About the project
Millions of Muslim soldiers and civilians were recruited to the British Army from Asia and Africa during the two World Wars. These wars were global events, and although the role of Black and Asian Muslim soldiers was widely reported, after the wars ended their presence disappeared from the public gaze.
Through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we were able to collect stories of local (East Midlands) families who were affecting by the Second World War, we heard from a Muslim man in his 90s, Inayat Khan, now living in Nottingham, who served in the Second World War and yet hadn’t been invited to a single Remembrance Day event ever since.
As part of the project, we also held an art exhibition at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham where we showed pictures and articles detailing the Muslim effort in the war.
Muslim war veterans
The project has been very important in highlighting the role of Muslim War Veterans, not just in Nottingham but across the country. The project mades its way on to Channel 4 where a local war veteran explained that before the exhibition nobody knew he was a former soldier, but now people beep their car horns and shout ‘thank you’ in the street. The publicity around this project and issue of Muslim war veterans was also discussed by the National Army museum, the Ministry of Defence and the BBC, who then recognised a need to diversify their programming around VJ day.
More locally though, we ran a survey and 88% of respondents said the project made them very keen to find out more about it's subject matter and 97% felt it was important that Black people’s contribution to Nottingham in general should be documented.
Many of the people we spoke to understood themselves as being a part of both Colonial and British history. We made the choice, right from the beginning, to use this duality in historical perspective as a thread running through the project. The result was a telling of history from a viewpoint oft forgotten.
Many of the stories in the gallery reference stories common to a plethora of different communities. For example, Muslim families in Serbia who looked after Jewish families fleeing war, Indian and African soldiers in prison camps, English workers imprisoned in India for opposing the empire. One person said to us “I was so impressed that they have not shied away from some of the difficult issues around empire and colonialism.. it was difficult to talk about the issues involved but Himmah have managed to do this well”.
The project has made a big difference to the local Muslims communities’ pride in their community stories. For example one person told us ‘no one has ever done an exhibition like this about us (ie the Pakistani community in Nottingham).. we are always portrayed negatively.. this is such a boost to our pride as citizens of Nottingham’.
Nearly 10,000 people came to our exhibition
750 people attended 8 events where we shared this history
We organised workshops with 56 schools
15 national media hits including coverage on BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4
We worked with 28 families of war veterans
We have showcased our findings at Mela events, Eid gatherings and events around VJ day every year