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Ottoman Caliph

The Ottoman sovereign was known primarily by the usage of the West, as the Sultan, meaning strong, hard, or solid; and Grand Seignior (lord). He was also known, especially among his Mussulman subjects as Padishah, "father of kings" or "powerful king," Caliph, "successor of the prophet," Zil-allah, "shadow of God," Alem-punah, "refuge of the world," and Imam-ul-Moslemin, "pontiff of Mussulmans", Hunkiar, or "Manslayer". These titles were gradually conceded him, but unknown to the earlier kaliphs, who aspired to no divine honors, holding themselves merely to be "the servants of the servants of God."

The Caliph [1,800,000], khalifa [1,720,000], khalif [174,000], kaliph [81,600], calif [75,500] was supposed to reign by divine right would state the doctrine mildly. By devout Mussulmans he was believed to be the divinely constituted head of true believers everywhere. Many of the learned doctors of Islam even taught that he could do no wrong. Still some sultans had been deposed and put to death under the leadership of orthodox revolutionists, which showed that in Turkey as elsewhere religion is stronger than the sentiment of loyalty. The Ottoman government might be characterized as a despotism tempered by rebellions and assassinations, but such an epigrammatic description the definition is more pointed than truthful.

Othman gave his name to the dynasty, but his greater son was in reality its first sovereign emir - the modest title of the reigning prince till Bayazid, half a century later, accepted from the Abbasside Caliph of Cairo the higher patent of Sultan. Selim I, who succeeded Bayazid, was born in 1467, succeeded to the throne in 1512, and died in 1520. It is generally assumed that Selim, by the conquest of Egypt, became the first Ottoman caliph, and the submission of the sherif of Mecca gave countenance to that opinion. In 1517, the conquest of Egypt concluded when Toman Bey, the successor of Cansou, was hanged at Cairo. Caliph Motowakkel [Mutawakkel], the last of the Abbassides, was carried to Constantinople, and there forced to renounce his pontificate in favor of the Ottoman sovereign, in whose dynasty the sacred and secular supremacy in Islam had thus since been combined.

Selim I, the second successor of Mahomet, the conqueror of Constantinople in 1453, was girt with the sword of Osman in 1512. Egypt during the previous thirty years had been the scene of anarchy under the later Mamluk sultans, and a section of the population invited Selim to enter the country. He early overthrew the incompetent Mamluks and incorporated Egypt in the Ottoman Empire. According to the Sunni records, Selim at that time was recognised as the only Moslem Sovereign who could restore the historic character of the Caliphate and discharge effectively the duties attached to the office. Accordingly the then Caliph of Cairo in 1517 by a formal deed of assignment transferred the Caliphate to the Ottoman conqueror. In the same year Selim received the homage of the Sharif of Mecca and acquired the right of the guardianship of the Holy Cities. Solemn prayers offered in Medina and Mecca were claimed to have given finality to the right of Selim to become Caliph. Henceforward Constantinople, his seat of government, became the Dar-ul-Khailafat and began to be called by Mahometans " Islambol," "the City of Islam." Thus the Caliphate became the heritage of the Ottoman house.

It is reliably reported that on 06 July 1516, the Holy Relics [Emanet-i-Mukaddese, Holy Treasures = Kutsal Hazineler], including Muhammed's sword, teeth, robe and flag, were sent to Selim from Hedjaz. Mutawakkel was deposed from his rank as the spiritual head of Islam, and Selim was invested with the dignity by the Sheriff of Mecca on 29 August 1517. Mutawakkel himself gave his title to Selim in a ceremony in AyaSofia. [Another less reliable account relates that on becoming master of Egypt, Selim took with him to Constantinople the Abbasside caliph Motowakkel, who, however, returned to Egypt upon the death of Selim in 1520, and resided there until his own death in 1543. According to this story Motowakkel continued to be recognized as caliph, or sovereign, head of Islam, in spirituals, until that event, when the insignia of his office were sent to Solyman the Magnificent, who was thus the first Ottoman caliph.]

Next in sacredness to the Caliph ranked the Sheriff of Mecca ; but the veneration in which he was held by both Sunni and Shiites resulted from his descent from what may be called the Levitical tribe of the Koreish, and his hereditary governorship of the holy city, rather than from any priestly character. At a long remove in veneration below these two half-sacred chiefs of the faith come the Ulema, a body of doctors who expound the Koran and furnish both ministers to the mosques and dispensers of the law. The authority attaching to this great corps in the person of its chief, the Sheikh-ul-Islam, was the only check on the absolute despotism of the sovereign.

