World War I: GP plans memorial to honour nearly half a million Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain

More than 400,000 Muslim soldiers fought alongside British troops during the conflict

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Plans to build a memorial to honour nearly half a million “forgotten” Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in the First World War have been drawn up by a Nottinghamshire GP.

More than 400,000 Muslim soldiers from pre-Partition India fought alongside British troops during the conflict, but their vital contribution to the war effort has, many argue, gone largely unacknowledged. “You don’t read it in the textbooks or see it in the films,” Dr Irfan Malik told i.

Dr Malik, who lives near Sherwood, in Nottingham, alighted on the idea of a memorial after he began to research his ancestral village of Dulmial, in the Punjab Province of Pakistan, and found both his great-grandfathers fought for Britain.

“From our village, 460 of the 860 men helped out,” Dr Malik said. “It was generally voluntarily – a lot of them felt pride in going out. For many years there were no men in the village.”

Dr Malik, 47, has formed the World Wars Muslim Memorial Trust, which aims to raise £25,000 to build a Muslim-themed tribute to the men whose “loyalty and sacrifice” helped the Allied forces win the war.

Named the Great War Muslim  Memorial, Dr Malik said the project is in the early planning stages, but it has already won the backing of Tazi Husain, a retired surgeon who was the driving force behind a memorial in Tempsford, Bedfordshire, to honour 75 Second World War women agents who helped resistance movements in occupied Europe, unveiled by Prince Charles in 2013.

Dr Malik said: “We want it to look Islamic in theme… Muslims were loyal to Britain in the First – and Second – World Wars. We were there and we were part of it.”

Dr Malik hopes the tribute will show young, disaffected Muslims their ancestors contributed to the war effort and will encourage “community cohesion”.

Jahan Mahmood, a military historian and former Home Office terrorism adviser, has welcomed the plans. “The Muslim community by and large don’t know about this story. It’s a failing on behalf of the Government,” he said.

Mr Mahmood believes the Great War Muslim Memorial has the potential to “garner a sense of belonging” among Muslims and “make them feel more British”.

“A low sense of belonging is  used in the radicalisation of Muslims. I hope the memorial will help Muslims feel like stakeholders in modern-day Britain.”