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Ilford Muslim group call for a multi-faith war memorial in Newbury Park

PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:13 27 February 2018

Former-Colonel Mohammad Ghani, 99, shares his memories of World War II. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Former-Colonel Mohammad Ghani, 99, shares his memories of World War II. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Archant

Inspired by recent calls for a Sikh War Memorial in central London, an Ilford Muslim centre is asking for a multi-faith war memorial to be erected in Redbridge.

Around 50 Muslim war veterans and their family members gathered at Ilford Islamic Centre in Albert Road to share memories over a meal on Thursday (February, 23).

The Recorder was invited to join and find out more about the contribution of Muslim soldiers from the Indian subcontinent in the First and Second World Wars, which many feel has been forgotten.

The event was opened with a speech by the centre’s chairman Ghazanfar Ali.

“I do feel it would be a goodwill gesture to the borough of Redbridge to remember those soldiers, including Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Gurkhas and Christians who have so gallantly sacrificed their lives for the country’s freedom,” he said.

He added: “We would like to have a memorial next to the existing war memorial in Newbury Park.”

The guests, mostly senior citizens, sat along a banqueting table which snaked around the room.

At the head of the table 99-year-old former Colonel Mohammad Ghani sat stoically, decorated with eight war medals and wearing a black karakul hat.

The Kashmiri-born former-solder, who lives in St Alban’s Road in Seven Kings, will turn 100 in August.

He told the guests of how he joined the army in 1940, serving for the British in what was then called Malaya, as well as in the Second World War and wars between Pakistan and India in 1965 and 1971.

During the Second World War, Colonel Ghani was captured by the Japanese Army and kept as a prisoner of war for three years.

“We were treated like donkeys - made to do hard labour from morning to evening,” he said.

“We had very poor food. About 1,000 people died of dysentery.”

Asked how he felt Muslims should be commemorated for their contributions to Britain’s war efforts, he said: “We should be remembered as members of the nation who sacrificed out lives for this country.”

Later on, the centre’s secretary Ahmad Nawaz proudly showed a photo of his grandfather shaking hands with British statesmen and naval officer Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India.

Mountbatten’s career involved the diplomatic negotiation of independence for India and Pakistan and he rose to the ranks of the highest rank in the navy – Admiral of the fleet.

More than 400,000 Indian Muslim soldiers fought as part of the British Army during the First World War, according to remembrance charity Unknown and Untold.

The Ilford Islamic Centre’s calls to commemorate the war dead found renewed vigour in response to a national campaign by charity the Sikh War Memorial Trust.

This charity seeks to raise money for a memorial to the Sikh soldier’s who gave their lives in the war in a prime central London location.

By the end of January, the charity had already raised £375,000 to fund the creation of the memorial and has gained more than 30,000 petition signatures in support.

The campaign held a launch event in Parliament last month attended by Redbridge Council Leader Cllr Jas Athwal, Ilford North MP Wes Streeting and Tanjanmeet Singh Desi – the first turbaned Sikh elected to Parliament.

Cllr Athwal also sits on Redbridge Council’s war memorial corporate panel and, responding to the Islamic centre’s suggestion of a multi-faith memorial in Newbury Park, said that the panel had had meetings about this already.

“It would be a great idea in the 100th anniversary of the First World War to have a multi-faith memorial,” he said, adding: “But all the council can really do is to give land to build it on.

“It is difficult for the council or the government to say you can have ‘x’ amount of money.

“I am going to have a meeting to get together the community leaders of different faiths and none to look at how are we going to present it and how are we going to fund it.”


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