Pilgrimage to the House of Allah and the Hijaz Conflict – Part II

MAGAZINE: EDITION AUGUST 2020

ISLAMIC HISTORY • THE FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM

Sharif Hussein bin Ali, King of the Hijaz, Amman, 1921. His son, Emir Abdullah, who subsequently was installed as the king of the newly founded British mandate of Transjordan (later Jordan), is in the background. | The Library of Congress

This is the second part of a three-part series penned by Hazrat Mirza Bashirrudin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), Second Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in June 1925.

Translated into English for the first time by Shahzad Ahmed for The Review of Religions Translation Team.

The Review of Religions takes full responsibility for any error in translation.


In the previous article, I expressed my opinion in regards to the Hajj, and that in light of the current circumstances, it would be against the dictates of the shariah [Islamic law] to travel for the Hajj this year. Although the danger is not such that it could be said that every single person will definitely suffer, it is certainly the case that the likelihood of [some] people suffering is extremely high. It is also quite possible that this suffering could lead to the deaths of hundreds of people, or perhaps irreparably damage their physical and mental well-being. In such circumstances, the Hajj not only ceases to become obligatory, it is in fact considered undesirable. Those who are encouraging [Muslims to travel for Hajj] are ignoring the spirit of the shariah and its true essence. I am particularly astounded that those who are today insisting on the obligation of Hajj were the very same people who, a few years ago, declared that the situation in Makkah was precarious and that people should not go for Hajj. The reason for this was that at that time, Makkah was under the rule of Sharif Ali, and hence they wanted to harm him in some way. Thus, observing their attitude in these two separate instances reveals that they are not urging people to go for Hajj for the sake of the obligation of Hajj, but rather for purely political motives. This is an extremely shameful act and is akin to making one’s faith a child’s play.

After expressing my opinion in relation to the travel for Hajj this year, I also wished to say something about the conflict in Hijaz. This is because the issue of the rule of Hijaz is one that affects all the sects who claim to be Muslims, irrespective of whether they are Ahmadi or non-Ahmadi.

When the Ottoman Empire entered into the First World War, the Entente, or Allied Forces, that is, Britain, France and Italy, tried to persuade the Arabs to join them and end their support for the Ottomans. They had three reasons for this:

Firstly, this would weaken the strength of the Ottomans, since they would need to assign part of their army to battle against the Arabs. Specifically, they believed that since the route to Egypt passes through Arab lands, Egypt would therefore be protected as a result.

Secondly, most of the Ottomans’ grain came from Arab lands, that is, from Iraq and Syria.  Thus, by having the support of the Arabs, the Allied Forces hoped that the Ottomans would find it difficult to obtain grain and other provisions.

Thirdly, the Allied Forces thought that by having the Arabs join with them, the Muslim world would no longer sympathise with and support the Ottomans since the inhabitants of Makkah and Madinah would be on the Allied side.

Because, under the new phase of the Ottoman government [1] the Arabs were treated cruelly, by preventing them from holding any significant offices, seeking to wipe out the Arabic language and stopping the aid they used to receive from Sultan Abdul-Hamid Khan [2] [ruler of the Ottoman empire], the Arabs were already aggrieved.  After negotiations with Syrian leaders and the representatives of the Sharif of Makkah, the Arabs ultimately agreed to join with the Allied Forces on the condition that they would be allowed to form their own government and thereby unite all the Arabs once again. Since the Sharif of Makkah was the only one who could actively engage in battle, he was given hope – and in fact himself personally desired as well – to be appointed as the sovereign ruler of the Arabs. After entering this agreement, Sharif Hussein, the Sharif of Makkah, aligned with the Allied Forces and declared war against the Ottomans. This happened in June 1916, when in Kut [a city in modern-day Iraq], a famous British army general, Major General Townshend had to surrender before the Ottomans, along with his entire army [known as the Siege of Kut] and at a time when the Ottoman forces were generally gaining victory in the region. Therefore, for the Arabs to have joined the Allied Forces at such a time proved that they were very serious about acquiring their freedom. It also shows that Arab support for the Allied Forces was a great sacrifice, and that it became incumbent upon the Allied Forces to be grateful.

Soldiers of the Sharifian Army during the Great Arab Revolt of 1916-1918 carrying the flag of the revolt. They are pictured in northern Yanbu, the Hijaz (present-day Saudi Arabia). Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

The result of this rebellion was that although it provided some benefit to the Allied Forces, it did not bring about the advantages that they had envisaged: not only were they unable to gain the mass sympathy of the Muslims, [the Muslims] in fact began to oppose them even more and also condemned the Arabs as well. While apart from a very small number of people and a few tribes, most of the people in Syria and Iraq could not openly do anything [against the Turks], it certainly diverted the attention of the Ottomans, who had to give up the prospect of attacking Egypt because the rear of the Ottoman army would have been left exposed.

