On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of every year our country marks the sacrifice of soldiers that fought and gave their lives to protect Britain.
Like many others in this country, Remembrance Day has a very special place in our family. Alongside over million other Muslims, my maternal Grandad, Abuzar Khan – affectionately known as Babba Jee, fought in the British Army and served our nation all over the world. Every year on Remembrance Day he’d share stories from the war and remember his fallen comrades, of all faiths and backgrounds.
Ever since I can remember, my family would don our poppies with pride and huddle round the television to watch the marches and ceremonies across the globe. As the clock struck 11, even when we were all at home, Babba Jee would lead us all into the minute silence.
After the war, he settled in Yorkshire and came to work in the Mills making Wakefield the only real home our family has ever known. Sadly, my father died when I was 6 years old and so I was very much raised by Babba Jee, a towering man who left an incredible legacy that continues to inspire me to this day.
Like many of his generation, he spoke little and did a lot. We never had much money growing up but he was an incredibly generous man and taught me that generosity of spirit was far more important than being generous with your wealth. It was as if our home belonged to the community, anybody would be welcome in, regardless of age, race or religion. He taught our family, through his example not his words, to serve others with grace and humility.
The war shaped Babba Jee and he, in turn, shaped me. I feel his impact in the work that I do and in the sense of responsibility I have to those around me. He was always looking to help others; in retrospect I feel our charity, Penny Appeal, was built very much in his image.
Although it feels like just yesterday, it’s been three years now since we lost Babba Jee and nothing reminds me more of him, his bravery and his courage, than when I see people wearing poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. People often see the success of my business and our charity, however that success has only been possible through building upon the legacy of those giants who came before us and sacrificed so much. Babba Jee is one such giant, he made me into the man I am today and I will forever be grateful for his gentle yet firm guidance.
It troubles me deeply when people question the loyalty of Muslims in this country. Babba Jee didn’t try to articulate how his British, Muslim and Pakistani identities go hand in hand, he simply lived it, fighting for our freedoms during the war and building our country as he raised our family after it.
Babba Jee, my Grandfather, a God-fearing Muslim, who prayed five times a day even as he lay on his death bed, helped build the Britain we have come to know and love. This Remembrance Day, in remembering his sacrifices and those of his fellow servicemen, I hope to further my resolve to help build a Britain that our future generations can know and love too.