Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia
Islamic Religious Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Staff and Service Chiefs
Hate Crime Lead,
Metropolitan Police Service
As a Muslim, I believe that everything that was, is, and will be, is by the will of Allah. But I also know that there is a distinction between Allah’s will and the actions of mankind. While the Qur’an is not a history book, rather, among other things, a confirmation of all that was before it, it expressly encourages us, many times, to understand the history of the nations and peoples before us, in order to learn from them. Examining and understanding history is therefore important.
However, what many of us are taught about some of the most significant global events in modern times is, unfortunately, incomplete.
The Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation has discovered previously unknown stories of the diversity in the First World War by uncovering unique documents in English, French, Urdu, Arabic and Farsi – including photographs, field reports, personal diaries, and letters that didn’t make it home.
The Foundation has learnt that approximately two million Muslim soldiers and labourers from around the globe volunteered to fight in a European war that was not of their own making.
The growth of the far-right, xenophobia and ‘religious’ extremism is alarming, and it is rising. I think it is plain for all to see. Furthermore, all of these extremists try to convince us that Islam and ‘the West’ are different – that it is a ‘clash of civilisations’; that they’re both incompatible; and that we should live separately. What the Foundation has found proves otherwise.
Among the personal diaries are numerous heart-warming accounts of European soldiers benefiting from natural medicines and treatments learned from their Muslim comrades. There are accounts of Muslim, Christian and Jewish soldiers fighting united, side-by-side; sharing their experiences and accommodating each other’s cultures, music, gastronomy and religious practices, despite the difficult conditions in the trenches. Furthermore, what will also be learnt is the honourable ways in which chaplains, priests, rabbis and imams went out of their way to learn, Arabic, Hebrew, English and French, in order to accommodate religious burials of the dead on the battle front. If soldiers then could accept and accommodate each other in this way in the trenches during wartime, what’s stopping us from doing the same today?
Many far-right activists and sympathisers in Europe say, and believe, “Muslims have never done anything for us”. The truth is one which they can’t deny. They (Muslim soldiers) made the greatest sacrifice. They died for you too. Hundreds of thousands of them. They left their families, who, without this project, will never learn of their service.
Born and raised in Britain, to a Pakistani mother, and an Indian father: I’m British; I’m European. I have multiple identities, and I’m not unique. I’m also Muslim… just Muslim. I want to know all the ways in which Muslims of all denominations have contributed to our world. All denominations. I emphasise this because members of the far-right don’t care what sect I follow, or what my nationality is. To them, I am just a Muslim.
I want to know how Muslims experienced the Great War. The battles a soldier must endure are well-known, but what do we know about the internal battles that practising Muslim soldiers went through when travelling to a continent they had never been to? Or how they came to terms with exposure to new people, practices and food – something all Muslims can relate to! I also want to know all of the positive things that Muslims have brought to Europe. We are already learning of the contributions by Muslims to the advances in science. But what about to humanity and medicine on the battlefield?
There are reports by French, Belgian and Canadian officers that detail how they were surprised and impressed by the way Muslim soldiers handled German POWs with respect, ensuring they were well fed and safe, even with the knowledge that their captured enemies committed atrocities by using chemical weapons. When these officers asked why they (the Muslims) behaved with this kind of courtesy towards the German prisoners, they (the Muslims) responded by referring to the Qur’an and Hadiths, saying that prisoners must be fed in a dignified manner, and must not be forced to beg for their subsistence. Official reports stated that this was “jaw dropping” for the officers.
There are also reports of how the herbal medicines and practises that North African Muslims knew, helped save the lives of their European counterparts when field medical supplies ran out.
As a Muslim, I want to learn all of these things and more, but I also want my neighbours, friends, colleagues and fellow countrymen to know them too.
I want future generations to know this too. Muslim kids, and those of all faiths and none, will have the confidence to challenge far-right and ‘religious’ extremists’ narratives, while finding a new-found respect for Muslims. We will equip our next generation to be better global citizens. The value of this is immeasurable.
The future is in knowing our history. The Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation is creating the most comprehensive archival project of Muslim heritage in our time.
I wholeheartedly support this project, and every person should too.