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Stories of Sacrifice exhibition: the Muslim contribution to World War One

Stories of Sacrifice was commissioned by the British Muslim Heritage Centre, originally to mark the ongoing centenary of the First World War and was the first ever exhibition devoted entirely to the Muslim contribution to the conflict. The research underpinning the exhibition discovered that the contribution of Muslim soldiers and communities to the war effort had been significantly underestimated.

Revealing the impact of Muslim soldiers in World War One

The Stories of Sacrifice exhibition opened at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in 2016 and its mobile version toured to over twenty locations including Manchester Central Library, Blackburn Cathedral and Greater Manchester Police HQ. It informed the public of the World War One contributions by Muslims. It is estimated that over 29,000 visited the exhibition in its first two years and with over 50,000 visitors in total including HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, General Sir Nick Carter (Chief of UK Army) and Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London). The exhibition Steering Committee included members of the local community and cultural institutions who provided input into the design and direction of the exhibition. This was supported by a call for evidence to the public for their own stories about family or community involvement in World War One, some of which were incorporated into the exhibition itself. The exhibitions included a number of public events engaging the community, schools and the army in discussions about the themes and issues raised by the project.

Dr Issa found that Muslims involved in the war effort came from as far as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and that at least 89,000 Muslims were killed fighting for Allied forces under French or British command.

The roles included front-line soldiers, trench builders and those transporting vital goods and materials. Research also revealed that at least 20 per cent of all British Empire recruits were followers of Islam and that the financial and material contribution from India alone was £479 million - £20 billion in today’s money. The project doubled the estimate of the number of Muslim soldiers recruited to serve in World War One by the Allies from 400,000 to over 885,000 at least. 

The research and exhibition received multiple awards, including the Times Higher Education “Research Project of the Year” 2019, and the Muslim News Awards “Excellence in Community Relations” prize. They have increased cross-cultural and cross-faith awareness and dialogue in the UK, reaching hundreds of thousands of individuals and altering perceptions of Muslims in the First World War. Perceptions about Muslims in general were also altered; 75% of sampled visitors said the exhibition changed their views about Muslims in Britain. The project has contributed to the alteration of diversity training in the UK army and was used by the Greater Manchester Police in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena Bombing in 2017. Research findings are contributing to the Key Stage 2 and 3 curriculum in schools, involving over 2,000 students so far, and to academic study at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Stories of Sacrifice website