Europe History

Forgotten? 8 Million Muslims Fought in Both World Wars for Allies

Written by Shoaib

The political rhetoric in France and Britain these last few years often centres around the contribution Muslims have on society. With the spotlight shining solely on Muslims, one could be forgiven for not realising that many of the freedoms we enjoy today were fought for, in part, by Muslims.

5.5 Million Muslims fought for the allies in the Second World War and 2.5 Million Muslims in the First World War. As this week marks Armistice Day, we explore the contribution of Muslims during both World Wars.

Not just westerners but Muslims are oblivious to these and many other facts of Muslim history, as such division in society has grown. At MWJ we have established a YouTube channel, specifically to cover Muslim history and bring it out from the shadows. You can subscribe to the YouTube channel here and you can expect a video out every Wednesday.

Praying While Fighting

When a non-Muslim Luc Ferrier, from Belgium, came across his great-grandfather’s war diaries in his attic, he did not expect to find so much written about the “Mohammedans”, a term used for Muslims in the past. The diary detailed encounters he had with many Muslims in the trenches in the First World War.

Our documentary “My Muslim Grandad Who Fought Hitler and the Nazis”

Ferrier then began researching Muslim contribution in the First World War, to the extent that he gave up his job to scour through Belgian and French records. In 2012 he founded the “Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation”.

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Ferrier and other researchers spent six years going through 850,000 records in seven languages from 19 countries. They have concluded that around 2.5 Million Muslims fought with the allies in the First World War. Their research showed how Muslims from India, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, Russia and even America travelled to Europe to fight with the allies.

“If the war is intense and the Muslim does not have a moment of peace to fulfil his prayer he can just move his head and torso. In the case where there are moments of calm, one can complete the prayer together.”

– French High Command issues a fatwa under the guidance of Imams for Muslim soldiers

Enough Muslims fought for halal food to always be found on the menu, imams to be seen leading Muslims in their five daily prayers, and for their native songs sang in the trenches to be a welcome delight for soldiers from all backgrounds. Imams, Rabbis and Priests learnt from each other in the trenches as they were charged with burial ceremonies.

Islam teaches Mercy during First World War to Prisoners of War

Some documents detail how French, Belgian and Canadian soldiers had expressed their surprise at how humane and charitable the Muslim soldiers were.

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When asked, they replied their Muslim faith from the Quran and the Hadeeth teaches them to deal with enemy combatants with mercy. Islam has detailed rules on the human rights of prisoners of war, these were applied during the First World War by Muslims.

Muslims ruled over parts of France as early as the 700s, with many possibly being Sahaba or Tabi’un. Islam is part of French history. Find out more in our new book which you can pre-order here.

Ferrier says “The far-right and Islamophobia is on the rise throughout Europe. Our project is about making all people across the continent understand that we have a shared history. This is not about politics or colonialism. We are simply presenting the facts because this is a story that the whole of Europe needs to know.

“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.”

Algerian Muslim soldiers arriving in Paris in Muslim clothing, on the way to fight on the Western Front. (Photograph: Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images. Guardian)

Here is a Breakdown of Muslims in the First World War:

Soldiers: 400,000 Indians; 200,000 Algerians; 100,000 Tunisians; 40,000 Moroccans; 100,000 West Africans; 5,000 Somalis and Libyans (French army); 5,000 American Muslims; 1,300,000 Russian Muslims.

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Labourers: 100,000 Egyptians; 35,000 Chinese Muslims; 130,000 North Africans; 200,000 Sub Saharan Africans; 40,000 Indians.

Fighting Hitler and Nazism

As Britain struggled against the onslaught of Nazi Germany across Europe, it turned to the subjects of it’s Empire for help. Muslim leaders learning from their experiences, realised that those who fought in the First World War had not been remembered on equal terms as their white comrades, nor had their contribution changed the struggle for independence from colonialism or racist attitudes of the British who ruled over India.

When the British requested Indian leaders for help, they said they would be willing, but with the condition to stop their occupation of India. And so the cogs for the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 were set in motion.

Indian-Afghan diplomat Sirdar Iqbal Ali Shah’s letters reveal that all Indians fighting in France in 1940 were Muslim

In the documentary shared above, Taiyab, who looks into the, previously unknown, history of his grandfather Fazal Dad Khan. Several times during the documentary he complains about the whitewashing in the movie Dunkirk.

During the documentary details emerge of Fazal Dad Khan, as he leaves Bombay to arrive with Mules in Marseilles. He and his team manage make several trips from the Southern to the Northern coast of France. On one occasion as the battle is being lost, his company provides 400 Mules turning the tide of the battle.

After all the comments on Dunkirk’s whitewashing, Taiyab realises his grandfather was actually in Dunkirk himself! He comments “It wasn’t just any black or brown faces being whitewashed, it was my grandfather too”

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The documentary also shows how a letter from Sirdar Iqbal Ali Shah is unearthed, detailing that every Indian soldier fighting in France for the allies was Muslim.

Details showing the number of Muslim soldiers in the Second World War.

France’s Separatism laws and the Cartoon furore

1.6 Million Muslims were killed in the line of action during the Second World War. With these largely forgotten facts from both World Wars, it is surprising that such alienating discussion takes place so commonly in French and even British politics. No objections were raised from France during both wars against these foreign-language-speaking, praying, religious, bearded Muslims when they were fighting to save them from the Nazis that had overrun their country.

The need for unbiased history to be told is more pressing now than ever before. Painting Islam as a new phenomenon in the western world is a tactic used to cause division. Muslims have been part of Western culture for over 1350 years. Due to this need, we have established a YouTube channel named “Muslim History Journal” where we plan to look at Islamic history through a unbiased lens. You can subscribe by clicking here.

This is also the reason why we are publishing a book next year titled “30 Days that Changed the Muslim World” which you can pre-order.

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About the author


CEO of | Director of the Organisation for the Conservation of Islamic Heritage | President of | Editor Muslim World Journal | Pharmacist | You can find me on Instagram and Facebook

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