Forgotten Muslim soldiers of World War OneNovember 25, 2018
Muslim soldiers of World War One
They rarely get mentioned during Remembrance Day and Armistice Day tributes, but hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers fought for the Allied cause during the First World War — around 885,000, according to the British Royal Legion.
Some 400,000 of them hailed from the British Indian Army, whose 1.5 million troops comprised the largest volunteer force in history.
Now, a century after Muslim soldiers from South Asia, North Africa and elsewhere went to war for their colonial masters, a U.K.-based campaign is working to shed light on their oft-overlooked sacrifices.
One of those was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, an Indian soldier who fought alongside British troops.
He was the sole survivor of a team assigned to defend vital ports in France and Belgium from German forces.
According to accounts, Khan managed to hold off the enemy advance long enough for British reinforcements to arrive.
On 31 October 1914, Khan, of the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis Regiment, became the first South Asian to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honour.
Forgotten Heroes 14-19 unearthed some 850,000 original documents drawn from 19 countries, spanning journals, field reports and diaries in Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, Urdu and other languages, each in their own way telling the incredible stories of the Muslim soldiers who stood with the Allies during the war from 1914 to 1918.
There are also photographs, some of which are truly remarkable.
One shows King George V on the front lines in France, breaking protocol by dismounting his horse to pay his respects to Algerian soldiers on horseback.
Another shows Moroccan soldiers caring for a wounded German prisoner-of-war in Villeroy in north-central France.
Allied officers are reported to have expressed surprise at the humane way in which the Moroccan troops insisted on caring for German prisoners.
“When the officers asked why they behaved with this courtesy towards German prisoners, they explained that according to the Qur’an, Hadith and examples of the Prophet, prisoners must be cared for and fed in a dignified manner,” says Bhabha. “This was jaw-dropping for the officers.”
Having travelled thousands of miles from hotter climes, these soldiers went into the trenches with imams whose duties included leading group prayers and reciting the call to prayer into the ears of the dying. Special orders had been issued on when and how to pray. “If the war is intense and the Muslim does not have a moment of peace to fulfil his prayer he can just move his head and torso,” said a declaration from French high command. “In the case where there are moments of calm, one can complete the prayer together.”
Hot halal food was routinely served, prepared by cooks who had accompanied the men. When medical supplies ran out, some of these soldiers used traditional herbal medicines from their homelands to help treat injured comrades, whatever their faith. Others taught their folk songs to those serving alongside them, whatever their language, in between the brutal onslaughts of trench warfare.
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
35,000 Chinese Muslims
130,000 North Africans
200,000 Sub Saharan Africans