As the "successor" and Vicar of the Prophet on earth, he united in the person of the Sultan the sacredness of a pontiff with the authority of a temporal sovereign. The former quality, however, was recognised only by the Sunni, one of the two great sects into which Mohammedanism was divided, the schismatic Shiites - who include the Persians, a portion of the Kurds, the Syrian Metualis, and a few Indian Mussulmans - holding that the succession expired with Hassan the son of Ali, since whom Ommiades, Abbassides, Fatimites, and Ottomans had all alike been usurpers of the title. Besides this great central schism, the Sunni are divided into the four orthodox sub-sects of the Hanafee, the Shafee, the Malekii, and Hambalii - called respectively after the four great doctors of Sunni theology-but these do not differ more widely than the several orders of the Papacy, and created no disturbance of the political unity that reigned within the Ottoman pale. The first predominated in Turkey and the remoter East, the second in Egypt and Syria, and the third in north-western Africa and Morocco, while the fourth - which differs most from the others - included the Wahabees of Central Arabia and a few fanatical sectaries of Nablous and Baghdad.

Abdul Hamid, soon after his accession, attempted to carry out the policy he had most at heart, which was to assert himself as caliph, as Imaum-ul-Muslimin, and to sacrifice all other interests to those of his religion. He resolved to rally the Mohammedan world around the throne of Othman. Choosing the path of faith rather than that of reason, he sent agents throughout the Mohammedan world, inviting the principal imaums to hold a conference with him at Constantinople. He awakened their enthusiasm for a revival of energy in the Moslem faith; but the Arabs, the Persians, the tribes in the interior of Africa, the Mohammedans of India, and the Sultan of Morocco could not be brought to acknowledge the usurper, the man of alien race, - a race unknown to the Arabian Prophet, - as their spiritual head and the Commander of the Faithful. The outcome of the convention must have been no small disappointment to Abdul Hamid, but he never gave up his plan. His Turkish subjects are only a minority in the Mohammedan world. He had his agents at work among all Mohammedans, especially in the sultanates of Central Africa, where it seemed possible to stir up Mohammedan negroes against the Arabs. For the Arabs were all ready to assert the right of their own race to the Caliphate, and if opportunity offerred, to defend it against the Sultan.

When the Ottoman Empire went to war against the Allies in 1914, one of the most dreaded weapon in her armory was the threat of the Jehad or Holy War - power to declare which was vested in the office of the Caliph. But nothing much happened. The Caliph's proclomation of Jehad did not prevent the British Moslems and the French North African troops from fighting against the Central Powers, nor did it hold back the Arabs from their declaration of independence and fighting as Allies of the British in Palestine. The Jehad proved to be a "dud".

A complete recognition of the supremacy of the Sultan was offered by the chief of the Silk Road Uighur city of Kashgarr. This soldier of fortune, who bore the title of Atalik Ghazi, has accepted from the Porte that of Amir which, according to Musalman tradition, expresses the relation between the Commander of the Faithful and a general of his armies. His nephew, Yakub Khan, proceeded to Constantinople for the purpose of establishing a closer relation between the governments, and, on his return, it was publicly announced at the festival of the A'ed Kurban (28th January, 1874) that the Sultan had assumed the protectorate of Kashgar. And application was made a few years since, through the British Government of Cape Colony, on behalf of the Malay settlers, for a Cadi of the true orthodox belief, and the application was graciously acceded to by the government of Constantinople.

Following Ottoman custom, Abdülmecid was confined to the palace until he was 40, during which time his father, Abdülaziz, and three of his cousins reigned. When his fourth cousin took the throne as Mehmed VI in 1918, Abdülmecid became crown prince. He was elected caliph by the Grand National Assembly on Nov. 18, 1922, after the sultanate was abolished. Although the caliphate was severed from all political power, Abdülmecid, a gentle and scholarly man, was the living symbol of Turkey's link to the Islamic-Ottoman past. The forces of tradition and the opponents of Mustafa Kemal's regime rallied around him. Mustafa Kemal, determined to break with the Islamic past, first proclaimed the Turkish Republic (Oct. 29, 1923), and on March 3, 1924, the Grand National Assembly abolished the caliphate. The next day Abdülmecid was exiled.




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