Farhan T. Affan Ali is studying for an MA in National Security Studies at King’s College London. This article originally appeared in The Pen, The Aziz’s Foundation’s scholars blog:
Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) extends beyond just highlighting levels of anti-Muslim hate crime and discrimination — it also brings about the opportunity to deconstruct the stereotypes and challenge the hostile rhetoric surrounding Islam and Muslims by highlighting and celebrating the positive contribution of British Muslims.
This process plays a key role in tackling the often toxic atmosphere that has increasingly permeated political and social discourse over the last few years. Muslims have a long and significant history in Britain and have made major contributions to our history, economy and culture. By highlighting these valuable contributions, it is possible to decolonise ethnocentric approaches to our identity and uncover a shared history that contradicts the frequent dichotomy presented in mainstream media.
It is not a case of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ — we are indeed all ‘us’.
Historically, the first significant presence of Muslims in the UK can be dated back to the 1700s in the form of Yemeni sailors who were working in the British merchant navy, with numbers expanding over the coming centuries. An estimated 2.5 million Muslim soldiers fought on behalf of Britain in World War I and a further estimated 600,000 to 1 million during World War II.
However, that’s not the only contribution of Muslims to Britain. During the post-war years, many Muslims, especially from the Indian-subcontinent, relocated to the UK to aid in revamping the infrastructure and fill valuable roles that had been impacted by the war. For example, during the 1960s, Muslim doctors from India and Pakistan came in significant numbers to support the NHS following an appeal by the then Health Minister, Enoch Powell.