Wear a poppy, say UK mosques

Mosques urge the faithful to wear a poppy

Article taken from Sunday Times, Sunday 3rd November 2013 published by Dipesh Gadher

Radical Muslims burning poppies on November 11, 2010

ISLAMIC leaders have urged British Muslims to “wear the poppy, rather than burn it” to counter claims of being unpatriotic on Remembrance Sunday.

Mosques will take the unprecedented step of setting up poppy stalls around the country this week with the backing of government ministers and the Royal British Legion.

Despite strong reservations in the Muslim community about military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the centenary of the First World War next year is being used to highlight that thousands of Muslim soldiers have fought and died for Britain.

The move follows high-profile protests in the past by Muslim extremists, including those linked to the hate preacher Anjem Choudary, and the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in southeast London.

On November 11, 2010, fanatics set fire to giant paper poppies outside the Albert Hall. During the traditional two-minute silence to honour the war dead, the extremists chanted “British soldiers burn in hell”.

Muslim leaders admit that such incendiary behaviour by a minority, and concerns raised by many others about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have led to a perception in some quarters that Muslims are “disloyal” or “unpatriotic”.

“British Muslims should be wearing poppies, not burning them,” said Julie Siddiqi, executive director of the Islamic Society of Britain and a former government adviser on women’s issues.

Siddiqi said the centenary of the Great War provided an opportunity to tell young Muslims that “we are all in this together”.

Military historians estimate that about 400,000 Muslims fought in the war as part of the British Indian army. They included Khudadad Khan, a sepoy who was awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of bravery in Belgium in October 1914.

“How can you question a whole community’s loyalty to a country when thousands [of their forefathers] died serving this country?” Siddiqi said.

Tomorrow, Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, is expected to visit a Muslim-led poppy stall outside Westminster cathedral in central London.

Similar stalls, set up by Faiths Forum for London, an interfaith charity, will operate across the week at different locations in the capital.

Mustafa Field, the charity’s Iraqi-born director, said he had been “uncomfortable” about British intervention in Iraq without UN backing. But he pointed out that the poppy commemorated fallen soldiers and was not meant to be a political symbol indicating support for war.

“I’ve never felt anything negative about it,” Field said. “We want to reclaim it.”

Mosques in Leeds, Leicester and Southampton will also be running poppy stalls. At the Makkah mosque in Headingley, Leeds, the war dead will be commemorated at Friday prayers.

“Britain is our country,” said Qari Asim, the imam. “We should remember those who have lost their lives.”

Referring to both world wars, Baroness Warsi, minister for faith and communities, said: “Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus courageously battled and lost their lives for a country they had never seen and for a king who was not from their land. It is fantastic that these poppy stalls are raising awareness of this outstanding contribution.”