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Why Were These Indian Muslims Executed by the British During WW1?

The 5th Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Army from Madras were stationed in Singapore, they had been sent there to replace the Yorkshire Light Infantry. It consisted of Muslims who were mainly Rajputs and Pathans.

World War 1 was officially under way and The Ottoman Empire had entered the war siding with their German allies. Sultan Mehmet V called on Muslims around the world to take up arms against the British Empire and its allies. This was significant as the Sultan was considered by Muslims all around their world as their leader though half of the world’s Muslims lived under British, French or Russian rule. The Sultan was the head of the caliphate, a system of Islamic governance which began after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and ended with the fall of the Ottoman empire. A recent declaration by militants in Iraq and Syria of a caliphate has been rejected by Muslims worldwide.

Not long after the Indian regiment’s arrival to Singapore, an announcement was made that they were to be sent to Hong Kong. Rumours spread that, rather, they would be sent to fight fellow Muslims and against the Ottoman Empire. Whether or not they were to be sent to Hong Kong remains unclear.

On 15th February 1915, 800 Indian Muslims turned against their British colonial masters, killing around 40 British officers and seizing ammunition. Singapore was left practically defenseless with most of the Singapore Volunteer Corps on leave because to the Chinese New Year holidays. The rebels marched through Singapore laying siege to the bungalow of the regiment’s commanding officer

Two days later, allied warships arrived after British pleas for help, the rebels put up a fight but were eventually overwhelmed. Many died in battle, many surrendered and the remainder fled into the jungle. By 22nd February, the mutiny, which would later come to be known as The Singapore Mutiny, was over.

mutiny

Indian mutineers are lined up to be executed by a firing squad

47 mutineers were later executed by public firing squad in front of an audience of thousands, in Outram Jail. 73 more were given long prison sentences.

Facing certain death or imprisonment, these Indians risked everything to escape fighting a war they didn’t believe in for colonialists which had occupied their native India for many years. Though there were other cases of rebellion, approximately 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War One for the British Empire. Many were used in campaigns against the Ottoman empire which involved capturing regions such as Palestine and Syria.

By Rafiq ibn Jubair

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