Ahead of Remembrance Sunday a new exhibition has opened at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery exploring the untold stories of more than 400,000 Muslim soldiers in the First World War.
The exhibition is part of the Connected Histories: Muslims in the First World War project which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and aims to highlight the Muslim contribution to Britain’s First World War effort.
The 100-year commemorations of the First World War, which began in 2014, indicated that little was known about the contribution of Muslim people. Yet, Muslim involvement in the British war effort was significant. The British Indian Army totalled 1.4 million troops, in which 430,000 Muslims served.
The project explores the connection between some of Birmingham’s present-day Muslim communities and those who fought for Britain in the First World War, sometimes under complex and difficult conditions, when they themselves were not wholly free men or women.
The team behind the project has identified descendants living in Birmingham, recording stories of ancestors who served, were injured or who were killed. From this research the exhibition was developed. It features personal stories and loans of objects and artefacts from relatives of those who served.
Izzy Mohammed, Project Manager, Connected Histories: Muslims in the First World War, said:
“Within respective communities and across wider society, there is varied if limited understanding of British Empire and Commonwealth support of Britain during the First World War. Commonly accepted is the brave and valiant role of certain groups. But on further research, we were surprised at how many Muslims fought for Britain, and the different battles and parts of the world they were called to serve in.
“The numbers were a revelation. But so too were the stories that families held. Exploring this further, we came to understand how important it was to make these available to people, along with whatever artefacts and objects we could find. It helped us to think about history, about who writes or gets to write, and what it means to be included or left out.
“The team has worked very hard to pull this exhibition together. There is also an accompanying website. We believe that the exhibition and website will help to us to think a differently about our national story.”
Visitors are being asked to contribute to the exhibition by sharing their thoughts and feelings on postcards before they leave. Messages have been left by a range of people from Birmingham with many highlighting how little they knew about the Muslim contribution before they arrived, including the below:
“An interesting take on the First World War story, well done for bringing out this aspect.”
“This exhibition has opened up my eyes and heart to the Muslims that risked their lives, alongside our troops.”
The exhibition is open at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 5th March 2017 and a website has been created to continue the conversation beyond the exhibition and can be accessed at connected-histories.org/ww1m.
With thanks to the Heritage Lottery fund, Birmingham Museums Trust, Xtra Mile West Midlands CIC, Library of Birmingham, to a committed project team and to all our contributors for their time, generosity and courage.
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Notes to editors
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is operated by Birmingham Museums Trust, an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. It uses the collection of around 800,000 objects to provide a wide range of arts, cultural and historical experiences, events and activities that deliver accessible learning, creativity and enjoyment for citizens and visitors to the city. Most areas of the collection are designated as being of national importance, including the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Attracting over one million visits a year, the Trust’s venues include Aston Hall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Blakesley Hall, Museum Collections Centre, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Thinktank and Weoley Castle. birminghammuseums.org.uk