UK’s Muslim soldiers ‘fighting extremists not Muslims’
By Poonam Taneja BBC Asian Network
With more than 600 Muslims in the British Armed Forces, do those that are deployed on the front line in Afghanistan have to reconcile their beliefs in order to fight hardline Islamic Taliban militants?
“My home is the UK. As a Muslim, that’s the place I’d happily die for and kill for. That’s the same way it’s going to remain until my dying day.
“My entire soul belongs to the UK and I’m more than proud to fight for this country.”
Pte Shehab El-Din Ahmed El-Miniawi, is serving with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold and scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the nation.
The only practising Muslim in his battalion, Pte El-Miniawi is on his first tour of Afghanistan.
“I came with no perception of what this place was going to be like, be it hot, be it cold, be it dangerous, be it IED (improvised explosive device)-ridden, whatever,” he said.
“If you narrow it down, we’re not just fighting Muslims we’re fighting extremists. Every culture, every faith… has an extremist background in it.
“That’s something I personally feel should be eradicated, so this is why I’m here to fight this war really.”
Pte El-Miniawi said his religion was often an advantage out on patrol and the Afghan people warmed to him once they realised they shared the same faith.
“The bosses, the officers who have helped me out on the ground, have pushed me forward to talk to and engage with locals and that breaks the ice.
“They know who I am, they know my background, so they tend to come to me thinking I’m some sort of a commander,” he said.
“It’s been extremely hard work, I wasn’t expecting this much responsibility as an infantry soldier.”
While out on operation he has been attempting to stabilise and rebuild a desolate village in Helmand, so local villagers can return.
“We’re looking to support the locals, clear the compounds of IEDs, then hold the area.
“It requires a lot of talking to the locals as well, understanding what their background is like, looking at what they want from us.”
He said his fellow soldiers had joked with him about being Muslim, but it was not a real issue.
“You’re seen as one of the blokes. You mingle with everyone, you’re all the same people, doing the same job, so why should you be treated any differently?
“At some points you’re always going to expect some kind of banter but it’s nothing you should be downhearted by, because you’re going to get it either way, be you any faith, any colour, fat, thin, small, tall, it’s all the same really.
“So me being Muslim, a bit darker than everyone else and a bit hairier, its no big deal at all.”
Muslims in the military have faced criticism from members of their own communities in the UK, who are against what they see as taking up arms against fellow Muslims in conflicts such as Afghanistan and previously Iraq.
Click here to read the full report on the BBC website