The End of the Ottoman Empire

Bill Allison at Ideofact is discussing the idea that we are still finding the Great War (1914-18). He discusses the effect of the end of the Ottoman rule on radical Islamists. It is a typically great series of posts (see this post for the series). In his latest post on the subject, Bill refers to Ubaid at Ublog discussing Bernard Lewis’ new book The Crisis of Islam:

In the introduction, he [Lewis] talks about a videotape made public in October 2001, in which Osama bin Laden refers to some event that occured eighty years ago, and which was purportedly a cornerstone in Islamic political history. The event referred to was the breaking up of the Ottoman empire and according to Lewis, though Western observers had some time figuring out the allusion, it was something plainly evident to most Muslims. I cannot speak for Muslims of other nationalities, but I can speak as an Indian, and I’m very positive about this, Mr.Lewis would be hard pressed to find too many Indians of the Islamic faith who would know off hand of bin Laden’s reference. it is uncertain if this can be explained as evidence of ignorance or of an identity independent from that of the larger Islamic body, a more likely reason for me is my belief that radical Islam is intrinsically a geographical and political, rather than an Islamic problem per se. [edited for capitalization — Zack]

I think Ubaid is right here, and I don’t know many people who got that reference either before it was pointed out to them by the media. But we can’t say that the end of the Ottomans had no effect on Indian Muslims. Even though the Ottomans had never ruled India nor were accepted as Caliphs by the Muslim rulers of India, there was a movement against the stripping away of the Ottoman empire by the Birtish (who were the colonial power in India). This movement was started by some Muslim leaders and was joined by Gandhi in return for cooperation for his non-cooperation campaign against the British. In a way, it was more a campaign against the British than for the Ottomans. It was much weakened after Gandhi suspended his non-cooperation campaign due to some violence. Finally, Ataturk’s abolition of the caliphate ended the Khilafat movement.

Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say about the Khilafat movement:

force that arose in India in the early 20th century as a result of Muslim fears for the integrity of Islam. These fears were aroused by Italian (1911) and Balkan (1912—13) attacks on Turkey —- whose sultan, as caliph, was the religious head of the worldwide Muslim community —- and by Turkish defeats in World War I. They were intensified by the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920), which not only detached all non-Turkish regions from the empire but also gave parts of the Turkish homeland to Greece and other non-Muslim powers.

A campaign in defense of the caliph was launched, led in India by the brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali and by Abul Kalam Azad. The leaders joined forces with Mahatma Gandhi’s Noncooperation campaign for Indian freedom, promising nonviolence in return for his support of the Khilafat movement. In 1920 the movement was marred by the hijrat, or exodus, from India to Afghanistan of about 18,000 Muslim peasants, who felt that India was an apostate land. It was also tarnished by the Muslim Moplah rebellion in South India in 1921, the fanatic excesses of which deeply stirred Hindu India. Gandhi’s suspension of his movement and his arrest in March 1922 weakened the Khilafat movement still further. It was further undermined when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk drove the Greeks from western Asia Minor in 1922 and deposed the Turkish sultan in the same year; finally it collapsed when he abolished the caliphate altogether in 1924.

I believe the Khilafat movement did not have a big effect on the Indian Muslim population.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. there is a distinction between the hard-core islamist faithfull-the ulema and religiously learned people-and the common folk. the former are the dictators-the abangan (syncretists) of indonesia are giving way to the santri (orthodox muslims), but the latter started out among the citified learned merchants. these groups are early adopters.

    for instance bengali islam was far more syncretic before the 19th and early 20th centuries-with a great deal of commonality with folk hinduism.

    literacy and self-knowledge often leads to less tolerance….

  2. hello,

    thank you for further carrying on this discussion!

    you are right in saying that the khilafat movement did not have much of an impact on indian muslims. in the broad fight for independence it may have been perceived as another tool to jab the britishers with. the indian muslim population, however, evidently did not quite identify with the cause of the ottoman empire. the khilafat movement itself hardly receives much mention in our school history text books.



