Ottoman Caliphate

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Standard of the caliph in Turkey in the years 1922–1924

The Ottoman Caliphate was the claim to the all-Islamic caliphate of the Ottoman dynasty , which was officially established for the first time in the constitution of the Ottoman Empire, which was newly introduced in 1876 . The Ottoman sultans had already adopted titles similar to caliphs in the 16th century. In contrast to the West , Sultan Abdülhamid I first appeared as caliph in 1774 . The Ottomans have been complaining since the 19th century that the caliphate had passed from the Abbasids to the Ottomans as early as 1517 . In 1924, two years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Grand National Assembly ended the Ottoman Caliphate.

Transfer of the caliphate to the Ottomans

When the Ottoman caliphate began is a matter of dispute. According to the official Ottoman history, this caliphate of the Ottomans began as early as 1517, when the Ottoman sultan Selim I conquered Syria and Egypt and defeated the local sultanate of the Mamluks . In their capital Cairo , titular caliphs from the Abbasid dynasty overthrown by the Mongols in Baghdad in 1258 had resided since 1261/62 - as a kind of puppet of the Mamluks .

According to the Ottoman account, Sultan Selim had the last Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil III, who was in office in Cairo without any real powers, after 1517 . (1508–1516, again 1517) to officially transfer the caliphate to him. If so, this step would have had its decisive justification in the outstanding military position of power of the Ottoman Empire , which it undoubtedly possessed among all Islamic states between the 16th and early 18th centuries, because a genealogical descent from the Prophet could have been Do not claim Ottomans for yourself. Without a publicly effective proclamation or ceremony, which would then also have been reflected in non-Ottoman chronicles, such a transfer would have been pointless, but Ottoman sources do not report such a public proclamation.

It seems certain that the last Abbasid caliph was brought from Cairo to Istanbul in 1517, after Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman sultan , where traces of the Abbasids are lost in the following years (after 1543 at the latest), however, as is that of the Abbasids in general. The transfer of the caliph to Istanbul could be interpreted as imprisonment, but also as the initial intention of the Ottomans to use him as titular caliph in a similar way as the Mamluks had done in Cairo up to now. However, sooner or later that intention was apparently abandoned.

Representation and political benefit

The Ottoman sultans have not explicitly used the title "caliph" since Selim I. However, as early as the 16th century they seem to have assumed the title, pointing in this direction, of “commander of the believers” and “successor of the prophet as ruler of the world”; The Sherif of Mecca had also given Selim I the honorary title of "Protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina" in 1517. Since then, these three titles have had a prominent - but never the first - place in the great rulership of the Ottoman sultans.

In relation to the West, Sultan Abdülhamid I first appeared as caliph in the negotiations at the Peace of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774 - with the claim to be accepted as head of the entire Sunni world in order to gain diplomatic weight. In the treaty, the Sultan was formally granted the right to be the protector of the Muslims in Russia and the Muslims in Crimea .

It was not until 1876 that the claim to the all-Islamic caliphate was officially enshrined in the newly introduced constitution of the Ottoman Empire , which was effectively suspended in 1878 and fully valid again in 1908 . The sultans Abdülhamid II (1876–1909) and Mehmed V (1909–1918) then tried to assert this claim in everyday political life: Abdülhamid wanted to use the title of caliph as an Islamic integration factor for the empire threatened with collapse, Mehmed as a propagandistic motive to spark a pro-Ottoman Islamic uprising in the colonial empires of the war opponents in World War I. Both had little success; especially the appeal of the Ottoman sultan-caliph to all Muslims to jihad against the powers of the Entente ( France , Great Britain and Russia ) had little effect.

Abolition of the caliphate

Shortly before the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the capital Istanbul was occupied by English troops. Under pressure from the occupiers, the Sultan and Caliph punished those Ottoman military commanders who had resisted the occupation by English, French, Italian and Greek troops with the death penalty. Mustafa Kemal , who was to be given the surname “Ataturk” by parliamentary resolution in 1934, was one of these military commanders . This "stab in the back" by the highest secular and religious authority played a major role in the later decision on the future of the caliphate.

After the sultanate was abolished and a decision on the person of the caliph was pending, Mustafa Kemal Mehmed VI preferred . , while Kâzım Karabekir favored Abdülmecid II . But Mehmed VI. fled before this decision on November 17, 1922 on board the English warship HMS Malaya . The most promising candidate now was Abdülmecid II. Mustafa Kemal invited him to Ankara in the hope that he would strengthen the struggle for liberation and independence . But Abdülmecid declined the invitation because he didn't want to cause a family dispute.

