Only 2% people know that 885,000 Muslim soldiers supported WW1

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Armed Forces Muslims Association (AFMA)

This year events across Britain and around Europe commemorated the 100th anniversary of the armistice and remember all those who died in the first world war.

Shockingly however, only 2% of people know that around 885,000 Muslim soldiers supported the Allied forces.

Now, a century after Muslim soldiers from South Asia, North Africa and elsewhere went to war for their colonial masters, the Armed Forces Muslims Association (AFMA) is working to shed light on their oft-overlooked sacrifices.

The idea is to give overdue appreciation for the Muslim contribution to the war effort and use the stories of Muslim soldiers to counter Islamophobic and anti-immigrant narratives in Europe and North America.

In total, almost 1.5 million Muslim, Sikh and Hindu men volunteered with the Indian Expeditionary Force during World War One. 400,000 of these men were Muslims hailing from the British India Army.

Where it is more widely known that Hindu and Sikh soldiers supported the British troops, the support of Muslims during WWI and WWII is something that is not often talked about.

AFMA was set up in 2009 to recognise the contribution Muslim personnel make across all three services, both in the regular and reserve forces.

The organisation brings together Muslim serving personnel from the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force so they can connect with and support each other, and share their experiences of serving in the armed forces.

Its mission is to balance the needs of serving Muslims and their faith, while maintaining their operational effectiveness.

AFMA’s values reflect those of the wider Armed Forces. Respect for others, courage, discipline, loyalty and selfless commitment. All our members adhere to this code of conduct demonstrating respect and tolerance for people of all faiths in all situations.

Providing advice for service chiefs on religious policy, spiritual guidance to serving personnel, and has helped the armed forces to be a welcoming place to work for Muslims. It also organises social get-togethers, which bring Muslim personnel together from each branch of the armed forces, and helps foster a sense of belonging and community.

Imam Asim Hafiz at Camp Bastion, Helmand.

Imam Asim Hafiz OBE
Islamic Religious Advisor, Ministry of Defence, UK and Founder of AFMA

Imam Asim Hafiz qualified as an Alim in 1999. He completed an MA in Islamic Studies in 2008 at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has held positions in both religious and secular organisations as an Imam and Chaplain (mosques, hospitals and prisons).
In 2005 he became the first and only Muslim Chaplain to HM Forces. In this role he spent eight months in Afghanistan as part of UK/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) efforts to increase religious understanding to promote peace and stability. 
In 2009, he founded the Armed Forces Muslim Association (AFMA) and in 2014 was awarded an OBE in 2014 for services to Defence.
This year he was named one of London’s most influential people by the Evening Standard.

Major Naveed Muhammad MBE, Chairman AFMA

Major Naveed Muhammad MBE
Chairman of AFMA

In January 2016, AFMA Chair Major Naveed Muhammad was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List in recognition for his exemplary service within the Army and strengthening positive relationships with minority communities around country.
The telecommunications expert, who later joined the Royal Signals, moved from Kenya to the UK over thirty years ago. During his Army career he has been deployed to many conflict areas across the world including the Balkans, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
His work has been instrumental in shaping policies that support serving Muslims within the Armed Forces in everything from Halal ration packs, being able to wear beards, observing Ramadan and raising awareness of the need for prayer facilities for all faiths.
In his role as Chair of AFMA he has focused on supporting and training his comrades in the Armed Forces, developing relationships and outreach activities.

Muslim service in the First World War

Graves of Muslim personnel at Brookwood Military Cemetery

  • In total around 885,000 Muslim soldiers supported the Allied forces, of which some 89,000 lost their lives. Khudadad Khan became the first Indian and Muslim recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1914 at the age of 26.
  • The Khadi Poppy - The Royal British Legion has created a brand new cotton poppy as part of the Thank You movement (#ThankYou100) to honour the Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War, which included almost 400,000 Muslims.
  • The commemorative Khadi poppies are identical to the Legion red poppy except the petals are made of khadi; a traditional hand-spun Indian cotton cloth.
  • Muslim service in the Armed Forces – Awareness of the Commonwealth contribution to WW1 has grown over the centenary, with more than two-thirds of the public (68%) aware of the service of Indian soldiers.
  • But only 22% of people know that thousands of Muslim soldiers fought for Britain, and only 2% of people are aware that Muslim soldiers from an undivided India, present-day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh fought and died alongside British troops.
  • Muslim Burial Ground – Woking Peace Garden is the original resting place for Muslim soldiers killed during the First and Second World War. The Muslim burial ground was first commissioned in 1915. It’s location in Woking is significant, only a short distance from the UK’s first purpose-built mosque - Shah Jahan Mosque completed in 1889.
  • In 1969, the bodies of the men buried in the Cemetery were exhumed and reinterred at the larger Brookwood Military Cemetery. The site was recently renovated to its former glory and turned into an Islamic-inspired Peace Garden as a lasting legacy to all the Muslim servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice and to mark the centenary commemorations of the Great War.


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