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Contributions of Muslims in the First World War 1914-1918

Following on from our successful campaign to remember and honour the 460 WW1 soldiers of Dulmial village, Punjab, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the meeting on ‘Contributions of Muslims in the First World War’ at the House of Lords, London, UK on the 17th November 2014.

Also read : Dulmial, Pakistan- ‘The Village with the Gun’

This event was organised by Lord Sheikh to commemorate the starting of WW1 and also to strengthen the relationship between the UK Armed Forces and the local Muslim community.

The proceedings commenced with Tilawat and English translation of the Holy Quran by Imam Asim Hafiz OBE (Islamic religious advisor to the UK Chief of the Defence Staff and Service Chiefs).

Lord Sheikh then commenced his welcome address. He said he wished to include the Muslim soldiers of WW1 in the centenary remembrance, as little is known of their involvement. He wanted to appreciate their efforts and redress the imbalance.  1.5 million British Indian soldiers were involved in WW1, 74 000 gave their lives. They fought all over the world. 400 000 Muslims participated, they were loyal to the King and Empire.

The British Indian Army were awarded 12 Victoria Crosses and 13 000 medals for gallantry in WW1. These included Sepoy Khudadad Khan (of Dab village, Chakwal) who when all around him had fallen continued to defend his position, even when injured, against the Germans in Ypres, Belgium, October 1914. His was the first British Indian to receive a Victoria Cross.  These soldiers were able to show loyalty to both their faith and country.

Lord Astor of Hever (Ministry of Defence) mentioned that undivided India was once the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire. The British Indian soldiers fought valiantly all around the world. There are many memorials and cemeteries around the globe to reflect this. He gave the example of Jemadar Mir Dast of Tirah, who under fire carried back 8 officers to safety in Ypres, Belgium in April 1915. He was awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery. Muslims at that time answered the call to help the world. They set fine traditions in the armed forces that continue to the present day and are much appreciated.

Next Jahan Mahmood (Military Historian) spoke about how the King Emperor gave a speech to the fighting men of British India to assist in WW1. The main focus was on the Pathans, Rajputs, Awans and Jats due to their fighting abilities. Most were from Punjab, 52% were Muslims. Many travelled overseas to fight, he detailed all the places they went. Jahan introduced a WW2 veteran Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain, who was involved in the surrender of a German unit in Italy. He received a standing ovation from the audience.

The third Victoria Cross recipient of present day Pakistan was Naik Shamamad Khan (of Rawalpindi) who in Mesopotamia in April 1916, fought gallantly to defend his position, while under attack.

Brigadier Alastair Aitken OBE, also commended the involvement of Muslims in the British Army over the years and upto the present times. He said the modern day UK Army needs diversity of views, beliefs and faiths to reflect the nation.

Last week on 10th November 2014, the British High Commission honoured the 3 Victoria Cross recipients from present day Pakistan at the First World War Centenary reception in Islamabad, by unveiling a plaque. The 460 WW1 soldiers of Dulmial Village, Punjab (the largest participation from any South Asian village) were also remembered at the event.

My aim has been to reflect and remember the immense courage and sacrifices of our Muslims soldiers 100 years ago. I don’t wish them to remain ‘forgotten’ any longer.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent ARY policies or opinion.