Minhaj-ul-Quran London hosted one of the most ground breaking programmes in its centre on Saturday 11th February 2017. The mosque welcomed people from all walks of life in the Community to its Far From the Western Front Exhibition.
This was an occasion to bring all the communities together, and create bridges of peace at a time where a minority of people wish to build walls and break bonds of understanding and harmony.
Approximately 1.5 million Indian soldiers served in World War One, and over 80,000 of them lost their lives. But history has mostly forgotten these sacrifices, which were rewarded with broken promises of Indian independence from the British government.
As many as 80 000 Indian soldiers died during the war and a comparable number were wounded. Their stories, and their heroism, have long been omitted from popular histories of the war, or relegated to the footnotes.
India contributed a number of divisions and brigades to the European, Mediterranean, Mesopotamian, North African and East African theatres of war. In Europe, Indian soldiers were among the first victims who suffered the horrors of the trenches. They were killed in droves before the war was into its second year and bore the brunt of many a German offensive.
It was Indian jawaans (junior soldiers) who stopped the German advance in France in the autumn of 1914, soon after the war broke out, while the British were still recruiting and training their own forces. Hundreds were killed in a gallant but futile engagement at Neuve Chappelle. More than 1,000 of them died at Gallipoli. Nearly 700,000 Indian sepoys (infantry privates) fought in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire, Germany's ally, many of them Indian Muslims taking up arms against their Muslim brethren in defence of the British Empire.
The event was attended by several dignitaries including Colonel Mike Dudding former representative Deputy Lieutenant for Newham to her Majesty the Queen, The Right Honourable Stephen Timms MP for East Ham Gavin Edgerley-Harris Director of the Gurkha Museum, Councillor Brian Collier ex mayor of Newham and special envoy on behalf of the Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales, Needle Shaida South Asian Television personality and philanthropist, Ruth Bravery Chief Executive Refegees a Migrants Project, Caroline Rouse, Head of Community Involvement Unity Aston Mansfield, Claire Clinton Director Faith in Schools Newham, representatives from Caritas House an organisation working at the heart of the homeless people, Mark Gorman Historian, Naeem Mughal from Step up College, Miriam Sharf Care4Calais and human rights campaigner, Dr Zahid Iqbal from Minhaj-ul-Quran, Sister Tanzila Peace and Education (PEP) and Shahid Mahmood Community Development Executive for Minhaj-ul-Quran and Founder of Come Incorporated.
Stephen Timms said this was a wonderful exhibition and congratulated Minhaj-ul-Quran for bringing an exhibition of such importance to Newham.
Colonel Mike Dudding said that bringing the communities together to understand the sacrifices of all the communities particularly the South Indians was instrumental in building bridges. He told the audience that the War for many of these soldiers did not end in 1918 as is taught in schools, but carried on well up until 1921.
Claire Clinton talked about the wonderful event being held in a mosque which was unique. She also emphasised the need for students of History and schools to take the initiative to attend this extremely important exhibition.
Gavin Edgerley Harris talked about the magnificent contribution of the Gurkha’s and the great people of South Asia who suffered immense cruelty and difficulties fighting in different places to support Britain.
Councillor Brian Collier welcomed a wonderful event to Newham he congratulated Minhaj-ul-Quran to bring the exhibition to Newham. He talked about the need to build strong communities and peace and tolerance.
Neelem Shaida talked about the need of the South Indian young communities to understand the sacrifices of their forefathers. She talked of a need of understanding amongst all communities of what they bring to the United Kingdom.
Dr Zahid Iqbal welcomed the exhibition and talked about how projects such as this can bring people together. He said for many of the attendees this was their first time in the mosque and they were always welcome to Minhaj-ul-Quran
Sister Tanzila presented Minhaj-ul-Qurans Peace and Education Project, a national deradicalisation counter terrorism project based on classical Islamic teachings and doctrines, and produced by one of the leading Islamic Authorities in the World, Minhaj-ul-Qurans leader Dr Tahir Qadri. Sister Tanzila explained how PEP is working in schools, colleges, universities and throughout the communities to educate young people about the dangers of radicalisation.
Shahid Mahmood welcomed everyone to the centre and expressed apologies to everyone about how the mosque, the house of God should which should never have been closed and this was a fault of some Muslims who had closed their hearts and minds. He expressed that Minhaj-ul-Quran is open to all believers from any faith, and also those who did not believe at all. He expressed a message of Love, peace and harmony.
Minhaj-ul-Qurans initiatives to empower the community such as its Hot curry kitchen, Food Bank, employability workshops, English for Speakers of other Languages was highlighted.
A eulogy to all those who fought in World War one was read at the end.
' The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains war cemeteries in India, mostly commemorating the Second World War rather than the First. The most famous epitaph of them all is inscribed at the Kohima War Cemetery in North-East India. It reads, "When you go home, tell them of us and say/ For your tomorrow, we gave our today".
The Indian soldiers who died in the First World War could make no such claim. They gave their "todays" for someone else's "yesterdays". They left behind orphans, but history has orphaned them as well. As Imperialism has bitten the dust, it is recalled increasingly for its repression and racism, and its soldiers, when not reviled, are largely regarded as having served an unworthy cause.
But they were men who did their duty, as they saw it. And they were Indians. It is a matter of quiet satisfaction that their overdue rehabilitation has now begun.
“Time has now healed some of those wounds and we can look with fresh eyes at the historic contribution of Sikhs, Hindus Muslims and Buddhists. It is very important because it also helps British Asians to understand and feel part of Britain.”
We also honour the great contributions of the peoples of Africa, the Caribbean, South America's indeed all over the Word.
There was a two minute silence for all who fought in World War 1.
There will be a large programme planned in the last week in March . All are invited.