by LAUREN CODLING
MORE needs to be done to raise awareness of diverse personnel who have contributed to the military, a senior member of the armed forces has said.
During the First World War, over a million Indian soldiers, about 400,000 of them Muslims from present-day Pakistan, battled alongside British forces.
However, a recent study by think tank British Future found just 22 per cent of people in Britain knew Muslims had fought for Britain.
Major Naveed Muhammad MBE is the chairman of the Armed Forces Muslim Association (AFMA). Launched in 2009, the initiative helps to connect Muslim serving personnel from the army, navy and air force so they can support one another.
Muhammad told Eastern Eye it had been “powerful” to see recognition for the British Indian Army in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday (11).
“Organisations such as the armed forces, Royal British Legion, and AFMA, alongside others, have promoted greater awareness in recent times,” he said. “However, there is more to do to bring attention to all the various faiths and communities that have contributed to our nation’s security.”
Muhammad, who was awarded an MBE in 2016, recently delivered a Muslim service of commemoration at the Woking Peace Garden, the original resting place for some of the
Muslim soldiers killed during the two world wars. The event was attended by Muslim communities from around the country.
“Broadening the understanding of the role Muslims play in our armed forces among British Muslim communities and beyond is a key part of my role as the chairman of AFMA,” he explained.
Last Friday (9), imams in mosques around the country gave remembrance-themed services in honour of Commonwealth soldiers who fought for Britain.
Imam Qari Asim, chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, agreed that most Muslims needed to learn about their ancestors’ contribution during the war.
“It’s important that they do – this shared history of contribution is something that we can all commemorate in Britain, whatever our ethnicity or faith,” he said.
As part of the Remember Together initiative from British Future and the Royal British Legion, primary and secondary students and families from different ethnic and faith backgrounds in Bradford, London and Derby were encouraged to make poppies to remember war heroes.
“To better understand our shared values, the act of remembering together across different communities, is a powerful way to stand united against those who seek to divide us,” Muhammad said.
Last week, it was announced that the armed forces would increase the number of recruits from Commonwealth countries such as India and Sri Lanka. The defence ministry said Britain’s military would increase Commonwealth recruits to 1,350 per year. It is expected
to be introduced over the next few years.
At present, the UK employs some 4,500 Commonwealth citizens in the military.
Muhammad said he welcomed the opportunity to see increased diversity in the ranks, noting the service that the Commonwealth had already provided.
“From before WW1, citizens of the Commonwealth have served in a variety of roles, in many conflicts in order to safeguard Britain’s interests at home and overseas,” he said.
“Many of these have been decorated for courage and valour, including those awarded the Victoria Cross.”
Looking back on his own experience of marking the contribution of south Asian soldiers, Muhammad recalled travelling to France in 2008 where he visited the Neuve-Chapelle
It honoured some 4,742 soldiers who gave their lives in the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle – the
first major action of the Indian Corps.
In Belgium, he visited the Menin Gate Memorial where almost 54,400 Commonwealth
and British casualties are honoured.
“[My visits] extended my understanding of how the forces fought alongside one another,”
“Both sites really brought home to me the scale of the contribution of those from present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”