Islam and the UK Arms Trade 

  • 29 April 2021

As Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan, we increase our solidarity and empathy with Muslims across the globe, understanding the importance of community and our collective identity and struggle. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said that the Muslim community is like a body. When one part of the body aches, the entire body feels the pain. This Ramadan, we invite you to share the pain the arms trade causes to Muslims around the world. 

In his recent Easter message, Pope Francis called the strengthening of military weapons and ongoing wars “scandalous” and the UK’s “scandalous” culpability in inflicting this horror is particularly apparent when we consider the consequences for Muslim communities around the world. From weapon sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, arming & supporting Israel, equipping Bahraini forces to subjugate the country’s Shi’a population and lest we forget the UK led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have left their respective communities in ruin.

To date, there are no specific studies that quantify the proportion that the UK arms trade directly or indirectly target Muslims, but when you consider that 60% of UK arms sales from 2010-19 were to countries in the Middle East (UK Defence & Security Exports figures) and the majority of recipients are to dictators who subdue and control their populations, there is certainly a case to be made that UK arms sales disproportionately impact predominantly Muslim populations.

Support of War & Repression

Saudi Arabia remains the UK’s biggest weapons customer whose authoritarian regime impacts both the Saudi people, including the country’s Shia minority – who continue to suffer from decades of sectarian discrimination and economic neglect –  as well as the people of Yemen. To date, the UK government has licensed well over £5.4billion worth of arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition since the bombing in Yemen began 6 years ago that has claimed 233,000 deaths and left millions of children facing malnutrition and disease1.

An “informal British protectorate” until 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rates as one of the UK’s biggest arms customers and was listed by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as the world’s eighth largest importer of weapons in the period from 2015 to 2019.

Despite imprisoning and disappearing human rights defenders, exploiting migrant construction workers and being a leading player in the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen, the UK government continues to lead efforts to increase their supply of weapons having established a permanent British Defence Staff based in Dubai.

Having illegally occupied the Muslim majority Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem for 54 years and the humanitarian abuses that have resulted from Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip including denying the population of food, health and water security, the UK continues to sell arms to Israel.

Recent arms exports from the UK to Israel include technology for aircraft and radar systems and British components are sent to the US to be built into equipment destined for Israel that include Apache helicopters and Head-Up Displays for F-16s both of which have been used by Israel against Palestinian and Lebanese towns and villages.

Since 2014, Egypt has seen some of the worst human rights abuses in modern history. Over 1,300 people were killed whilst protesting in the summer of 2013 and tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned including journalists, human rights defenders and protesters following Egypt’s “Arab Spring”. UK government information shows that the UK has sold Egypt a range of arms that could have been used in the suppression of its citizens, including machine guns and parts for military combat vehicles and military helicopters. Tear gas canisters used against protestors in 2011 have also been shown to have been manufactured in the UK. Furthermore, the country is complicit in providing military support including warships, air-crafts as well as troops to Saudi Arabia for its bombardment of Yemen.

And yet, despite human rights atrocities, repression, torture, sexual abuses, criminalization of free speech including pro democracy rhetoric the UK has designated Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey as key priority markets for future and further arms sales.


Militarised Borders & Islam

The disproportionate impact that the UK’s arms trade has on Muslims across the globe does not stop with the sales of weapons to foreign regimes but is evident in the UK’s “militarisation” of borders, resulting in the deaths of thousands of refugees attempting to seek safety in the UK.

In marking the 10 year anniversary since the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East, it is important to note that not only has it resulted in a bumper decade for UK arms manufacturers – who almost doubled the number of sales of weapons to the Middle East in the five years following the uprisings – but that the uprisings culminated in the largest wave of migrants since World War Two.

British arms manufacturers, supported by successive UK governments, have been able to capitalise from the sales of patrol ships, drones and razor wire fencing, profiting, for a second time, from those fleeing UK made bombs, under the guise of “security”.

The government deployed Watchkeeper drones (previously used in Afghanistan) to fly over the Channel to intimidate and criminalise migrants at a cost of over £1 billion whilst announcing that, due to the pandemic, the UK’s aid budget will be cut to the tune of £2.9bn, resulting in a devastating impact on those suffering in countries that include Syria, Lebanon, South Sudan, Yemen and Libya – all set to lose more than half of their funding, with Yemen losing 59% of its funding.

Islamophobia & the UK Government 

To date, our government has refused to adopt the recommended definition of Islamophobia that states, unequivocally, that it is “rooted in racism”. Furthermore, Hope Not Hate’s submission to the 2020 investigation into race & Islam found that 57%of Conservative Party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims and almost half believe that Islam is a “threat to the British way of life”. 

The use of Prevent as part of the government’s “counter- terrorism” strategy has been critized for fostering racism, stigmatising and criminalising entire Muslim communities and it is therefore within this landscape that we must examine the government’s complicity in human right’s abuses in their support of arming autocratic regimes across the Middle East and enabling the militarisation of  police and repression of citizens. 

What you can do 

CAAT’s work that includes taking the government to court for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, our Stop Arming Saudi and Stop Arming Israel is therefore at the forefront of unearthing and holding the government and arms companies accountable for how the arms trade profits from the oppression of Muslims, both in this country and abroad.

But we need your help and support in order for this work to continue. We know that when we come together as a community, we are powerful. Please sign our open letter demanding an end to UK arms sales for use in the war on Yemen and if you can afford it please donate to support CAAT’s work.

The arms trade has the blood of millions of Muslims on their hands. Join us in holding those involved responsible. 


1UN humanitarian office puts Yemen war dead at 233,000

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