Belfast project will explore Muslim contribution to First World War

IWM Undated Imperial War Museums handout photo of a woman offering flowers to marching Indian troops (some of them Muslim) during the First World War.
IWM Undated Imperial War Museums handout photo of a woman offering flowers to marching Indian troops (some of them Muslim) during the First World War.

Muslim links to the First World War are to be explored in a project on integration in Belfast later this month.

Just a short distance away from Thiepval where Ulster soldiers fell, the Deccan Horse - a unit of men from India - made the only cavalry charge of the Somme campaign.

It was launched just two weeks after the famous infantry advance of the 36th Division at Thiepval in July 1916.

The shared martial heritage of the Islamic minority in Northern Ireland and their Protestant and Catholic counterparts will be examined later this month.

Northern Ireland historian Phillip Orr said: "This project is an excellent opportunity to get a sense of the vast imperial contribution to the Great War and especially those men who came from India and served along with troops from this island."

Last year the PSNI reported three racially-motivated incidents or crimes every day, almost as many as sectarian incidents.

An identity-building initiative, from integration think tank British Future and New Horizons in British Islam, is working with Queen's University and Mr Orr to raise awareness amongst Belfast's Muslim and Christian communities of their common World War One history.

A total of 1.5 million soldiers from undivided India fought for Britain in the First World War, 400,000 of them Muslims from what is now Pakistan.

As part of the project, non-Muslim participants will explore British and Northern Irish identity and its connection to the First World War.

A parallel workshop will be held among the local Muslim community in Belfast, facilitated by Jahan Mahmood, historian and expert on the Indian contribution to the war of 1914-18.

The two groups will then come together to meet and discuss this shared history.

Project co-ordinator Avaes Mohammad, of British Future, said: "History can create divisions but it can also show us that we have more in common than we think - and we hope through this project to open people's eyes to a shared history between different communities in Belfast that goes back over 100 years."