  3. It doesn’t seem like the end of the caliphate had more than a symbolic effect. Things had gotten pretty bad even before the caliphate was officially ended. So I’ve never understood why this is supposed to be some great historical landmark or how things would magically become better if we went back to the caliphate in name only that existed at that time.

  4. Ubaid: You are right. I think the Khilafat movement gets more play in our school “history” books though, but it’s still not much.

    My point was actually to show that even though Indian Muslims did not have any relationship with the Ottoman caliphate, the combination of the independence struggle against the British and the symbolic value of a caliphate being dismantled by the British (resulting in more Muslim colonial lands for the British) did create a movement in India.

    A-M: The Ottomans even at the peak of their power never ruled Iran and lands east of it. In fact, I think no one recognized them as caliphs either.

    The Arabs (with the exception of Egypt) though were ruled by them till the end. So they might have been affected by its fall.

  5. The Ottoman Empire was just that: an empire. I think Muslims should stop painting rosy images of our dynastic Caliphal rulers, because many of them were simply tyrants.

    The Ottomans, especially the latter rulers, were crude and ruthless.

    Further, wasn’t the India Khilafah movement just a reactive movement, rather a proactive movement? Seems to sum a lot of modern Muslim activism, sadly.

    As for Razib’s hardcore Islamists being the Ulema, I think that is far too broad a brush. Many Islamists, or modern Muslim political activists react against what they see as the inactivity and subservience of the Ulema class to the political rulers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Classicalist Ulema (i.e. Traditional School Orthodoxy) actually wanting to be associated with the modern Islamist resurgence.

  6. This is somewhat off-topic, but I’ve occasionally argued that Israel is the last remnant of the Ottoman Empire. Israeli law treats Arabs as religious rather than national minorities – it funds Arab schools and cultural institutions through religious communities and gives Christian, Muslim and Druze religious authorities power over family matters. This is directly inherited from the Ottoman millet system and, in my opinion, creates as many problems as it solves. For instance, there is no official body to speak for all Israeli Arabs, so concerns of the community as a whole must be presented through NGOs.

    Israel – the last Habsburg state and the last Ottoman state. I’ll have to write this up sometime.

  7. A-M: The Ottomans even at the peak of their power never ruled Iran and lands east of it.

    sunni islam did recognize ottomans as their head-and the relationship to india was closer than you might think. like the turkish lands-north indian sunni islam was of the hanafi school. i also believe that orders that had strong turkish flavors like the naqsbandiyah were active in india.

    the moghul polity was in some ways a rival of the ottoman one-but they general cooperated against safavid persia. part of it was that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but the sunni nature of both of these dynasties as opposed to shia persia was not inconsequential.

    during the reign of akbar and afterward the moghuls toyed with the idea of challenging the ottoman sultan’s title of caliph, ergo the spiritual supremacy of the sunni world in juxtposition to their safavid shia enemies to the west and to a lesser extent shia polities in the deccan like the bahami sultanate. this presupposes that india to some extent did recognize the ottoman claim-even while it disputed it.

    the ottoman transnational influence can be attested to by the fact that the strict muslim sultanate of ache in northern sumatra appealed for help from the turks to combat the europeans entering their waters….

    in sum-i do think that the dar-al-islam does have a civilizational conception-one of the reasons that nationalism is hard in some muslim countries and why islamists see themselves as transnational. additionally, this was preceded by the spiritual if not temporal suzerainty by the ottomans turks during their caliphal period (after the conquest of the mamlukes and the rejection of the last abbassid pet caliph in egypt).

  8. i still am unable to accept the assertion that the ottoman empire was of much consequence in the collective muslim consciousness. in the gulf region, maybe, in the indian subcontinent, well we had our own sultanate right? i mean the mughals were a large and strong enough power, and are much more a part of our culture and history than the ottomans. in fact i can think of no single influence specifically of the ottoman empire in, as an example, my life.

    admittedly my knowledge of islamic history borders on being inconsequential but these opinions are based on current and personal experience.

