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War World I Remembered

Remembering Muslim Contributions to World War One

 

By Tahiyyah Akhter

On August 4th 2014, millions of Britons commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War One. It was a day of shared reflection in which the public remembered those who fought in the Great War. In the words of British Prime Minister, David Cameron the historic event allowed us to "ensure that the lessons learnt live with us forever."

To this day, the Indian army is acknowledged for their contributions in World War One - less well known is that of the 1.3 million Indians who constituted the volunteer force during the First World War, approximately 400,000 were Muslims.

Baroness Warsi said, "Our boys were not just Tommies – they were Tariqs and Tajinders too. They came from many nations and held many different faiths".

The impact of Muslims in the Great War was visible in the British Army. Individuals from the Indian subcontinent won 13,000 medals - including 12 Victoria Crosses, for their actions in the Great War. During World War One British officers leading Indian regiments were expected to speak Urdu (the then official language of the Indian Army) and understand the religious needs of the fighting men.

In contrast, there was a large Muslim presence on the German side. Indeed, the Ottoman Empire had an army of 600,000 troops with 38 divisions - this combined with German support was a substantial threat to the Triple Entente. The total civilian death toll in the Ottoman Empire was 4,200,000 whilst for their army was 800,000.

This centenary the increased awareness of Muslim involvement in the First World War is argued by some to have allowed for an improvement in community relations. Imam Asim Hafiz, Islamic religious adviser to the Ministry of Defence said: "If many people don't know that Muslims have fought for this country since the first world war and serve in its armed forces today, then we need to ensure that is understood to be part of the history that we will all come together to commemorate during this centenary."