Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Thursday, 1 February 2007

An uncomfortable place for a Muslim?

Muslims make up a tiny proportion of Britain's armed forces - less than 0.3% of the total.

But they are vital to an organisation that wants to show military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars against Islam.

Jabron Hashmi, the first British soldier to die in Afghanistan last year
Jabron Hashmi - the first British Muslim soldier killed in Afghanistan

Wednesday's news of an alleged plot to murder a Muslim member of the British armed forces will do little to encourage other Muslims to join up.

When L/Cpl Jabron Hashmi became the first British Muslim soldier to die in Afghanistan last July, his death prompted debate about what motivates Muslims to join the armed forces.

His family, originally from Pakistan, said he had hoped his Islamic background would foster greater understanding within the Army.

His brother Zeeshan, who also served in Afghanistan, has denied being the focus of the alleged kidnapping plot.

We thought we could be of benefit by taking part and perhaps ensure greater understanding through our position
Ex-soldier Zeeshan Hashmi
So why did he and his late brother take the risk of joining up?

"One of the main reasons why my brother and I went into the military - apart from being British and feeling a sense of duty to the country - was because of the position of global politics and the clash between East and West," he told the Daily Mail newspaper.

"Because we are British and Muslims, we thought we could be of benefit by taking part and perhaps ensure greater understanding through our position."

Soldier with SA80 weapon
The MoD does not target 'specific communities' in recruitment drives

Mr Hashmi is part of a minority among British Muslims - there are just 248 Muslims in the armed forces, out of a total of 100,000 personnel.

Maj Sam Pinkney, from Birmingham's Army Careers Information Office, refused to comment on what impact the alleged kidnap plot may have on future recruitment.

But he said the city saw the highest number of new Army recruits in the UK last year, taking on more than 250 new soldiers.

Once in the armed forces, Muslims could still practise their faith as far as practicable, according to a spokesman at the Ministry of Defence.

"We try to accommodate people with religious beliefs as far as possible - we even have halal ration packs," he said, referring to meat from animals which have been killed in accordance with Muslim law.

'A closed community'

The highest-ranking Muslim officer in the forces is currently Pakistan-born Royal Navy Rear Admiral Amjad Hussain.

When he was appointed in August 2006, he said the army was doing "an awful lot" to recruit more people from ethnic minorities but acknowledged it was an uphill struggle.

"There are two outreach programmes I know of, one in Tower Hamlets and one in Small Heath in Birmingham, where they are really engaging with the kids," he said.

"Unfortunately, they often meet a closed community that doesn't necessarily want their help."

He added: "The outreach programmes are working. We're not achieving our targets but each year is better than the year before. It's a slow gradual programme but it will have an effect."


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