The British army has acknowledged that a Muslim soldier experienced “anti-Islamic bias” and has settled a significant case of religious discrimination. The soldier, Ebrima Bayo, aged 39 and from Huddersfield, alleged that his fellow soldiers in Cyprus prevented him from properly observing Ramadan while on deployment. Bayo claimed that he was denied hot food during his fast and was coerced into signing a waiver that required him to spend additional time in the gym, under the pretext of maintaining fitness.
Bayo stated, “I believed they were attempting to undermine my willpower. They wanted to make fasting difficult for me, hoping that I would eventually give up.” The former private further described incidents of teasing and harassment by colleagues when he attended Friday prayers during the holy month. He recounted how individuals would mockingly question their attire, asking what they had hidden underneath and why their pockets were full.
These discriminatory incidents occurred in 2017 while Bayo served with the Royal Logistic Corps in Cyprus. Eventually, they led to his decision to leave the army, despite having aspired to this career since his youth. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) initially resisted Bayo’s complaint, and it took him five and a half years to receive an apology and compensation. The apology and acknowledgement came in March after a ruling that Bayo could have his case heard in a public employment tribunal.
The army expressed regret for the “conscious and unconscious anti-Islamic bias within the unit” and acknowledged a “culturally insensitive attitude” among the chain of command. It commended Bayo as an “excellent” soldier and confirmed that he received an undisclosed sum as compensation.
Bayo recounted an incident on the first day of Ramadan in late May 2017 when the only food available for him and a Muslim colleague in the canteen was a bacon and sausage sandwich, despite the chefs’ knowledge of their dietary restrictions. Eventually, a chef provided them with salad and tinned tuna on a paper plate. While junior ranks were denied access to hot meals after 6 pm, soldiers returning late from patrols were still served warm food. Bayo and his colleague, however, were only given cold food, with one incident particularly highlighting the discrimination.
“On one occasion, when we returned from patrol, everyone else was accounted for and received a hot meal except me. Their plates were hot, while mine was left in the fridge,” Bayo revealed.
Bayo also described how he was singled out for an identity check upon returning from Friday prayers outside the base at the Ledra Palace hotel in Nicosia, while other soldiers were allowed to pass without scrutiny. He mentioned that Christian troops were provided with a vehicle to attend church on Sundays.
Based on his experience and the way his complaint was initially handled and subsequently contested by the MoD over an extended period, Bayo asserted that he believed the British army to be institutionally racist. Emma Norton, Bayo’s solicitor from the Centre for Military Justice, who received support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, stated that Bayo would not have pursued a discrimination claim if the army had engaged constructively when he first raised his concerns in autumn 2017.
“Instead, they outright dismissed his complaint, forcing him to appeal and then relentlessly attempted to have the case dismissed through their lawyers for years. This behaviour does not indicate an organisation genuinely interested in learning from its mistakes,” Norton remarked.
Originally from the Gambia, a Commonwealth country that has traditionally provided recruits for the British army, Bayo joined in 2004 and served full-time for six years before becoming a reservist. He re-enlisted for full-time service in Cyprus, hoping to revive his lifelong dream of pursuing a career in the military. Bayo mentioned his grandfather’s service in World War II and the influence it had on him