World War I: New research doubles number of Muslim soldiers

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jan 25, 2016 21:48 IST
October 1914: Indian infantrymen on the march in France during World War I. (Representational image)

India’s financial and material contribution to the World War I effort was 479 million pounds – equivalent to 20 billion pounds today – and at least 20% of all recruits from the British empire were Muslims, according to new research released on Monday.

More than twice as many Muslim soldiers supported the Allied forces in World War One than was previously thought, according to the research that focussed on contributions by Muslims to the conflict.

Islam Issa, a lecturer in Birmingham City University, found that at least 885,000 Muslims were recruited by the Allies. The figure was previously estimated at nearly 400,000. His research was based on thousands of personal letters, archives, regimental diaries and census reports.

The research also found that nearly 3.7 million tonnes of supplies and more than 170,000 animals were shipped from India to support the war effort.

Issa found that Muslims involved in the war effort came from as far as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and that at least 89,000 Muslims were killed fighting for Allied forces under British or French command.

He said: “The 400,000 number we so often hear refers to Muslims in the Indian Army, and there were at least 430,000 of these. But many people forget that there was a significant Arab contribution.

“For instance, Egypt alone contributed at least 150,000 camel drivers for British campaigns, and the other North African countries helped the French with at least 280,000 men. I think the numbers are probably understated; they represent a minimum that we can be sure about, but it could potentially be quite a bit higher.”

Issa uncovered the figures while conducting research for the first exhibition devoted entirely to Muslim involvement in the Great War. The exhibition, called “Stories of Sacrifice”, is being held at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester.

He said, “The numbers may be huge, but the exhibition isn’t just about that. In fact, a key aim of the exhibition is to remind us that these numbers are made up of one individual after another, so there’s a real emphasis on individual, personal stories throughout.”

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