Muslim involvement in World War One (WW1) has been ignored, shunned aside, and left unrecognized for centuries.
Within the West, WW1 is portrayed as a predominately white war, where over-glorified white soldiers sacrificed their life for King and country. Since primary school, every assembly, every soldier, every poem used to represent WW1 has been based off a white man. As a British-Asian Muslim girl, I’ve always felt disconnected from the history being taught in our schools. The history of my people has never been highlighted in a positive way where I can reflect on my roots and develop an understanding of my ancestry. The institutionalized racism within our education system is not solely to blame for this. Responsibility also falls to the prerogative of the media pursuing their agenda of cultural superiority by only choosing to portray white soldiers in films about the World Wars, and placing a greater emphasis on white, male War poets, rather than Brown and Black War poets.
It is more important now, in our current political climate, to present society with a full, diverse representation of the types of people who fought in the war and their experiences. World War One not just seen through a white man’s eyes, but through Arab eyes, Indian eyes, and African eyes. Historically, 400 000 Muslims fought with the British-Indian army, 445 000 Muslims with the French army, 5000 were American Muslims, and 1.3 million Russian-Muslims. 505 000 laborers were Muslim. These are not just statistics for me to raise a point, they are people who fought, and sacrificed their lives for “the white man’s war”. They are men who left their families, and struggled under colonial rule in foreign countries, with the promise of justice.
Many of these Muslim soldiers faced racism, and prejudice from both allies and those in-charge.
Many of these Muslim soldiers faced racism, and prejudice from both allies and those in-charge. They would rarely be put into positions of authority, and their religion was used as a weapon to create divide in Europe, then and now. Muslims were pitted against each other to defeat, and break up the Ottoman empire, with the French and British having no regard for the religious limitations in this situation. The French used their Moroccan conscripts (many of whom were Muslim) as cannon fodder to protect their own white men.
To further the anger and frustration felt after learning how the allied forces treated Muslims, in 1914, Oppenheim stated “In the battle against England … Islam will become one of our most important weapons.” Germany used an immoral propaganda campaign to try and stir up a mass Muslim uprising against Britain and France from colonial territories that were predominantly Muslim, like India and North Africa. To do this, Germany built the Half Moon Mosque in 1915, to entice Muslim soldiers into joining their army. This was commonly known as their ‘Jihad’ experiment, but in reality, it was a cruel attempt by colonists to take a peaceful religion, and manipulate it into an extremist ideology with the goal of turning people against each other.
Monumental historical events, such as World War One, affected many different races and religions all around the world. We will not allow our history to be erased.
After World War One, it wasn’t just Western countries that were affected. The Ottoman empire was the fourth great dynasty in the world to fall, leading to modern boundaries of the Middle East emerging. World War One completely carved up the Middle East with no regard, respect, or rationale for religion, ethnic differences, or culture. The amount that our Muslim brothers and sisters suffered should not go unnoticed by mass media any longer. To make the change we want to see, we have to continue to dig deep into our histories, however uncomfortable that might be. We have to continue speaking our truths, so that the history taught in our history books in not the typical white-washed version, but a story woven from the stories of all segments of society.
To close, I leave you with a quote by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, to inspire us all to keep on going and paving way for how we wish to see the future: “My Islamic faith taught me that if you can’t change something with your hands, change it with your tongue, and if you can’t change it with your tongue, then desire to change it with your heart”.
As a society, many of our stories have not been told, and there is so much more work that needs to be done to achieve a complete and accurate portrayal of history. We can learn to support, and not repel Islamic history. Monumental historical events, such as World War One, affected many different races and religions all around the world. We will not allow our history to be erased.