In my view, rebellion is rebellion, and therefore I have full sympathy with the Turks and consider the actions of the Sharif of Makkah to be extremely wrong and shameful. However, despite this, I also believe that this happened in accordance with the will of God Almighty because as a result of this, the sacred sites [of Muslims] were safeguarded from any attack from the Allied Forces. Having become utterly exhausted in the last two years of the war, Italy wanted to end it as quickly as possible. Therefore, it was well-nigh possible that since it occupied Massawa [a port in Eritrea] which is directly opposite the coast of Arabia, it could have sent some of its army across to Jeddah and seized control of the holy sites. With Italy’s current moral standards, one shudders at the mere thought [of such an event transpiring]. Hence, I have always believed that the Arabs joining the Allied Forces in fact became a means of protecting the holy sites and thus should be considered one of the plans of Almighty God. I am astounded at those same Muslim leaders who demand swaraj (self-government or independence) and call for governance according to the will of the people and yet are vehemently against the Arab revolt. If the citizens of India have the right to choose for themselves as to how their country should be governed, then why do the Arabs not have the same right of for self-rule? For them to hurl abuse at the Arabs is such sheer contradiction between what they claim and what they practise that every rational mind is left stunned.

In June 1916, the Sharif of Makkah declared war against the Ottomans. After the war, Emir Faysal bin Hussein was given rule over the region of Syria; the region between Palestine and Iraq was given to Abdullah bin Sharif Hussein and the rule over Hijaz was handed to the Sharif of Makkah himself. [3] During this time, France demanded control of Syria which the British agreed to. Because France did not want the people of Syria to seek independence, while Emir Faysal had very ambitious plans to unite all the Arabs under one single rule, a disagreement arose between him and the French representatives. Emir Faysal was forced to leave Syria and in exchange, the British made him the ruler of Iraq. This was a great political manoeuvre against the future aspirations of the Arabs because now the idea of Syrian independence had been completely dismissed and without Syria, the Arabs could never be united. This is because amongst all the Arabs, the Syrians are the most educated and have the potential for progress. In addition, their land is extremely fertile. Although the land of Iraq is also fertile, the British had so many interests deeply tied with Iraq that it could not be expected – and still cannot be expected – that it will be able to attain its freedom any time soon and thus succeed in uniting the Arabs. Secondly, the Iraqis are quite behind in education and they also lack the spirit to unite the Arabs.

The change in circumstances had another impact which was that Emir Faysal realised that his aspirations to unite all the Arabs had now become nothing more than a distant dream. Also, he was now indebted to the British for their favour upon him because when he had lost everything, the British gave him sovereignty, and if nothing else, they granted him the mere title of a king. Thus, his once free-spirited soul had now become enslaved to his circumstances and within the space of just a few years, his initial determination and zeal which he displayed was replaced with feelings of resigned consolation instead.

As a result of this, Sharif Hussein’s most astute and intelligent son, Emir Faysal, had to bid farewell to all his future ambitions and remain content with a monarchy that was nothing more than a mere title. Another adverse impact was that when Ibn Saud, Sultan of Najd, learnt of Emir Faysal being appointed as the King of Iraq, it further stoked his hatred for Emir Faysal. As will be detailed further on, the families of the Sultan of Najd and the Sharif of Makkah had a generations-old enmity between them. Thus, whenever the question arose of uniting the Arabs under the rule of the Sharifs, it naturally displeased him, because it would mean not only that this rival family would be granted authority, but also it would control his land and he would have to live under their rule. Thus, it brought him great joy to learn that Emir Faysal had been forced out of Syria. Moreover, the Allies, in direct contravention of their promise, divided the Arab land into various mandates, failing to make any effort to establish a single unified government, nor allowing the Arabs to do so, which again pleased Ibn Saud. In fact, to gain further surety, Ibn Saud had signed a treaty with the British. The general conditions of the treaty were that he would not attack Hijaz, but as a direct consequence, this also meant that his region would also be safeguarded from any attack by the British or any other Arab government. In return for this arrangement, he received several hundreds of thousands of rupees from the [British] government, which he received through the British consul in Bahrain and through which he maintained friendly relations [with the British].

Thus, the weakening state of the Sharifs and Emir Faysal’s appointment as the king of Iraq pleased Ibn Saud. Sultan Ibn Saud knew that Iraq at the time was under British influence and was extremely vulnerable and therefore did not have the capacity to attack Najd. However, at the same time, he realised that Iraq would eventually gain strength one day and, having received military training from the British, would learn the art of warfare and also become wealthy. If Iraq and Hijaz were to join forces and launch an attack on Najd, the Sultan of Najd would have found it extremely difficult to defend himself because the area of Najd is between Iraq and Hijaz. However, he could not do anything at the time because firstly, he could not attack Iraq as that would be akin to attacking the British, which he did not possess the strength for. Likewise, he could not attack Hijaz because he was receiving money from the British on the condition that he would not attack Hijaz. However, he was very shrewd and so decided that while he couldn’t attack either Iraq or Hijaz, he could, at the very least, prepare for an attack. And so, during that period, he began great preparations to train a huge army, and all the while, the Emir of Hijaz remained content, trusting in the support of the British.

Al-Fazl, 9 June 1925

Sharif Hussein bin Ali | Wikipedia Commons


Endnotes

  1. This refers to the Second Constitutional Era (1908-1918) of the Ottoman Empire, established after the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, which saw the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) taking direct control of the empire.
  2. Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan, also known as Abdul Hamid II, was the 34th ruler of the Ottoman Empire. Born in 1842 in Constantinople, he became sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1876.
  3. Emir Faysal bin Hussein and Abdullah bin Hussein were the sons of Sharif Hussein of Makkah.

 

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