Muslims in the armed forces: A proud tradition

The increasing number of Islamic recruits in our forces believe that there is no contradiction between being a Muslim and joining the British military

Share

Imam Asim Hafiz is not surprised that more and more Muslims are joining the British military. He is in no doubt, either, that British Muslims can be good soldiers. That is not because Mr Hafiz was the first Muslim chaplain for the Armed Forces when he was appointed in 2005. Nor is it because he is now an Islamic adviser to the MoD. Rather, it is because, as with an increasing number of Muslims, he believes that there is no contradiction between being of Muslim faith and choosing to defend Britain.

Hafiz was invested as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire earlier this month, during a ceremony that coincided with Islam Awareness Week. To mark this, the MoD announced that, since 2007, the number of Muslims serving in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force has risen by more than 40 per cent. It goes against public perception, but Mr Hafiz says that it is to be expected. "The increasing number of Muslims in the armed forces is a natural change, because society is becoming more tolerant and young Muslim men and women feel more able to come forward and serve," he says.

According to the imam, who served as a chaplain in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, Muslims serving as soldiers do not have to reconcile their beliefs in order to fight hardline Taliban militants. "I've met many Muslims in the military who are very devout, because to Muslims a love of your country and serving your community is an important part of your faith," says Mr Hafiz. There is still work to be done in Muslim communities to encourage family members to be more accepting, he says, but the chain of command inside the military is "getting better every year at accommodating Muslims".

Today, Muslims in the forces are able to pray five times a day and fast (as long as there is not an overwhelming operational requirement against either), are provided with halal rations, can seek support from Muslim chaplains and use prayer rooms on base (one of which was recently made available on a naval warship). Despite this, the figures in absolute terms are still small, with around 650 Muslims in the 200,000-strong military making up less than 1 per cent of its ratio strength. In society as a whole, they comprise 4.8 per cent of the general population, and Mr Hafiz is optimistic that more can be done fully reflect that in enlistment figures.

Which does not mean that he is shying away from tackling the issue head on. "The military needs to do more to be representative of the society it defends," he says. "By far the biggest problem is that there has been a big misrepresentation of what has been done [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. We are not fighting Muslims... [in Afghanistan] we have been fighting criminals who happen to claim the Muslim faith."

Not everybody is a tolerant as Mr Hafiz, though. In 2008, a member of an "Islamic extremist cell" was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to planning to seize and behead a British Muslim soldier, while last year there were "fears" of a backlash against Muslims after the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

To Captain Naveed Muhammad, 45, a practising Muslim soldier who has served in the Royal Signals regiment for 27 years, these elements are a "tiny minority". Rather, the captain focuses on the "wonderful career" that the army has given him and speaks passionately about his role in helping young soldiers forge a future, taking groups of young Muslim children on trips to Flanders and serving his country in Iraq, the Balkans and, most recently, Afghanistan.

"Our faith teaches us resilience. Of course, taking life is something you think about when you first deploy operationally... but Britain is a special place to be and we all have to contribute to keep it like that."

On the delicate subject of taking Muslim life, Mr Hafiz is frank. "We can't shy away from the dangers out there, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been misunderstood as wars against Muslims," he explains.

"Soldiers, whether Muslim or not, don't talk about taking life openly, but just because a Muslim or a person of faith joins the military, it doesn't mean they lose their soul… our armed forces train soldiers to be conscious and ask moral questions about the rules of war – I think that says something about the quality of our armed forces."

Service in the British military by Muslims isn't new, with tens of thousands fighting and dying since the days of the imperial raj. That is a tradition that British Muslims such as Corporal Saleem Muhammad, 25, who has served with the RAF in Afghanistan, are "proud" to continue. Corporal Muhammad's brother also served in the RAF, but it is his grandfathers who "protected Britain" during the jungle campaigns against the Japanese in Burma during the Second World War to whom he looks back. "We're a family with a military history, so my parents have been very supportive. A few friends said things, but once I explained why I was joining, the community was very understanding. I'm just following on from my brother and grandfathers."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker