Born in Edinburgh in 1793 in Scotland, Thomas Keith enlisted in the British Army’s 78th Highlanders Regiment on August 4, 1804, at the age of 11. He went with the 2nd battalion of the regiment to join John Stuart in the British campaign to Sicily in 1806. Soon after, Keith was sent as part of the English expedition to Alexandria in 1807. However, the expedition was a failure, and British forces were destroyed by the Albanian Mameluke cavalry commanded by Muhammad Ali, Ottoman khedive Egypt.
After being captured at Al Hamed near Rosetta on April 21, 1807, Keith and a drummer in his regiment, William Thompson, were reportedly sent to Cairo together with about 450 heads of defeated English soldiers. Once there, both were bought from an Albanian spearman by an Ottoman officer named “Ahmad Bonaparte”, and made Mamelukes, or “military slaves”, at Ahmad’s service. Keith became Ahmad’s favorite. During their initial term of service, the two Scots decided to convert to Islam and change their names: Keith becoming Ibrahim and Thompson Osman. Keith subsequently became involved in a fight with one of Ahmad’s Mamelukes, ironically a Sicilian, who had insulted him.
The Sicilian was killed in a duel, and the Scotsman, to escape reprisals, then sought help from Muhammad Ali’s wife, Egypt’s own pasha, Amina Hanim. She bought Keith from his master Ahmad and sent him to the service of her Macedonian son, Tusun, from whom the Scotsman gained admiration for his intelligence in military matters and mastery of the Arabic language. However, young Tusun was hot-tempered, and after a disagreement with Keith, who had made a mistake, ordered his murder. However, the brave highlander managed to entrench himself in the room, where he had been ordered to be killed, and with pistols and his saber, he wiped out his killers and fled through the window.
After the unfortunate event, Keith again sought help from Tusun’s mother, who acted to end the strife. Despite being angry with his servant, the two adolescents ended up making peace, and Tusun promoted him for his bravery against his executioners to the rank of “aga”, or “chief” of his men. And from then on, Thoman Keith came to be known by the name that would immortalize him in history: Ibrahim Aga.
In 1811, at the age of 18, Keith joined the 17-year-old Tusun in an expedition, leading 2,000 men between Bedouins and Albanians, against the Wahhabis insurgents led by the Saudi family in Arabia. The Wahhabis were members of a fanatic anti-Sunni Puritan religious sect, and moved by the thirst for blood and plunder, they spread terror throughout the region, even entering the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, massacring and robbing everyone and everything.
Saudi forces were successful in defeating the Ottomans at first, due to their overwhelmingly greater number and more experience on the ground. However, in 1812, a new campaign was launched, and the Wahhabis of the House of Saud were defeated. The forces led by the highlander managed to reach the holy city of Medina, where Keith became governor in 1815, taking it from the Saudis, and soon, the following year, the expedition to Mecca was also successful. In the same year of his victory in Mecca in 1816, Keith was ambushed with Tusun by the Wahhabis in a confrontation in the vicinity of El Bass, where he led 250 men and defending the prince’s life against 2,000 enemies, he died bravely while fighting four Wahhabis, after which he was quartered by the Saudis, at the age of 23.
Even after the final victory against the Saudis, Abdullah Ibn Saud, leader of the Wahhabis captured by the Ottomans in 1818, testified to the Scottish bravery on the battlefield.
-Grant, James. “Story of Thomas Keith.” The Constable of France: And Other Military Historiettes. London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1866
-Philipp, Thomas, and Ulrich Haarmann. The Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998
-Burckhardt, John Lewis. Notes on the Bedouins and Wahábys: Collected during His Travels in the East. London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley, 1831
-Grant, James. “The Scots in the Land of the Turban.” The Scottish Soldiers of Fortune, Their Adventures and Achievements in the Armies of Europe. London: Routledge, 1890
ج. ل. بيركهارت (ملاحظات عن البدو والوهابيين) الصفحة 351.
Source:Islamic History Page