This week, Akeela Ahmed, (Founder of SheSpeaksWeHear and chair of the UK government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group) arranged for a group of 20 Muslim women to visit Pirbright Army Training Centre. This incredible opportunity proved to be a real eye-opener in terms of forming a better understanding of the Armed Forces’ values, moral principles and ethos. The visit gave me plenty of food for thought, especially regarding what it means to be a British Muslim and our place in wider society.
Read on to understand more about this trip and some of my reflections from this important visit.
Driving up to the gates of Pirbright Army Training Centre initially felt intimidating, but this all changed when we were greeted with a warm welcome by senior members of the armed forces, and offered tea and biscuits. If there’s one thing that brings British people of all persuasions together, it’s the universal love of a good cuppa and a biccie.
Diversity and representation is crucial.
It is evident that the job of the British Army is to protect all the citizens of the UK. And, as the UK becomes increasingly diverse, so must the makeup of traditional institutions including the armed forces.
The British Armed Forces currently has around 10% women, which is still below the government’s target of 15%. There are currently around 450 Muslims serving in the regular armed forces.
Throughout the day, it became apparent that the army is extremely accommodating when it comes to faith. Padres are Christian ministers whose job it is to guide soldiers of all faiths and those without faith, with humanistic principles. In addition, there are also Armed Forces Chaplains available for soldiers of other specific faiths, including Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh.
Additionally, prayer rooms are available, as well as halal food on-site. The dress code can also be aligned with Islamic principles; Muslim men can wear a full beard, and for women, hijab can be incorporated within the uniform.
Universal human values and moral standards.
My personal highlight of the day was a presentation by Padre Nigel Kinsella, talking about the values and moral principles of the British Army. In particular, the military uses the mnemonic CDRILS, which stands for: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty, and Selfless Commitment. It’s pretty clear to me that these values are universal human values, that align to principles at the heart of Islam.
The British Army has a duty to protect all UK citizens.
As Muslims, one of the biggest threats comes from radicalisation, especially given that the majority of the victims of terrorist attacks have been other Muslims. Radicalisation is one of the biggest problems in the world today, and it affects all of us. It seems to me that the British Army is there to provide protection against all threats that are affecting UK citizens, and that of course, includes the Muslim community.
It’s clear that the job of the army is to do the things that other people are not willing to do. This does not simply mean reacting to real-world events. It also means providing humanitarian aid, disaster recovery and providing assistance in the event of a large-scale emergency.
We will not be divided.
Islam is by no means a pacifist faith. As Muslims, we have a loyalty to the country we were born into and live in. In addition, the rhetoric of the far-right, including that of Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson, seeks to divide us. Major General Duncan Capps, Muslim Champion for the Armed Forces was unequivocal in disassociating this dangerous rhetoric from the values of the UK armed forces. Any form of racism or discrimination is taken extremely seriously.
Robinson, in particular has used the army to push forward his anti-Muslim ideology. The army has absolutely denounced Robinson’s attempts to hijack their cause and have signalled a zero-tolerance approach against all forms of extremism.
The Army needs to do more to champion diversity to connect with young British Muslims.
My perceptions of the British Army are very different after this visit. I now have a better understanding of what the British Army does and how it affects me as a British citizen. As someone with a background in digital marketing, I feel the army needs to be doing a lot more to get their message across. There’s definitely an information gap and more needs to be done to engage with people of different backgrounds.
A couple of years ago, the British Army released a new campaign video entitled “Keeping My Faith – This is Belonging”. The ad featured a Muslim soldier praying, overlooked by other troops. In my mind, this is little to do with so-called PC-culture, and actually pretty reflective of the army’s ethos of inclusion. The military is one of the few institutions that doesn’t care about your background, your upbringing, your lack of an education or what you have been through. For many recruits, it offers a second chance at success or redemption.
Although the focus on on recruitment, the objective should be to change the perception of the armed forces. It may take a generation for there to be more Muslims serving, but that journey begins with changing hearts and minds. Certainly, it’s not something that will change overnight, but undertaking initiatives for different communities to get to know each other better is a great first step.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
Author Bio: Aliya Zaidi is a self-confessed geek, a blogger, an avid foodie, and a mother of two. Aliya is a freelance digital marketing writer and research professional, writing mostly about online marketing and advertising. Check out her About.me page: https://about.me/aliyazaidi or read her tweets at https://twitter.com/aliyazaidi.