Mehmet Vehbi Efendi, director of the Directorate for Religious Affairs newly established by the Ankaran counter-government, issued a fatwa , according to which Mehmed VI. through his flight he forfeited the right to the caliphate and a new caliph had to be elected. On November 18, 1922, an application for the removal of Mehmed VI. adopted as caliph in the Grand National Assembly . On the same day, the National Assembly voted on the next caliph. 162 votes were cast. Abdülmecid II was elected with 148 votes. 3 votes were given to Selim, the eldest son of Abdülhamid II , and 2 votes to his brother Abdürrahim. 9 MPs abstained. Mustafa Kemal let the newly elected caliph, through Refet Bele , be informed of his now severely limited powers. So he was only allowed to call himself Halife-i Mueslimîn and not claim any other titles. In a declaration addressed to all Muslims, he should also state that the model of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and Government is the most suitable system of government for the Turkish people and the entire Islamic world. After the election, the Presidium of the National Assembly sent a delegation to Istanbul to introduce the new caliph to his office, to congratulate him and to hand over the relics of Muhammad . The delegation consisting of 19 members presented the relics to Abdülmecid II on November 24, 1922 in a ceremony.

Abdülmecid but did not agree with limiting his role, insisting, in addition to the title of "Servant of the Holy Places," -şerifeyn Haremeyni'ş Hadimü'l to lead as well as Friday prayers a military uniform in the tradition of Mehmed II. With a To wear turban. But Mustafa Kemal refused. After the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, there were repeated rumors of the abolition of the caliphate, Abdülmecid's resignation and general criticism of the new system of government. Some members of the National Assembly expressed themselves similarly critical of the press and demonstratively sought the proximity of the caliph. Almost at the same time, a letter addressed to the then Prime Minister İsmet İnönü , in which Aga Khan III. spoke out in favor of maintaining and continuing the caliphate. The letter was published by the Turkish newspapers Tanin, İkdam and Tevhidi Efkar as evidence of the republicans' efforts to abolish it before it was delivered to Inönü. İnönü then initiated a parliamentary assessment of the role of the caliphate and a legal investigation into the behavior of the newspapers.

On March 2, 1924, the parliamentary faction of the ruling Halk Fırkası met to vote on three bills that had been introduced the day before. After long debates, Law No. 431 was passed on March 3rd, which finally abolished the caliphate and provided for the expulsion of all members of the House of Osman from Turkey. The law was based on a proposal from Siirt MP Şeyh Saffet Efendi .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: Nutuk . Vol II, İstanbul, 1975, pp. 297-309
  2. ^ Uğur Mumcu : Kazım Karabekir Anlatıyor . Tekin Yayınevi. Ankara 1990. pp. 40-70.
  3. ^ Asım Gündüz: Hatıralarım . İstanbul, 1971. pp. 42-43.
  4. Naşit Hakkı Uluğ: Halifeliğin Sonu . İstanbul, 1975. pp. 85f.
  5. Naşit Hakkı Uluğ: Halifeliğin Sonu . İstanbul, 1975. p. 9.
  6. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: Nutuk . Volume III, Belgeler. İstanbul, 1973. B. 265, pp. 1251-1252
  7. Turk Parlamento Tarihi. 1919-1923. Vol. 1. Ankara, 1994. pp. 286-287
  8. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: Nutuk . Vol II P. 305.
  9. Kâmran Ardakoç: Hilafet Meselesi . Petek Yayınları. İstanbul, 1955. p. 2
  10. Neslihan Erözbek, Fethi Kayalı: Bir Mektup ve Hilafet Meselesinin Gündeme Gelmesi . In: Belgelerle Türk Tarihi Dergisi. September 1988. p. 43
  11. TBMM: Law No. 431 on the Abolition of the Caliphate and the Expulsion of the Members of the House of Osman from the borders of the Republic of Turkey of March 3, 1924
  12. Naşit Hakkı Uluğ: Halifeliğin Sonu . İstanbul, 1975. pp. 158-161


  • Hamilton AR Gibb: "Luṭfī-Paşa on the Ottoman Caliphate" in Oriens 15 (1962) 287-95.