Page images


I USE the word "Panislamism," simply because it is one of the political catchwords of the day. The prefix Pan is supposed to have some great and terrible significance. It is not long since Europe exerted all her power to save Islam from the jaws of Panslavism, but now that a Pan has been added to Islam, it has become in its turn the bugbear of Europe. It is even supposed that England was fighting with this new monster, when she put down the revolution in Egypt. England could never have so far forgotten her liberality as to take up arms against Islam, but Panislam must be crushed by a new crusade. Such is the wondrous power of a prefix. So far as I can understand the mysterious force of this word, it is designed to express the idea that the scattered fragments of the Mohammedan world have all rallied around the Caliph to join in a new attack upon Christendom, or that they are about to do so. There is just enough of truth in this idea to give it currency, and to make it desirable that the whole truth should be known. Most of the mistakes of Europe in dealing with the Ottoman empire, during the present century, have come from a misapprehension of the forces of Islam, and the position and influence of the Sultan of Turkey. There is danger now of such a misapprehension as may lead to the most unfortunate complications. The first essential point, which must always be kept in mind by those who would understand the movements of the Mohammedan world, is the exact relation of the Ottoman Sultans to the Caliphate. The word Caliph means the vicar or the successor of the Prophet. The origin and history of the Caliphate is well known, but it may be well to give a brief resume of it here. During the life of the Prophet it was his custom to name a Caliph to act for him when he was absent from Medina. During his last illness he named his father-in-law, Abou-Bekir, and after bis death tbis appointment was confirmed by election. Omar, Osman, and Ali were successively chosen to this office, and these four are recognized by all orthodox Mohammedans as perfect Caliphs. The Persians and other Shiites recognize only Ali. It is said that the Prophet predicted that the true Caliphate would continue only thirty years. His words are quoted: "The Caliphate after me will be for thirty years. After this there will be only powers established by force, usurpation, and tyranny." The death of Ali and the usurpation of Mouawiye came just thirty years after the death of the Prophet, and this was the end of the true and perfect Caliphate. The sixty-eight imperfect Caliphs who followed were all of the family of the Prophet, although of different branches, but they fulfilled the demand of the sacred law, that the Caliph must be of the family of Koreish, who was a direct descendant from Abraham. Mouawiye and the Ommiades, fourteen in all, were of the same branch as Osman, the third Caliph. The Abassides of Kufa, Bagdad, and Cairo, fifty-four in all, descended from Abas, the greatuncle of the Prophet. There were many others who at different times usurped the name of Caliph, but these seventy-two are all who are recognized as universal Caliphs. Mohammed XII., the last of these, died in obscurity in Egypt in 1538. The power of the Caliphs gradually decayed, until for hundreds of years it was little more than nominal, and exclusively religious.

* Wo have received this article from a valued correspondent, whose name, for obvious reasons, is not given.—Ed.

The claim of the Ottoman Sultans to the Caliphate dates back to the time of Sultan Selim I. This Sultan conquered Egypt and overthrew the dynasty of the Mamelukes. He found at Cairo the Caliph Mohammed XII., and brought him as a prisoner to Constantinople. He was kept at the fortress of the Seven Towers for several years, and then sent back to Egypt with a small pension. While Selim was in Cairo, the Shereeff of Mecca presented to him the keys of the holy cities, and accepted him as their protector. In 1517 Mohammed XII. also made over to him all his right and title to the Caliphate. This involuntary cession, and the voluntary homage of the Shereeff of Mecca, are the only titles possessed by the Ottoman Sultans to the Caliphate, which, according to the word of the Prophet himself, must always remain in his own family. If the Ommiades and the Abassides were imperfect Caliphs, it is plain that the Ottoman Sultans must be doubly imperfect. It was easy, however, for an all-powerful Sultan to obtain an opinion from the Ulema that his claim was well-founded; and it has been very generally recognized by orthodox Mohammedans, in spite of its essential weakness. When the time comes, however, that the Ottoman Sultans are no longer powerful, it will be still more easy to obtain an opinion that the Shereeff of Mecca, who is of the family of the Prophet, is the true Caliph.

The Ottoman Sultans have also assumed the other and more generally used title of Imam-ul-Mussilmin, which may be roughly translated Grand Pontiff of all the Moslems, although, strictly speaking, the functions of an Imam are not priestly. This title is based upon an article of the Mohammedan faith which says—"The Mussulmans ought to be governed by an Imam, who has the right and authority to secure obedience to the law, to defend the frontiers, to raise armies, to collect tithes, to put down rebels, to celebrate public prayers on Fridays, and at Beiram," &c. This article of faith is based upon the words of the Prophet—" He who dies without recognizing the authority of the Imam of his time, is judged to have died in ignorance and infidelity."

The law goes on to say—" All Moslems ought to be governed by one Imam. His authority is absolute, and embraces everything. All are bound to submit to him. No country can render submission to any other."

Under this law the Ottoman Sultans claim absolute and unquestioning obedience from all Moslems throughout the world; but their right to this title rests upon the same foundation as that upon which is based the title of Caliph. The Prophet himself said, and the accepted law repeats, that the Imam-ul-Mussilmin must be of the family of Koreish. The Ottoman Sultans belong not only to a different family, but to a different race.

With this evident weakness in their title to the Caliphate, and the accompanying rank of universal Imam, it is a question of interest on what grounds the doctors of Mohammedan law have justified their claims, and how far these have been recognized.

