History

800K Muslim Soldiers Served in WWI

Some 885,000 Muslim soldiers -- more than twice than previously thought -- supported Allied forces in World War I.

Some 885,000 Muslim soldiers - more than twice than previously thought - supported Allied forces in World War I, finds new research into the little-known role played by Muslims in the conflict.

Islam Issa, lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, determined the impressive number while creating the first ever exhibition dedicated to the Islamic contribution to the conflict.

Issa more than doubled the previously estimated figure of 400,000 soldiers after trawling through thousands of personal letters, historic archives, regimental diaries and census reports.

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"The 400,000 number we so often hear refers to Muslims in the Indian Army, and there were at least 430,000 of these. But many people forget that there was a significant Arab contribution," Issa said in a statement.

"For instance, Egypt alone contributed at least 150,000 camel drivers for British campaigns, and the other north African countries helped the French with at least 280,000 men," he added.

It is estimated that only 2 percent of British people are aware of such a strong Muslim contribution.

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The numbers are staggering. At least 20 percent of all British Empire recruits were followers of Islam and about 89,000 were killed fighting for Allied forces under French or British command. The roles included front-line soldiers, trench builders and those transporting vital goods and materials.

The study also revealed the important role played by India. About 1.5 million Indians fought alongside British troops, while nearly 3.7 million tons of supplies and more than 170,000 animals were shipped from the country to support the war effort.

Overall, India's financial and material contribution amounted to 479 million pounds ($682 million) - or 20 billion pounds ($28.5 billion) in today's money.

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"I think the numbers in this research are probably understated; they represent a minimum that we can be sure about, but it could potentially be quite a bit higher," Issa said.

He noted that beside the huge numbers, the exhibition aims at revealing the human side of one of WWI's least-known stories.

"These numbers are made up of one individual after another, so there's a real emphasis on individual, personal stories throughout," Issa said.

Indian bicycle troops are shown at a crossroads in Somme, France, 1916.

British tanks with trench-crossing equipment, advance with troops in support, during trench warfare in France during the First World War, 1918.