Muslims across the world celebrated Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, on Tuesday – commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice. This year Eid came just a few days after Remembrance Sunday marking the sacrifice of British servicemen who gave their lives in the defence of our freedom and security.
I have a forthcoming publication which looks into the role of Commonwealth soldiers in the First and Second World War. Their participation has been underplayed in some commemoration services despite the crucial role they played in helping defend Britain against some of her greatest enemies in the last century.
One of the largest faith-groups in the colonial Indian Army was Muslims who fought, at times, against the Muslim power of their day: the Ottoman Empire. Their letters, housed in the British Library and National Archives, reveal the extraordinary management of their religious and civic identities.
The debate about Muslims in the West is becoming ever more polarised. That much is evidenced by the rise of violent and thuggish movements such as the EDL in Britain and, more broadly, by the mainstreaming of far-right views by antagonists in the United States and mainland Europe. That is a statement of fact. It is also truism, of course, that the current terrorist threat or the problems surrounding some – and it is only some – Muslim integration in Europe and beyond is very real and serious.
Incidents such as the Fort Hood attack by Nidal Hasan undermine the quite excellent work being done by Muslims in the British and American Armed Forces today. It fuels the perception that Islam and the West are incompatible. Hasan was a traitor in every sense of the word – to his country, community, and creed. He betrayed those in whose interests he claimed to act.
Yet, his actions should not overshadow the work being done by Muslim servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq today – or indeed, the historic contribution made by Muslim servicemen to Western military campaigns.
Two years ago I was lucky enough to interview Zeeshan Hashmi, the brother of Lance-Corporal Jabron Hashmi who died in Helmand; the first British Muslim serviceman to die in active combat against the Taliban.
“[Jabron] went to Afghanistan hoping to build bridges between the East and the West. He combined his love of Islam with the love of Britain and his main reason for joining the army was to make a difference. He certainly did that” Zeeshan told me.
He also pointed out that the timing of Jabron’s death was significant. Coming just days before the first anniversary of the July 7 attacks, it contrasted the positive contribution that young Muslims can make against the horrors they have sometimes perpetrated.
“We all have to break the barriers ourselves. Jabron’s death reflects on Muslims generally, not just my family,” Zeeshan told me. “Being Muslim does not restrict us from bring British.”
That interview took place two years ago but I was reminded of it yesterday when a friend – a senior ranking Muslim soldier – sent me the following pictures from Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
A congregation of 600 servicemen comprising ISAF and Afghan forces came together for Eid prayers and to hear sermons delivered by the Imam to the British Armed Forces and the Imam of the 205 Corps of the Afghan National Army.
“ISAF has again demonstrated that Islam and the West are compatible, and that Muslims are proud citizens of their countries – they wear their flags on their shoulders and chests and willingly serve their nations. I hope that this time next year Afghanistan is stable and progressing on the path to peace” the Imam to the British Armed Forces said.
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