In addition to the rights said to have been conferred by the Caliph Mohammed XII. and by the Shereef of Mecca upon Sultan Selim I., and by him transmitted to his posterity, the Mohammedan doctors make use of a very different argument. They say—

"The rights of the house of Othman are based upon its power and success, for one of the most ancient canonical books declares that the authority of a prince who has usurped the Caliphate by force and violence, ought not the loss to be considered legitimate, because, since the end of the perfect Caliphate, the sovereign power is held to reside in the person of him who is.the strongest, who is the actual ruler, and whose right to command rests upon the power of his armies."

This statement presents the real basis of the claims of the Sultans to the Caliphate. It is the right of the strongest. Any man who disputes it,docs so at his peril; and, since 1517,the Ottoman Sultans have been able to command the submission of the Mohammedan world. Their title has not been seriously disputed. J

But the title has this weak point in it. It is good only so long as the Sultan is strong enough to maintain it. It has not destroyed the rights of the family of Koreish. It only holds them in abeyance, until some one of that family is strong enough to put an end to the Turkish usurpation. The power of the Sultan does not depend upon the title, but the title depends upon his power. This is a point the political importance of which should never be overlooked.

We come now to our second question. How far is the claim of the Ottoman Sultans to the Caliphate now recognized in the Mohammedan world? Except with the Shiites, who have never acknowledged it, there is no open rebellion against it. But the decay of the Ottoman Empire during the last hundred years has been obvious to all the world. Not only has it been gradually dismembered, not only have many of its Mohammedan subjects been brought under the dominion of Christian Powers, and many of its Christian subjects set free, not only have its African possessions become practically independent, except Tripoli, but the house of Othman exists to-day, only because Christian Europe interfered to defend it against its own Mohammedan subjects. The house of Mohammed Ali would otherwise have taken its place. Again and again have the Sultans shown their inability to defend the frontiers of Islam. Since the advent of the present Sultan, the process of dismemberment has gone on more rapidly than ever.

The influence of these facts upon the Mohammedan world has been very marked. I cannot speak from personal knowledge of the people of India and Central Asia, but from the best information that I can obtain, I conclude that while they have lost none of their interest in Islam, while they are still interested in the fate of their Turkish brethren, they would not lift a finger to maintain the right of the Sultan to the Caliphate against any claimant of the family of the Prophet. The feeling of the Arabic-speaking Mohammedans is well known. Islam is an Arab religion; the Prophet was an Arab; the Caliph should be an Arab. The Ottoman Sultans are barbarian usurpers, who have taken and hold the Caliphate by force. The Arabs have been ready for open revolt for years, and have only waited for a leader of the house of the Prophet. Their natural leader would be the Shereef of Mecca; and it is understood that the Shereef who has just been deposed by the Sultan, as well as his predecessor who was mysteriously assassinated, was on the point of declaring himself Caliph. The new Shereef is a young man of the same family.

So far as the Turkish, Circassian, and Slavic Mohammedans are concerned, their interests are bound up with those of the Sultan. They do not distinguish between the Caliphate and the Sultanat. Their ruler is the Imam-ul-Mussilmin, their law is the Sheraat, their country is the Dar-Islam; and when they are fighting for their Sultan they are fighting for their faith. They know nothing of any other possible Caliph. But if a new Caliph should appear at Mecca, and declare the Sultan a usurper and a Kaffir, it is very doubtful whether they would stand by the Sultan. They would not know what to do.

Another element enters just now into the question of the Caliphate, of which so much has been written of late that it is only necessary to mention it here. The Mohammedan world is looking for the coming of the Mehdy. The time appointed by many traditions for his appearance has already come, the year of the Hedjira 1300. Other traditions, however, fix no definite time—they only say "towards the end of the world," and many impostors have already appeared at different times and places claiming to be the Mehdy. According to Shiite tradition, it is the twelfth Imam of the race of Ali who is to appear. At the age of twelve he was lost in a cave, where he still lives, awaiting his time. According to the Sunnis, the Mehdy is to come from Heaven with 360 celestial spirits, to purify Islam and convert the world. He will be a perfect Caliph, and will rule over all nations.

It is impossible for any Christian to speak with absolute certainty of the real feeling of Mohammedans; but it is evident that this expected Mehdy is talked of by Mohammedans everywhere, and that there is more or less faith in his speedy appearance. No one who anticipates his coming, can have any interest in the claims of the Sultan to be the Caliph. Should any one appear to fulfil the demands of the tradition, and meet with success in rousing any part of the Mohammedan world, the excitement would become intense, especially in Africa and Arabia. The claims of the Sultan would be repudiated at once. Still I think it probable that too much has been made of this Mehdy in Europe. I do not think that the Pachas of Constantinople have any more faith in his coming than Mr. Herbert Spencer has in the second coming of Christ. They only fear that some impostor may take advantage of the tradition to create division in the empire. This is the real danger.

It has been evident for many years that the Sultans have felt that their influence in the Mohammedan world was declining. They have seen that beyond their own dominions the Caliph has no real authority; that whatever influence they have depends upon the strength of their own empire. Abd-ul-Medjid and Abd-ul-Aziz seem to have had a pretty clear conception of their weakness, and of the necessity of restoring the vitality of the Ottoman empire, by the introduction of radical reforms. There is no reason to suppose that the Hatt-ihoumayoun and the other innumerable Hatts issued by these Sultans, were all intended simply to blind the eyes of Europe. None knew better than they that the empire must be reformed or lost. But they were Caliphs as well as Sultans, and what they would do as Sultans they could not do as Caliphs. The very nature of their claims to the Caliphate made them more timid. They could not execute the reforms which they promised, without encountering the opposition of the whole body of the Ulema, the most powerful and the best organized force in the empire. If they could have saved

« EelmineJätka »