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The Forgotten Heroes of the Trenches – Muslims Who Saved Britain and the Allied forces in both World Wars 

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The Forgotten Heroes of the Trenches 

Muslims Who Saved Britain and the Allied forces  

in both World Wars 

Javed Akbar 

This article was drawn on the resource material referenced below.  

 

In the post 9/11 era, Muslims are portrayed as the enemy within.  

Islamophobic and other hostile voices ignore the role of Muslim soldiers who were instrumental in the second world wars Allied victory. History is replete with evidence that they sacrificed their lives for a free Europe. 

People who forget or deliberately ignore major trends or events in world history suffer from “historical amnesia.” Most people do not know about the unsung heroes, the Muslim soldiers who gallantly fought along with the British and the Allied forces to help free the world from the frightening menace of Nazism and Fascism. Muslim soldiers bravely served the Allied cause and have often made the ultimate sacrifice. Their daring heroism and split-second decisions that helped defeat the Nazis are part of the untold history. 

At Remembrance Day, mention of Muslim participation in these wars is wholly missing in the mainstream media. In almost all World War II movies, you hardly ever see a brown face, let alone a Muslim one. Somehow, however, the fact that millions of Muslims chose to fight the Nazis has been overlooked. Likewise, very little is heard about those Muslims who offered shelter to Jews around the world either.  

As Britain battled from the First World War to the Second, she became increasingly dependent on the Indian Army: the largest volunteer army in both World Wars, as men signed up to fight rather than being conscripted. Up to 40 percent of the Indian army was Muslim, even though they only made up about 25 percent of the Indian population.  

Winston Churchill summed up the Muslim contribution in his letter to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. He wrote, “We must not on any account break with the Moslems, who represent a hundred million people, and the main army elements on which we must rely for the immediate fighting” 

Belgian researcher Luc Ferrier 53 who is not a Muslim, said: “The far-right and Islamophobia is on the rise throughout Europe. Our project is about making all people across the continent understand that we have a shared history. This is not about politics or colonialism. We are simply presenting the facts because this is a story that the whole of Europe needs to know. Muslims are portrayed as the enemy within, that they are recent arrivals who have never made a valuable contribution to Europe. But we can show that they have sacrificed their lives for a free Europe, have helped to make it what it is and that they have a right to be here.”  

In one of the most startling and underappreciated facts about the war, the only state that came under direct German occupation that had a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than the beginning was also the only Muslim-majority one: Albania. Albanian Jews were almost entirely saved from the Holocaust because the entire society, from the top down, systematically conspired to prevent the Germans from discovering who was Jewish. 

Based on 850,000 documents in French, English, Farsi, Urdu, Russian, German and Arabic, as well as hundreds of images, it is believed that 2.5 million Muslims contributed to the allied cause either as soldiers or as labourers. But most Westerners have no knowledge about it not even the Brits for whom they fought under their colonial rule. They were the hidden army of the British Empire.  

 The experience of European soldiers in the First World War has been well documented by poets and other writers, but we know very little about the lives of the Muslim and other colonial soldiers whose sacrifices were equally magnanimous. Will this ever change. 

 Character of Soldiers On the Battlefield 

There are reports of how Muslim soldiers shared food with hungry civilians, while French, Belgian and Canadian officers expressed surprise at their humane treatment of German prisoners of war. When asked to explain their conduct, the soldiers quoted the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace is upon him) on how enemy combatants should be dealt with. 

 Their Courage Gave Us Peace and Hope 

The story of Noor Inayat Khan and her contribution to the Second World War is well documented.  Khan, a radio operator for the Special Operations Executive in Britain was parachuted into France in 1943 to send messages from the Resistance to London. A Sorbonne-educated child psychologist and children’s book author, Khan was recruited to one of the most dangerous positions within the intelligence world; she was Churchill’s covert Special Operations Executive. Khan’s deep spirituality — influenced by her Sufi Muslim leader father — meant she believed in service for a greater good and couldn’t sit by while Hitler committed such atrocities. 
 
During her stint as the radio operator, she helped the French resistance and evaded capture for four months, changing locations even while the Germans tracked her whereabouts. During that time, she helped to save Jewish lives as well as single-handedly arranging the rescue of downed British and American pilots, before being captured in October 1943, tortured and executed a year later.  

 It’s no surprise that she received the highest honours for civilian service in war from both Britain and France. Prime minister David Cameron (2010-2016)  praised her “inspirational self-sacrifice” and “indomitable courage.”  

Enemy of the Reich, a stunning film on Khan and her daring role in the war is worth seeing.   

Hers is just one story. Khudadad Khan, of the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchi regiment was the first Indian soldier to receive the VC. Khan, a Sepoy, single-handedly stemmed a German attack during the first battle of Ypres on October 31, 1914. 

There are many others yet to tell, and many that have been ignored. Hollywood still struggles with its portrayal of Muslims, all too often reverting to stereotype, even when real-life roles include sacrifice, courage and loyalty. The contribution of Muslims to Allied forces war successes is also glossed over in classrooms and in many history books.  

 They are the forgotten heroes of the trenches, the brave men who gave their lives to the Empire but whose names have been erased from the history books. 

Knowing this history, they say, would help tackle much of anti-Muslim prejudice today.  

_________________________________ 

 

References:   

The Unknown Fallen Vol 1.   Forgotten Heroes Foundation — Luc Ferrier 

World war One Remembered (1914-1918) Francis Ianni 

www.history answers.co.uk 

ICM —British based Independent Communications and Marketing Company 

ww1.canada.com/after-the-war/how-the-great-war-shook-islam 

https://www.realmofhistory.com 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/opinion/dunkirk-indians-world-war.html 

www.middleeasteye.net/news/muslim-soldiers-world-war-i-allies-53343978 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India_in_World_War_II 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India_in_World_War_II 

Forgotten-Muslim-heroes-fought-for-Britain-first-world-war www.theguardian.com 

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/forgotten-army-400000-muslim-soldiers-9589884 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/09/08/meet-the-muslims-who-sacrificed-themselves-to-save-jews-and-fight-nazis-in-world-war-ii/?utm_term=.cc53622a681f 

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“Enemy of the Reich” — film about Noor Inayat Khan, British heroine of WW II awarded George Cross 

The Muslim Contribution, Issue 62 of Emel.com, 

Muslim Soldiers: Casualties:  

400,000 Indians (British Indian army) 

200,000 Algerians, 100,000 Tunisians, 40,000 Moroccans, 100,000 West Africans, 5,000 Somalis and Libyans (French army) 

5,000 American Muslims 

1.3 million Russian Muslims 

Labourers 

100,000 Egyptians 

35,000 Chinese Muslims 

130,000 North Africans 

200,000 Sub Saharan Africans 

40,000 Indians 

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