody force the Punjabi Muslim soldiers to enlist to the British army?
How would those soldiers have felt knowing that a couple of generations down, their relatives, living in Britain, would see the British as the enemy? I don't know, but maybe the way to honor those Muslim soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the free world in WWI and WWII is to continue fighting, and not to join the enemy, just because he happens to be Muslim.
Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain:
Inscribed in marble at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium, are the names of 54,896 soldiers of Britain and the Commonwealth who died in the Ypres Salient in the first world war and whose graves are unknown. The German army had surrounded Ypres on three sides and subjected it to bombardment throughout much of the war as it stood in the path of its plans to occupy the rest of Belgium. Among the dead recorded at the Menin Gate Memorial are Muhammad Aslam, Abdullah Khan, Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Usman and many others with recognisably Muslim names.
As we approach Remembrance Sunday, this month's emel – a UK Muslim lifestyle magazine – contains a detailed feature looking at the contribution of Muslim soldiers to Britain's efforts during the two world wars. The magazine quotes the military historian Major Gordon Corrigan as saying that the role of the British Indian army was vital to the war effort; had they not helped fortify the front line during the first world war the Germans might well have broken through and made it to the Channel ports. Of the 1.3 million Indians who constituted the volunteer force during the first world war, approximately 400,000 were Muslims. Corrigan says:
The Punjabi Musselman [Muslim] was regarded as the backbone of the old Indian army, and constituted about a third of the British Indian army. Known for their reliability, they were steady men who could be depended on to carry out any task at hand.
You can't help but wonder how these very same soldiers – who it should be recalled were consciously fighting on the opposite side to that of Ottoman Turkey – would have reacted had they known that just a few months later in November 1917 Britain would issue the now infamous Balfour Declaration viewing "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" and that immediately following the end of the first world war, Britain and France would renege on their promises to the Arabs and deny independence to the people of Iraq and Syria.
Still, it is to be hoped that knowing a bit more about Muslim contributions to Britain's past war efforts and how even in those times the authorities were aware of the importance of catering for the religious needs of their soldiers can also help us today when any minor accommodation to religious belief seems to be met with howls of outrage from some quarters.
Emel ends its feature by calling for a consultation process on how to best commemorate the "forgotten Muslims" who died in the two world wars and call for a canvassing of opinions on whether it should be via a national memorial or several local memorials or maybe a permanent exhibition in one of our national museums.
I like the idea of a permanent exhibition in a national museum which would detail the sacrifices made by people from different religious backgrounds to keep Britain free. These soldiers fought and died together. They deserve to be properly remembered and honoured together.
The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, acknowledges the debt owed to such Muslims, “Their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. Their heroism, just like the contribution of British Muslims today, has helped to keep our country prosperous, strong and free.”
In the feature The Head of the Army, General Sir David Richards, states, “Our forebears, as well as the people of this country, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Muslim soldiers who gave so much on our behalf.” David Cameron and Nick Clegg express similar sentiments, along with the Bishop of London.
Source: Guardian, Asian Image (English)