  9. i think on the individual level you are correct-and lewis’ assertion that the consciousness of the ottoman times in the average muslim-on-the-street is a bald-faced lie at worst and hyperbole at best. nevertheless lewis is right when he hints that temporal pluralism was a trickier concept in islamic political culture than in christendom.

    also, a minor off-topic point, all the politics around 1600 in the main axis of the islamic world-the ottomans, the safavids and the moghuls were of turkic origin. the savafids originate from a turkish dervish order around tabriz and the moghuls were timurids that always attempted to reconquer their central asian homelands.

  10. Razib: My understanding is that the Umayyads and Abbassids were considered the spiritual leaders of the Muslim world as well by the other rulers, but the Ottomans were not. In fact, I think the Ottomans didn’t claim the caliphate until very late (when they were in decline).

  11. additionally, this was preceded by the spiritual if not temporal suzerainty by the ottomans turks during their caliphal period

    I agree with razib. In countries as far flung as Somalia and Malaysia, where the Ottomans never had a military or political presence, Friday khutbas would include duas blessing the Ottoman Caliph. This has persisted even up to the present day in areas where arabic portions of the khutba are memorized and repeated unchanged.

  12. Missed some of this. Disagree, based on family history.

    By grandmother still tells me how the female members of her family gave up their gold (which, for South Asian women, is very important) for the Khilafat movement, and support of the Khalifa. (As Zack said, Khilafat was very important in the broader freedom struggle — but’s that s a separate story)

    I think Ubaid is right that it may not be taught in schools — but that may be becuase the movement failed. The ‘71 war is not really taught in Pakistani schools, for obvious reasons.

    (I agree with Thebit, Razib, that your split between common Muslims and Ulema is too simplistic. Traditional Ulema have no truck with modern political Islamism. And non-Ulema ‘ordinary’ Muslims are sometimes big supporters of Islamism e.g university student support of Jamaat-i-Islaami).

  13. e.g university student support of Jamaat-i-Islaami).

    Ah I have some stories about that. Soon, I promise!

  14. Ubaid: The Ottoman empire was not directly of any consequence for Indian Muslims, that is true. However, The Khilafat movement was about not ending the Ottoman caliphate. So there was some sentimental attachment. I think it was a mix of dislike of British rule in India, affinity with Muslims in the Ottoman lands and not wanting the British empire to rule over the center of Muslim power.

  15. Israel – the last Habsburg state and the last Ottoman state.

    Interesting. I am looking forward to this post from you, Jonathan (like all your other posts.)

  16. Bin Gregory: I don’t have any sources to look at right now, but my understanding was that the Friday khutbas for Umayyads and Abbassids were common all over the Muslim world, but that was not true of the Ottomans. All major kingdoms (e.g. the Mughals in India) did not accept the spiritual suzerainty of the Ottomans. In India, if I remember correctly, it was only after Aurangzeb when the Mughals were weak that regional rulers started recognizing the Ottomans as caliphs. I’ll have to look it up though.

  17. i also believe that orders that had strong turkish flavors like the naqsbandiyah were active in india.

    This is definitely true. Every Naqshbandi silsilah or chain of transmission that I have seen passes through Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi, the mujaddid of the first milennium.

  18. The Khilafat movement is indicative of the inferiority complex Subcontinental Muslims had about their origins. There is no doubt that the Ottoman Caliphate had a sway over the masses of the Sub-continent…

    Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the Mopillah rebellion in Kerala have to do with the demise of the Ottoman Empire (naturally it also had to do with the class dynamics of Keralan society where the Syrian Christians and Hindus-two sects in particular- dominated the population to the ire of the Muslim peasants).

    The “Khilafat” movement, a disgrace to Sub-continental Muslims, led to the thousands of middle class Sindhis and Punjabis being unfortunately duped into making the hijrah (I believe that when a land is no longer safe for Muslims, they must either wage jihah or emigrate to a more friendly locale) to Turkey to restore the Khilafat. These families sold all of their possessions and were mired in Afghanistan, when the Emir barred further emigration. A good example pan-Islamism again took a back seat in favour of more parochial interests.

