My brother’s sacrifice was for peace and understanding

By Zeeshan Hashmion, who served in the British Army between 2000 and 2005. He is now a student at Cambridge (THE TIMES, 06/02/07):

Last Wednesday I woke up to find out that I had 41 missed calls plus a dozen or so voicemail messages, mostly from the media, but a few from my loved ones. I soon found out the cause — the eight arrests linked to an alleged plot to kidnap and execute a British Muslim member of the Armed Forces.

My immediate thoughts were of concern for members of my family, who live not far from the locations raided by the police. Upon speaking to my family, who were under siege by journalists, I foresaw a hectic time ahead based on my experience of the days after the death of my brother, Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, in Sangin, Afghanistan, on July 1, 2006.

So why did my brother and I decided to join the British Army, having been born in Pakistan and being proud Muslims? Our education was a combination of the Western form, in private schools, and religious education in a local mosque in the evenings. Both have been equally important for the nurturing of mind, body and soul. Our late respected teacher, who taught us Koran, was the ideal combination of deen wa duniya — religion and the world.

It was people such as him and my parents who taught us to respect people as fellow humans rather than on the grounds of their religious, ethnic and geographical identities. What I also remember is a famous saying by the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Actions are by intentions.” It is one’s true intentions and not the physical act itself that qualifies one for Allah’s reward in the afterlife.

When we migrated to the UK, Jabron and I decided that we would have to choose a career path that would give us a better understanding of ourselves and provide us with a sense of achievement. We agreed that following our childhood dream of joining the Armed Forces was a good start.

While serving in the Army, we soon realised that our multi-identity backgrounds gave us a unique understanding. Going to Afghanistan was not about getting rid of the Taleban and al-Qaeda as British soldiers. It was about going there as individuals who could understand the confusion between two peoples with different religious, cultural, linguistic, geographical and political backgrounds, and to use that understanding to contribute towards the conflict resolution.

Afghanistan was not about fighting terrorists. It was about looking at the prolonged suffering of humans, whether it was orphaned children scavenging for food in piles of rubbish and excrement, or the grief of those who had lost loved ones over the past 30 years. Military deployments were not merely wearing the green uniform and furthering someone else’s political ambitions. They were about fulfilling the duty as one human to another.

So it has never been a problem to have served in the British Army with some of the finest soldiers in the world and I am extremely proud of my time served in uniform. I don’t think that my brother and I were the only people to have drawn these conclusions. This is why I firmly believe that anyone who may have been considering joining the Armed Forces or other aspects of civil service before the events of last week would continue to hold that view now.

In the Armed Forces, where each loss of life of a comrade is felt by the soldiers throughout the units and regiments, my brother’s death was as tragic as one of the other soldiers; but what made it different was a unique combination of his religious and ethnic background. It was this that made headlines — and made people realise that, although there is a minority of extremists who wrongly use Islam to justify suicide bombings and taking of innocent lives, there are also people equally committed because of their religious beliefs to make the same sacrifice but in its just context. Islam does not approve of shedding innocent blood but there are some who interpret it to propagate hatred and to justify their devious agendas.

I do feel increasingly impatient when engaged in debates about my faith, its so-called link with extremism and its so-called rejection of democracy. I wish I could shout out loud and say that a majority of Muslims believe in the core message of Islam, which is peace. We are tolerant of others and comfortable coexisting in a multicultural, multi-ethnic environment. Islam does not dictate that one can only be Muslim and not British or Chinese at the same time.

Unfortunately, there are those among us who are ill-educated, misled and are indeed extremists. My message to those who preach extremism and a false concept of jihad is that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) not only stood up but asked his companions to do the same when the funeral of a Jew was passing near by. One’s responsibility to the Muslim ummah demands logic and reasoning in achieving long-term, peaceful solutions based upon coexistence. Isolation and extremism is not the answer; initiating a dialogue is.

Those in power should be more responsible and sincere when discussing conflict resolution. Stop using the notion of democracy to justify loss of human life; we need to ensure that we create a more stable and less bloody future for coming generations. This is the least we owe to those who have made sacrifices. Political systems and doctrine can not effectively be imported from one region to another facing a different range of problems.

As individuals, we ought to be more open and receptive in our approach towards fellow humans, in peace time or in conflict. “For those who have had to fight for it, Life has truly a flavour the protected shall never know.”