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Forgotten millions: Muslims who gave their lives for the Allies

23rd Feb 2018
Forgotten millions: Muslims who gave their lives for the Allies

Spahi Mohamed Osman from Algeria, Ahmed Abokob from Djibouti, Tunisian Auxiliary Mohamed Ben Nadroc and Moroccan Rifleman Mohamed Ben Bidouan, some of the millions of Muslim soldiers from around the world who fought in World War 1 with the Allied forces

(Illustrations: Eugène Burnand /The Unknown Fallen)

The Unknown Fallen: The Global Allied Muslim contribution in the First World War. Volume 1. Pp112. HB. Forgotten Heroes Foundation. £49.50

The Unknown Fallen: The Global Allied Muslim contribution in the First World War draws on a large amazing treasure of documents on “Muslim soldiers from all continents fighting with the Allied forces in battlefields far away from their home.”

The publishers of the book, The Forgotten Heroes Foundation, say in the Foreword that “at least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world, fought with the Allied forces with dignity and honour, many of whom were more decorated than their European counterparts.”

The reason for the book is to “foster dialogues which are truly transnational, multicultural and interfaith, between peoples of different nations, religions, languages and identities. The aim is to find a common humanity based on universal values.” The Foundation also affirms “that Muslim Diaspora communities are stakeholders in Europe.”

The Foundation’s Belgian founder, Luc Ferrier, explains the importance of such books in modern-day Europe. “Muslims are portrayed as the enemy within, that they are recent arrivals who have never made a valuable contribution to Europe. But we can show that they have sacrificed their lives for a free Europe, have helped to make it what it is and that they have a right to be here,” said Ferrier.

The beautifully bound book contains 200 fascinating illustrations by renowned Swiss portrait artist Eugène Burnand (1850 – 1921) and photographs of mainly Muslim soldiers who fought in the Great War. The images are accompanied by first-hand testimonials and stories of Muslim and non-Muslim soldiers who fought with the Allied forces. However, what is lacking is personal documents of the Muslim soldiers in their original language.

The book contains sections on ethics of war according to Islam and gives examples of Muslim soldiers “lecturing” their Allied officers about the rights of the prisoners of war. “Captured prisoners of war should be taken to a place that been prepared for them, they should not harm them or torture them with beatings, deprive them of food and water, leave them out in the sun or the cold, burn them with fire, or put covers over their mouths, ears and eyes and put them in cages like animals. Rather they should treat them with kindness and mercy and feed them well.”(p32)

The Unknown Fallen not only has photographs of Muslim soldiers who fought with the Allies, but it also has photographs of Muslim prisoners of war held by the Germans. “Halbmondlager was a prisoner of war camp in Wunsdorf, Germany, for Muslims only. It was the site of the first mosque ever to be built in Germany…finished in July 1915. The camp housed approximately 30,000 Muslim prisoners who had fought for the Allied side.” (p60)

The book is an important illustration of the historical contribution of millions of Muslims who gave their lives fighting for the Allies. They even fought against other Muslims on the side of Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

However, the book, which is trying to portray the positive relationship between the Allies and Muslim soldiers, fails to provide us with any information on the challenges and prejudices faced by Muslim soldiers by the British, American and European soldiers and their commanders.

Ahmed J Versi

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