(Jaihoon’s speech given at College on March 14 2001 as part of the Middle East History Course.)
A western critic once wrote that a visitor from Mars who arrived on earth during the sixteenth century would have probably concluded that the world was on the verge of becoming Muslim. No doubt, with the Mughal Empire in the Indian Subcontinent in the East, Safavid Empire in the center and the Ottoman empire in the west, this would be the opinion of every visitor, not just from Mars. Such was the glory, the power and the prosperity enjoyed by these empires.
As any other great empire, the Ottomans had to fight battles one after another in the eighteenth century. Since a big empire, they had as many friends as enemies.
Since some of its territories bordered Europe, many countries like Poland, Russia and Austria had constant tensions with the ottomans. The empire also had vast resources, which lay unexplored. Turkey came to be christened as ‘the sick man of Europe’ by Czar Nicholas I of Russia.
Everyone were waiting for a chance to slice up this last political institution in the world of Islam. Thy waited eagerly to attend the funeral of the last great empire of the East.
Who is a Khalifa?
Shah Waliyullah Dehlavi, the great sociologist, thinker and saint of Delhi, writes in Izalat al Khafa that “Khalifa is the leadership of people united in a commonwealth which comes into existence for the establishment of religion including revival of religious branches of learning, institution of Islamic ritual observances, organization of jihad… marshalling an army, remunerating the combatants, creating a judicial system and enforcing the laws, curbing of crimes… All these functions have to be performed by it as if it were deputizing and representing the Prophet .”
Khalifa in Arabic means successor, representative. In the Holy Quran, God has addressed Mankind as his representative on earth.
The creation of a new type of relationship between the Creator and the creature and the transformation of this bond into the life of the people in order to build a healthy social structure. Such a social setup requires a God given law and a human caliph to actualize the Divine Will.
Concern of Muslims in the fall of earlier Caliphate.
Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi writes that in earlier days the community had great regard for the Caliph and the office he held. When the Caliph Musta’asim Billah died, the Muslims of the locality were greatly grieved. So much that that Sa’adi of Shiraz composed an elegy in his memory:
For it has seen the kingdom of Musta’asim crushed,
The heavens would better shed tears of blood.
Status of Caliph in Islam
In an essay published in the Sociological Review of London in 1908, Dr. Allama Iqbal, the Poet Philosopher of Islam has given an analytical review of the Caliphate system in Islam.
A caliph does not enjoy any place in front of the law. He is like any other citizen of the state. When sued in a court of law, he has to appear in person. When the second Caliph of Islam was accused of misuse of his powers, he appeared in person to justify his stand.
The election of the Caliph
If the son is able enough to succeed his father, then he may become the caliph. But such an appointment is not valid until the community accepts it. Of the 14 Umayyad caliphs, only four of them were successful in appointing their sons as successors. The citizens have right to topple a caliph if he becomes physically or mentally unfit.
Scholars have debated the possibility of dual or multiple caliphates in the world of Islam. Ibn Khaldun, the celebrated Arab sociologist and political thinker, has supported it positively. (ibid)
The concept of state in Islam is much different from that of Europe that believes in the segregation of Religion and state. The state, from the Islamic standpoint, ‘is an endeavor to transform’ the principles of equality, solidarity and freedom into ‘space-time forces’. It is in this sense alone that the state in Islam is a theocracy, not in the sense that is headed by a representative of God. (Reconstruction, pg154).
The Ataturk revolution was a mere reflection of the worn out political ideology of Europe and as such was nothing new.
In 830-850, Turkish mercenaries from Central Asia found in service of Abbasid caliphs. They were exposed to Persian Islamic culture. The term “sultan” (Arabic abstract noun meaning “sovereign authority”) begins to be used to designate rulers. In 1055, Seljuk sultans become rulers in Abbasid Baghdad; two centuries of turmoil is ended and unity restored in eastern Islamic region. Turkish-speaking Muslims raid and settle in area now known as Turkey. 1092, death of Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah and his great vizier, Nizam al-Mulk comes into power. 1258, Mongols conquer Baghdad and bring Abbasid Caliphate to an end.
Later 13th c., Turkish Anatolia fragmented as Mongol control weakens and is withdrawn; many small principalities emerge, one of them led by Osman (Turkish form of the Arabic/Muslim name; European corruption of Osman is Ottoman). He establishes the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Empire was expansionary in nature. They employed the so called millet system, under which non Muslim subjects were divided into religious communities called millets, and granted a considerable degree of autonomy and placed under the direct authority of the leading church official.
As is the fate of any empire, those of decay follow the days of glory. Such a change does not happen all of a sudden. It takes years, and at times centuries, for the transformation to come into sight. A great historian has rightly noted that civilizations were destroyed not from external forces, but due to the internal conflicts within it. This was true for the Ottoman Empire as well.
After Sulayman the magnificent, there were few men of the same ability, training, or experience, and some were incompetent, even mentally defective.
Not only were most inexperienced and incompetent, many were minors under the influence of the Queen Mother. For several decades in the first half of the17th century, women of the palace exercised such influence that the period is called ” The Sultanate of the Women”. And in such a state, the spell of doom was bound to happen.
Misuse of powers.
Bribery, purchase of office, favoritism, nepotism was increasingly getting common. Corruption spread to the provinces where an official would buy his office, then squeeze more taxes from the populace to reimburse himself.
