BBC Radio 4 documentary “Salam to Queen and Country” explores Muslim identity in the British Army
Last night’s BBC Radio 4 documentary exploring Muslim identity in the British Army was a welcome broadcast.
Entitled ‘Salam to Queen and Country’, the programme features BBC correspondent Zubeida Malik’s interviews with a number of serving British Muslim soldiers. She asks a simple yet complex question: what is it like to serve in the British Armed Forces as a Muslim?
The result is a well-balanced piece, addressing the challenges that some Muslims face in terms of ‘Britishness’, faith and UK foreign policy.
We commend the BBC for exploring these issues with honesty and balance.
One of the most high-profile interviewees was Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter.
He took the opportunity to remind listeners of the incredible legacy of Muslim soldiers fighting within the British Armed Forces. Sir Nick reminds us of the 400,000 Muslim soldiers who bravely fought for Britain during the First World War, and highlights the huge role that Muslim troops continued to play in the Armed Forces over the past 100 years.
“[Muslim soldiers and the British Army] have a shared historical legacy,” he says. “The British Army stands for values that we share as British citizens – we must understand that we have a lot in common.”
In challenging times where the British Army is engaged in conflicts in Muslim majority countries, it’s vitally important that Sir Nick points out that our soldiers of all faiths and none share British values. It’s crucial that we remember that serving in the British Armed Forces as a Muslim is not a new thing – certainly not a ‘phenomenon’, as some people would have us believe – but a tradition that goes back a century or more.
Last year, Sir Nick delivered a keynote lecture at the University of Leicester about this very subject.
The programme went on to remember Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, a British Muslim soldier who was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago – the first and only British Muslim to die in Afghanistan. His sister, Zoubla Hashmi, has previously spoken about LCpl Jabron Hashmi’s pride in being a British soldier and a deeply spiritual Muslim who sought to build on the strength of this country through his convictions. She said: “He never wavered in his conviction that our strength as a country comes from our diversity not from our differences.”
Lance Corporal Hashmi’s sacrifice marks a legacy for British Muslim personnel and their part in building a more diverse British Armed Forces. This is something that General Sir Nick Carter addresses in the broadcast, saying: “I want army to be full of best possible talent. We are reaching out to Muslim communities around the country – in Birmingham, Leicester and many other cities.”
The message is clear: Muslims can serve in the British Army like they’ve always done. The Armed Forces are stronger with diversity in its ranks.
But the show does not shy away from exploring real issues that some Muslims have when it comes to serving in the army. During the recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, some Muslims in the British army have faced criticism from some members of their own communities, who were opposed to what they saw as taking up arms against fellow Muslims.
Sir Nick highlights that if this is a cause for concern, Muslims can still serve within the army but choose to focus on less ‘front line’ activities such as healthcare, technology or communication.
But Zubeida Malik also asks British Muslims currently serving about their views.
‘Lieutenant Colonel Siddiqui’ (the names have been changed for security reasons) says he has worked as an army lawyer for 17 years. He says that he is often challenged about his work, being asked ‘But are you a Muslim or British first?’ “I reply by saying this is a nonsense and loaded question,” he says. “They are not mutually exclusive. The two, together, make up my identity.”
He goes on to say that huge strides forward have been made within the army during his tenure when it comes to celebrating diversity and creating an inclusive and accepting environment.
Zubeida Malik speaks with Imam Asim Hafiz, who in 2005 became the first Muslim chaplain to the British Armed Forces. He admits there was backlash from the Muslim community when his appointment was announced, but responded by stating that they didn’t understand what the armed forces were about.
“It did take courage,” he says. “But I felt it was an important job because there are serving Muslims who needed to be cared for. You don’t lose your faith when you join up. I was there to support their faith.
“I realised that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars against Islam – the British Armed Forces do not go into battle based on religion – but actually about the security needs of our country.
“For me, being able to provide pastoral support is what it is to be an imam and a good Muslim.”
Numerous other Muslim men and women serving in the British Armed Forces are also interviewed.
It is a fascinating programme. We congratulate the BBC for exploring British Muslim soldiers’ identity and the challenges faced by the Armed Forces in recruiting a diverse army which truly reflects multicultural and multi-faith Britain.
The documentary, ‘Salam to Queen and Country’, is available to hear again on the BBC website.
The Armed Forces Muslim Association (AFMA), was set up in recognition of the contribution Muslim personnel make across all three services, both in the Regular and Reserve forces.
From the earliest days of basic training, through to deployment and military operations, AFMA is on the ground helping support British Muslims in the Armed Forces, helping these dedicated Muslim men and women perform their military duties in full without compromising their faith.
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