RMC honours lone Muslim Canadian known to have died in WWI

A special ceremony in Kingston, Ont., honoured the only Muslim known to have died fighting for Canada in the First World War.

Pte. Hasan Amat was 23 when he died fighting for Canada in the Battle of Hill 70

Pte. Hasan Amat was one of 22 Muslim soldiers to fight for Canada during the First World War, and the only one known to have been killed. (Veteran Affairs Canada)

For the past three years, Capt. Ryan Carter has been organizing ceremonies in the days leading up to Remembrance Day to honour Muslim Canadians who fought in times of conflicts and war.

But the one held last Sunday was a little different. Not only was it the first time it was held in Kingston, it also paid tribute to the only Muslim known to have died for Canada in the First World War.

Though Carter is an imam, he's still referred to as "padre" at the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston — also a first for the RMC. In 2003, the Canadian Forces announced its first-ever Muslim chaplain, Capt. Suleyman Demiray of Ottawa.

Carter said he wants to spread awareness about the contributions of Muslims in the Canadian military, and dispel any misconceptions that their involvement today is a new phenomenon.

"[Muslims] were part of the force like anybody else," Carter told CBC Radio's All in a Day.

"I think it was a revelation for most people. It was a revelation for me, myself, to know Canadian Muslims were involved in the very inception of World War One, and certainly continued to serve up until the present. I never realized it went that far back."

22 Muslims fought for Canada 

Carter has organized remembrance ceremonies in the past in Toronto and Edmonton, but Kingston's ceremony came after he researched the issue in more depth over the summer months. He read about it in Filling the Ranks, a book by Richard Holt, who researched Canada's military efforts in the First World War.
Padre Ryan Carter delivers the Act of Remembrance during the Muslim Remembrance Day service that was held at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., on Nov. 5, 2017. (Adam Dargavel)

According to the book, 22 Muslims fought for Canada in the war, but Pte. Hasan Amat, originally from Singapore, was the only one who died.

The 23-year-old soldier from western Ontario died in the Battle of Hill 70 in France fighting for the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His body was never recovered. The battle in August 1917 lasted 10 days and ended with 9,000 Canadians killed in action, but was hailed as a victory because German casualties exceeded 20,000.

Chaplain read verse from Qur'an

At the remembrance ceremony last Sunday, Carter read a verse from the Qur'an about the tragedy — and sometimes, the necessity — of war.

"If fighting were not to take place then certainly all things sacred — whether it be mosques, synagogues, and monasteries — would have been surely destroyed. The verse brings attention to the grim reality of war, but sometimes that war is necessary," Carter said.

He said now that Library and Archives Canada has digitized many soldiers' military records, it's easier to research the contributions of Muslims in subsequent wars.

"I think this is the research that I really want to involve myself in, and I hope that we'll find more and more as the years go by," he said.

With files from CBC Radio