Remembrance Day: Celebrating the Defeat of the Ottomans
Every year as November draws nearer, many Canadians can be seen wearing a poppy on their clothes. And on the 11th day of this 11th month, a moment of silence is observed at 11am. This is all part and parcel of commemorating Remembrance Day – a day that is meant to honour the fallen soldiers of the World Wars.
Muslims are invited to partake in this day as well, citing community cohesion and a shared sense of the sanctity of life, where, for example, Muslim children who attend public school are made to partake in such ceremonies.
But what are the origins of this event? And how does it relate to the history of our Ummah? What is this day all about? And is it permissible for Muslims to participate in such an event? Do our children know who the Ottomans were?
The origins of Remembrance Day
While Remembrance Day is positioned as a neutral holiday that commemorates the loss of all lives in the World Wars, a cursory look at its origins reveals a more slanted perspective.
At the end of the First World War, an armistice agreement was signed between the Allies and Germany, which took place in Paris, France on Monday, November 11th, 1918. On November 6th, 1919, George Foster – the acting Prime Minister of Britain – rose in the House of Commons to read a message from King George V:
“To all my people: Tuesday next, November 11th, is the first anniversary of the armistice which stayed the world-wide carnage of the four preceding years, and marked the victory of right and freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that great deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.”
In other words, Remembrance Day began with the end of World War One, and was a day to recognize the victory of the “Allies”: Britain, France, Russia, the United States, and Italy against the “Central Powers”: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans (the Uthmani Khilafah).
Muslims in the First World War
The advent of World War One did not go unnoticed by the Muslim Ummah. Close relations with Germany and the continued enmity towards Russia – who had invaded the northern part of the Khilafah and supported the revolt in Southern Greece (a province in the Islamic State at that time) – pushed the Khilafah into joining the Central Powers.
The Muslim armies fought many battles in order to protect the Islamic lands, including The Battle of Lone Pine, The Nek, The Battle of Scimitar Hill, and The Battle of Hill 60, all of which contributed to the Gallipoli Campaign.
The Ottomans also dedicated many of their forces to protect Palestine from the British invasion. The sacrifice of the Muslims ran high, with 131,000 martyred and 262,000 wounded. May Allah (swt) accept their great sacrifice and grant them Jannah.
On May 16th, 1916, Britain and France made a secret agreement as to which parts of the conquered Muslim lands each of them would control. Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the British and the French split the north of the Arabian Peninsula (Al-Sham) and southern Turkey among themselves. Later, Italy and Russia were included in the deal.
Edmund Allenby, Commander of the V Corps in the Second Battle of Ypres, worked alongside the British agent, T.E. Lawrence, and directed the marauding forces to Palestine. Despite the will and determination to protect one of the most sacred lands for Muslims, the Uthmani army was defeated at Al-Quds on December 11th, 1917.
An arrogant and pompous Allenby declared upon entering Palestine “The Crusades are now over.” Upon arrival to Damascus in 1920, French commander Gouraud immediately marched to Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi’s tomb and yelled, “Nous revenons, Salladin! (We have returned, Oh Salahuddin!).
By the end of WW1, the number of Muslim Soldiers killed totaled 325,000, whereas the number of civilian deaths totaled 1,000,000.
How can Muslims bring themselves to commemorate the victory of those who butchered over a million of our brothers and sisters, carved up our lands, and took our beloved Al-Quds from us? How can we encourage this annual victory lap by the oppressors by wearing their poppies?
How would this be any different from participating in the remembrance of the defeat of Muslims at the hands of Quraysh during the Battle of Uhud, or the Mongols in Baghdad, or the Crusaders in Palestine?
As Muslims, we must dissociate ourselves from these ceremonies and remain vigilant against their normalization within our community.
Differentiation from the kuffar
Many Muslims – in response to the campaigns of vilification that we are subject to by the unjust media – are eager to find common ground with the non-Muslim societies we are living. And there is nothing wrong with relating to our non-Muslim neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances through shared interests.
However, it is essential that we Muslims always differentiate ourselves from the disbelievers, as we are guided by Allah’s commands, and we are bound by the Halal and Haram, while the non-Muslims are not. And it is not Halal for us to celebrate the victory of the Kuffar over the believing armies.
And while it is difficult to stand alone against a dominant society built on different values – especially since many non-Muslims are unaware of how the British and French colonialists devastated the Muslim world – but we must draw strength from the example of our beloved Messenger (saw), as narrated by Anas (ra), “When the Prophet (saw) migrated from Makkah to Madinah, the people of Madinah used to have two festivals. On those two days, they had carnivals and festivities. The Prophet (saw) said,
‘Instead of those two days, Allah has appointed for you two other days, which are better: the days of ‘Eid ul-Fitr and ‘Eid ul-Adha’.” [An-Nasaa’i]
Therefore, despite the fact that there were prevailing customs and traditions, the Prophet (saw) did not compromise by involving himself or the Sahabah (ra) in them. Rather, he (saw) only acted upon what was revealed to him by Allah (swt).
Our willingness to differentiate ourselves from the mindless and immoral customs of the Capitalist system is rooted in our obedience to the Quran and Sunnah. We must not fall into the trap of thinking, “There is no harm in this Haram action?” or, “If I do this Haram action then maybe it will make the non-Muslims around me more receptive to the message of Islam.” These are pitfalls we must protect ourselves from.
As Muslims, our basis for actions is neither our desires nor the environment around us, but rather it is the Hukum Shari’ee alone, and every action must be measured against this yard stick.
It is the pleasure of Allah (swt) that we must seek, and we must seek it in the manner that He (swt) has prescribed for us, no matter what the society or trends around us prefer. It is only through maintaining this standard that we will gain the support of Allah (swt), and the respect of the societies in which we live.
What we lost
The true horror of Remembrance Day is that it distracts Muslims from focusing on the real tragedy of the First World War: the destruction of the Uthmani Khilafah.
Once the Imam – the shield of the Ummah – had been removed, the colonial powers have had a free hand for nearly a century in plundering our resources and subjecting us to political subservience through the imposition of hand-picked tyrants who love the West more than the Ummah, and direct invasion and occupation of our lands.
And this loss is not restricted to the Muslims alone; the fall of the Uthmani Khilafah was the fall of the last government that was built upon submission to the will of Allah (swt) and His laws in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The fall of the Khilafah plunged humanity into the darkness of the rule of corrupt men and the subjugation of humanity to rotten man-made laws.
It was these men who sent millions of their compatriots to die over the false notions of nationalism and “liberty,” all to the advantage of the elite. It was these men who continue to hoard more and more wealth into their bank accounts and away from the masses who work for it.
The Islamic system, through its revealed solutions to human problems – both individual and collective, is the only way to liberate mankind from the oppression of men to the Divine Justice of Allah (swt). The loss of the Khilafah was a loss to both the Muslims and non-Muslims.
If anything, this day should be a reason to increase our efforts to resume the Islamic way of life by re-establishing the rightly-guided Khilafah in the Muslim lands, according to the method of the Prophet (saw).
“Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which Allah has shown you. And do not be an advocate for the traitors.” [4:105]