Nottingham GP Irfan Malik tours the UK and delivers talks on Muslim soldiers’ contribution to the First World War. He talks to The Doctor about how he hopes to use the lessons of the war to promote peace between different communities
My ancestral village of Dulmial in Punjab, present-day Pakistan, was the starting point for what has now become quite a journey, looking at the history of the First World War and particularly the roles of people like my great-grandfather who lived in the village and fought in the war. A patient I was speaking to a few years ago said he had researched the role of the Commonwealth in the war and put me in touch with an expert from the University of Nottingham. My interest and involvement just took off from there.
In total around 1.5 million soldiers from undivided India took part in the First World War and 400,000 of them were Muslim soldiers. Dulmial village was awarded a ceremonial cannon in 1925 because it contributed 460 soldiers – a record for any South Asian village. There’s a memorial in the village to this day commemorating the fact.
The hidden history of the war remains unknown to many people and they are surprised to hear the figures and see the photographs, so I spend my time spreading the message – giving talks across the country.
I have a 1918 Enfield rifle, a 4.5-inch howitzer shell, a trenching tool and a surgical kit, as part of the travelling museum I take around with me.
I’m not interested in glorifying war. The lesson is about peace and different communities coming together. There is so much for us to learn from the past in order to sustain peace. There are so many negative portrayals of Muslims in the media.
One of the things I want people to reflect on is how we think about different communities. One hundred years ago it didn’t matter what faith soldiers were, they stood shoulder to shoulder. I’ve got photos showing Christian, Jewish and Muslim soldiers all buried next to one another.
Find out more about Dr Malik’s lectures
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