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CALL OF DUTY: Muslim soldiers in Afghanistan

CALL OF DUTY: Muslim soldiers in Afghanistan

British Muslims make up a tiny proportion of Britain's armed forces. But they are vital to an organisation that wants to show military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars against Islam. We find out what the word on the street is from British Muslims and ask whether or not they’d seriously join the British Army to protect their country.

When L/Cpl Jabron Hashmi became the first British Muslim soldier to die in Afghanistan in July 2006, his death prompted debate about what motivates Muslims to join the armed forces.

Bradford based student Adil Mubarak said he was given masses of information during school about joining the armed forces but always felt uncomfortable with the idea of fighting against ‘his own.’

The 19-year-old Muslim said: “During career days and stuff, we always got a barrage of facts and figures from people wanting us to join the army.

“I always felt a little nervous when they’d ask me, because obviously I am a Muslim and, for whatever reason, could not kill another Muslim, or any other human being for that matter.

“It’s a war that’s not really been popular anyway, and all you hear about on the news is our soldiers dying out there, what incentive can that give anybody to join up? It’s not only a religious reason, I don’t want anything to happen to me either.”

However, 22-year-old law graduate Sameera Yusuf said she didn’t have a problem signing up to the army, because Britain is ‘our home.’

The Halifax trainee lawyer said: “Just because we are Muslims it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for our country. Those people who are threatening to blow this country up are not Muslims, they just use the name.

“Surely the best way of integrating this country is to fight alongside your fellow Brits for the good of the country.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “Once in the armed forces, Muslims could still practice their faith as far as practicable.”

“We try to accommodate people with religious beliefs as far as possible - we even have halal ration packs.”

Religious perspective

Leeds Islamic teacher Imran Nazir said it was a tricky situation for a Muslim to find him or herself in.

He said, while it was important for them to respect their country and integrate there was a fine line with the Islamic interpretation.

“The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.

“So for a Muslim this creates problems in itself. Personally I don’t really agree with this ‘war’ anyway so Muslim or non Muslim I would be advising against anybody going out there.

“I do see the problem of identity for Muslims though, although I don’t condone what these terrorists are doing, there are many innocent Muslims who are dying as well, and I don’t support that for one minute.”

There are outreach programmes up and down the country aiming to recruit and engage from the Muslim community. But they’ve proved not as effective as intended thus far.

‘Not English way’

A Birmingham Imam recently said that Muslims should not fight in the British armed forces on conscientious grounds due to their presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shaykh Asrar Rashid, a visiting cleric at the city's mosques, also said the Queen was "a disgusting woman" for knighting author Salman Rushdie.

In 1989 Iran's leaders called for the death of Mr Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, deemed "blasphemous". He said: "If a foreign government invaded England tomorrow we as Muslims would defend these areas and our way of life.

“It's not that I hate English people, or English soldiers who have gone abroad, or that I don't feel for the mothers of these soldiers. But the fact is they should make conscientious decisions as well.

"That we must only fight wars which are in our interest, and invading Iraq and then oppressing the Iraqi people and Afghani people, is not the English way," he added.

The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group representing more than 500 Muslim organisations in the UK, said Muslims had a duty to contribute to the "betterment" of the society they lived in.

Muslims more patriotic that Brits?

The findings of the Demos report ‘A place for Pride’ saw that 83 per cent of Muslims said they were proud to be a British citizen compared with the national average of 79 per cent.

A spokesman said: "Theologically speaking there is nothing that prevents a Muslim joining the British army.

“As Muslims we are ready to show respect to leaders. We may disagree with some of the things she might do and say but that does not give us the right to be insulting."

Zeeshan Hashmi, whose brother Jabron was the first British Muslim killed while fighting in Afghanistan, said: “I am privileged living in Britain. One of the key traits of living in this country and being a Brit is that we have free speech. Based on that the Imam can say all of these things living in a very free society.

“At the same time being an ex-soldier and having lost my brother in Afghanistan, I can easily sympathise with his views.”

Mohammed Beg is to become one of the few British Muslims to risk their lives for their country as he will take on the Communication Systems Operator.

Speaking to The Asian Express, he said it was a proud day for him and that he didn’t think about his religion when applying.

He said: “My family and friends are really supportive of my choice to join the Army and I have had a lot of compliments crediting my determination and dedication to training. They’re all looking forward to seeing me at my Passing Out parade, we’ve been told that it’s one of the proudest moments in a soldier’s career so I expect it will be quite emotional.”

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