The effect of the First World War on Ottoman-Muslim Indian Relations When the British declared war on Turkey in November 1914 there was a huge Indo-Muslim sympathy for Turkey. A state of war was brought about to the regret of Britain’s rulers of India. Despite the assurances by the British that the Muslim holy places in Arabia and Mesopotamia and the port of Jidda would remain immune from attack and that Hajj pilgrims will not be interfered with, the Indo-Muslims, however, remained suspicious.
Nevertheless, the Ulema did offer their fatwa or oath of loyalty to the British. But then the Arab revolt, the Mesopotamian Campaign, the fall of Jerusalem and the Balfour declaration affected many articulate Muslims like the Ali Brothers. Abdul Bari began to feel that the British claims about the non-religious character of the war were tenuous if not a total sham. The British Prime Minister Mr. Lloyd George added to the suspicion by dubbing Allenby’s conquest of Jerusalem as the ‘last and most triumphant of all Crusades.’ This did not seem to be a very reassuring rhetoric at that time. Then on January 5 1918 Lloyd George spoke in parliament to reassure the Muslim subjects of the Empire once again. ‘The Ottoman empire would not be deprived of Constantinople, nor of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace which are predominantly Turkish in race.’ But ‘the Arabs were entitled to a recognition of their own separation of the national conditions!’
This was another blow to the Indo-Muslim opinion but not as terrible as the one delivered after the war when the peace conference started. They were talking of carving up the Ottoman Empire and threatened to take away Constantinople from the Turks. The Ali Brothers in north India who led the Khilafat and the independence movement against the British watched these changes from isolation and anger. They organized a protest against the British decisions on Turkey. The Ali brothers who spearheaded this movement were occasionally called upon to read the khutba. One such reading brought objections from the British government who were then in control of India because in the reading they had asked Allah to grant victory and succor to the Caliph of Turkey and ‘destruction to the infidels.’ But there was little the government could do. ‘You can’t blame me,’ said Shaukat the younger brother, ‘if the Caliph of Islam happens to be the Sultan of Turkey.’ Islam was the Indian Muslim’s sense of identity and near common denominator. Their pro-Turkish sentiment was based upon the feelings of Islamic community solidarity and the fact that the Turkish ruler was acknowledged as Caliph the symbolic head of the community.
Most electrifying for most of the Muslims of India was news of the Arab revolt against Turkey. The Council of the Muslim League passed a resolution condemning the Sharif of Mecca and his followers as enemies of Islam, and the knowledge that the British government must be involved was greeted with consternation and anger. So this kind of solidarity of Indo-Muslims had always existed with the Turkish people according to the archives of political history.
To be continued………………..
[Razi Ashraf, ‘Ottoman-Mughal Political Relations circa 1500-
1923’, in The Eurasia Studies Study Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (February2013)]
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