    Interestingly Gandhi was in favour of the Khilafat movement and held it to be a signal that India Muslims had a greater “Muslim” consciousness than their co-adherents of the West.

    I am very grateful that the Muslim League managed to avoid contamination from the Islamic movements of the early 20th century.

  19. As-Salamu Alaykum,

    There is a growing need on part of The Muslim Ummah to butress, both the Saudis and western imperialism and other extremists. Regardless of the errors that were committed by the Ottoman Empire, we must as Muslims work towards the return of of central authority in Islam.

  20. The Khilafat movement, was a quixotic response by Indian Muslims to a distant dream. When the people directly affected by Caliphate – the Turkish people were not bothered by it, what was so touching about it that Indian Muslims had to become the leading force for restoration of Caliphate? Even in home of Islam, Arabia – as it was called then – there was so much hatred for Turks as Turkey ruled it then.

    Also, one of the features that most people do not know, even Mohammed Ali Jinnah – creator of Pakistan – was not in favour of Khilafat movement. He had opposed association of Indian National Congress ( INC ),which had fallen under the spell of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Jinnah’s stand stemmed from the fact that Caliphate was a religious issue and INC being a political organisation, concerned with political sovereignty for India must not associate with religious issues.

    However, the most horrendous impact of the Khilafat movement was the so called Moplah rebellion in Malabar, Kerala in south India. Movement ostensibly started as a protest against British and a rebellious Khilafat Kingdom was established in a few towns and villages as a mark of protest. However,it soon acquired the shape of religious pogrom against the Hindu landlords. With over 3000 Hindus killed, maimed and raped, it was the darkest chapter and possibly the weakest link in the Hindu – Muslim unity spoken about by MK Gandhi.

    The atrocities were noted across political spectrum. Even M K Gandhi was forced to acknowledge these in his paper New India. B R Ambedkar, the legal luminary who went on to draft Indian Constitution wrote that if this was the price to be paid for Hindu-Muslim Unity, it was not worth it. Mrs Annie Besant, the leading Home Rule activist in India had gone on to write that hopefully, never again will there be another experiment with the Khilafat Kingdoms.

    The Khilafat movement and Moplah rebellion ( sic ) need to be seen in proper perspective and not glorified to wish away the warts that grew on the glowing face of Indian Freedom Movement.

  21. Here it goes the way I understood how the Ottoman empire fall, before the first world war there were six major powers in Europe, Germany, France, England, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire. During first world war, Ottoman empire is reluctantly pulled in the side of Germany (this is different story to discuss on). After the defeat Britain and France carved the Ottoman empire regions. During this time British allowed the Jews to come back to holy land. At the same time in Arabia there were three players Saud IbunuAbdulAziz in riyadh dessert, Makkah is ruled by Sherif-ul_hussain (Arab Garrison) appointed by Khalifa from Istanbul and Madina is controlled by Turkish Garrison. Lawrence of Arabia went to both Riyadh and Makka with Diabolical cunning, offered 7 million British pound for rebelling against Khalifa from Istanbul and offered 5000 pounds a month to Abdul Aziz for nuetrality if the fight breaks khalifa and British. British with the Great deception worked really well and final result Khalifa lost control of Makka, if you loose control of Makka then you no longer a Khalifa.

    At the same time Greek army is poised to attack the vulnerable Turkish home land, there was young turk in Army whose name was Mustafa Kamal, under his command they defeated Greek army and driven out the British (it was a convenient defeat). Overnight he got popular in Turky and got a nick name Atatu (The Great Turk).

    Mustafa Kama stripped all the powers of Khalifa and gave only the religious authority, because he has secular thought, one of British Product. At the same time Indian Muslims saw this whole designs of British unfolding and formed Khilafath movement to basically to rebel against British and to RESTORE Khilafath. Since MK Gandhi was also joined this movement, it was become a big headache for British, So British gave an order to Mustafa Kamal to abolish the Khalifa rank completely. This is how the British achieved the Goal of abolishing Khalifa.

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