Provincial janissaries sometimes acted as semi-autonomous local rulers, while in Istanbul they become a disruptive force, often in collaboration with . This was like a ottoman reflection of European Feudal system.
Tax was imposed on the peasants to raise funds for the military. This was responsible in part for revolts in Anatolia, abandonment of farm lands, and depopulation of villages; thus the empire experienced a decline in tax revenues despite higher taxes.
The economic aspect played an important role in the downfall the Ottoman Empire. The introduction of new currency forms added to the corruption.
Since the Europeans had consolidated their control of new sea trade routes, they did not have to pass through Ottoman lands. Asian spices were shipped directly to Europe. Goods made in Europe kept flowing into the Ottoman empire and the local made products suffered. The Ottoman Empire’s unfavorable trade balance resulted in an outflow of gold, while European states demanded more favorable trade treaties
The provincial rulers were becoming stronger and they were not attending to the orders from the capital.
The Ottomans were slow in catching up with the scientific developments taking place in Europe fuelled by the Renaissance. The West improved agricultural methods while technology and industry advanced rapidly
Strong, centralized, national monarchies or bureaucratic empires appeared not only in Western Europe but alsoalong the Ottoman frontiers in Central and Eastern.
Nationalism was growing in all parts of the world. Every province began to think of themselves of as a separate nation.
Arabia cherished private ambition of independence. Many other states like Egypt also revolted.
In 1908, a movement called Young Turks emerged in Turkey against the despotic rule of Abdul Hamid. They advocated curbing the power of Monarch and reviving the constitution.
Another group called Committee of Union and Progress also acted as a secret protest society.
The CUP gained influence in the Turkish government once Abdul hamid was deposed. They wanted to implement the identity of Ottomanism as the identity of Turkey.
The final blow to Ottoman glory was the entry to World War and siding with the Germans. The victorious powers Russia, Britain and France shared among themselves the great empire.
The Indian reaction at the Ottoman Decline
While the whole of Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, there were rejuvenative efforts within empire itself. The entire Muslim world lamented the fall of the Ottoman empire. But a more reactionary response arose from Indian subcontinent.
Maulana Muhammad Ali Jawhar, one of the undisputed freedom fighter of Indian freedom struggle also known for his anti-British stance. He had just returned from Britain after completing his graduation from Lincoln College. In 1914, he wrote the thirty-six hour sitting editorial ‘The choice of Turks’ as a reply to the article that appeared in London Times.
When the Balkan Wars began in 1912, he appealed for funds in aid of Turkish victims. He also sent a medical mission. In 1919, he joined the Khilafat movement and Indian National Congress, which added to the popularity of the anti-British sentiment.
Although Maulana’s efforts were concentrated in Northern India, the Khilafat movement saw a better expression in South especially Kerala. It is a folly to think that the Khilafat Movement was the aspiration of a single community in India. There was no single other struggle after 1857 War of Independence which cost so many human lives as the Khilafat movement.
The leaders of the movement included religious scholars, lawyers, religious heads and politicians from different creeds. Khilafat leaders like Ali Musliyar, Kunhammad Haji (who established a short-lived Caliphate in Malabar) are still remembered for their ceaseless struggle against the Imperial power.
Khilafat Movement was India’s reaction at the misdeeds of the Imperial forces in First World War. The movement only helped to strengthen India’s own freedom struggle by drawing in more crowds. It is the British spoon fed historians who misinterpret the Khilafat as the movement of a particular community.
When Muhammad Ail Jawhar appealed for funds to aid the broken empire, even the ladies parted with their valuables to help the suffering brothers and sisters in Turkey. He even traveled to Europe for gathering support for the Khilafat. All his life he fought with his tongue and pen for the restoration of the Caliphate until his death in 1931. He was buried in 1931 and buried near Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Attempts were made many like Muhammad Ali. Even today, many organizations continue aspiring for the bygone Caliphate era. There are websites specifically operating for this purpose. And it is perhaps for such aspirants that the Poet Philosopher says:
“sabaq phir pad sadaqat ka, adalat ka, shuja’at ka
liya jayega tujhse kaam duniya ki imaamat ka”
Relearn the lessons of truth, justice and courage
The world awaits your leadership”.
Note: This is an abridged version of the speech delivered at Sharjah College on March 14 2001 as part of the Middle East History Course. The Muhammad Ali Jawhar section is summarized from Hundred great Muslims by Jamil Ahmad. Turizm.net for Turkish related facts.
Khilafat in MeraWatan: Why?
It is a folly to think that the Khilafat Movement was the aspiration of a single community in India. The leaders of the movement included religious scholars, lawyers, religious heads and politicians from different creeds. Khilafat Movement was India’s reaction at the misdeeds of the Imperial forces in First World War. The movement only helped to strengthen India’s own freedom struggle by drawing in more crowds. It is the British spoon fed historians who misinterpret the Khilafat as the movement of a particular community
Wherefrom the world heard the voice of unity
Wherefrom the Arabian Leader felt the breeze coming
That is my homeland, That is my homeland.
– Allama Iqbal
The Khilafat Leaders in Kerala
It is a folly to think that the Khilafat Movement was the aspiration of a single community in India. The leaders of the movement included religious scholars, lawyers, religious heads and politicians from different creeds.
Muhammad Abdur Rahman Sahib
K. Madhavan Nair
K.P. Keshava Menon
KM Maulavi Sahib
MP Narayana Menon