British armed forces face battle to recruit more Muslims
London - The number of Muslims in the British armed forces has gone up by about 40% since 2007, the British Ministry of Defence says, but more needs to be done to overcome what it says is the false perception that the army has been fighting only Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are about 480 Muslims in the British Army, accounting for just 0.54% of the total of 88,500 regular soldiers but still an increase from around 300 in 2008. In comparison, Muslims make up 4.4% of the general British population, according to the 2011 census.
“In my view, the values of the armed forces are fully compatible with the values of Islam as well as other faiths,” Imam Asim Hafiz, the Islamic adviser to the armed service chiefs, said.
Hafiz was speaking at an event hosted by the Royal Air Force marking Eid al-Adha in London on October 2nd and commemorating the contribution of Muslim soldiers to the Allies in World War I.
“My grandfather served in the UK armed forces,” Ashfaque Chowdhury, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, said in a speech. “We have this misconception that Muslims are against the armed forces. I would like to clarify that this is categorically not the case. Muslims, as part of the British society, need to participate in protecting the country.”
“Over 280,000 men from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia fought in Belgium and France during World War I,” said Luke Ferrier of the Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation. “As many as 45,000 never returned home and many more were wounded in some of the bloodiest engagements on the western front. Some of these soldiers received the highest military honours for bravery and dedication to protecting freedom and peace.”
Despite the past role of Muslims, the armed services face problems recruiting them as recent wars involving British troops have mainly been fought in countries with a largely Muslim population, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
“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,” said Hafiz. “In Afghanistan we have been fighting criminals who happen to claim the Muslim faith.
“Some Muslims say there shouldn’t be Muslims serving in the armed forces. They say they are not Muslim. We can’t trust them. But then Muslims began to understand the armed forces better through events like today with the community engaging with the military and the military engaging with the Muslim community. We see the old perception has been shattered and broke down.”
Asked how to overcome divisive issues Hafiz said: “People are hijacking Islam for their political motives. It is important we don’t let those voices make a wedge between our society and between our communities. So the challenge will be that we stick together and stay united against those voices that attempt to divide us.”