Sunday 8 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday: Just One Muslimah's Perspective

It was Remembrance Sunday in Britain and the Commonwealth today a day marked out to remember the sacrifices of those who fought in the two World Wars and in later wars.  The sight of the elderly selling poppies and the sight of elderly veterans paying their respects at the cenotaph each year never fails to move me.

I think the thinking around Remembrance Sunday can be less than straightforward for some people, especially Muslims.  It is easy to agree that those that fought in the World Wars, including members of my family deserve to have their sacrifice remembered and for them to be shown our gratitude. (I write about those of my family that fought here and hope to learn more about what happened to them one day if I can insh'Allah).  However the later wars, particularly the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war has left people angry, confused and frightened.  They have been fought on an illegal basis despite the protest of many poeple in this country, have left us to watch the slaughter of people we consider our brothers and sisters in faith and they have left many Muslims feeling like they are unwanted in a  country they love and are committed to.

This means that our feelings towards commemorating Remembrance Sunday or wearing a poppy can get wrapped up in what has happened in recent years. Personally I think we should separate the two.  We should be angry about the decisions of politicians who never had to see a front line, or feel the repercussions of going to war in their own lives and we should never stop speaking up about it.  On the other hand we should never lose our empathy and respect for those who left everything they loved and walked onto the battle field, people of all faiths including the numerous Muslims who fought in both World Wars.

One thing that made this very clear to me was something my dear dad-in-law once said.  He served in the Pakistani Army and was in active service during some of the wars with India, although not during the Bangladesh civil war.  As an old man he was sitting in a masjid one day talking to an elderly Bengali man, who said to him: "We are Muslim brothers, you wouldn't have shot me would you?" - To which my dad-in-law replied "Order is order" much to the gentleman's astonishment.  These young men and women did what they were told without question.   It reminded me that it is those that give the orders that should be held to account.

This week I was out shopping with Little Man and walked past a very elderly gentleman in his regalia selling poppies.  I gave little man some money for a poppy, but seeing how frail he was and thinking he may not be here next year made me turn and look the other way to hide the tears in my eyes.  It reminded me what a stoic generation he was from, one that sacrificed so much and then quietly carried on with their lives.

For those that think Muslim's have no place in their country and have never given anything to this country, the following might be of interest:

"Up to 40 percent of the Indian army were 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". (source)

Muslims that fought were not just from India, but included the North Africans, the Senegalese, the Nigerians, the Muslims of Soviet Central Asia, Palestinians and many others.

Cimetière de Saint-Claude à Besançon, a French Military Cemetery in the South of France, with graves of Muslim troops who died in both World Wars (image source).

Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
[How sweet and honourable it is to die for one's country]


  1. This is wrong on so many levels.

  2. This was beautiful. Jazakillah khair for writing so beautifully about a topic that I know a lot of Muslims struggle. My grandfather fought in the British Army too and I feel that the Remembrance Sunday is a chance to reflect on what he must have gone through fighting in Burma and other places.