THE latest news from Angora, Constantinople, and Arabia brings with it a deluge of impressions and forecasts. Within a few months the last Ottoman Sultan-Khalif, Wahiduddin Mehmed VI, has had to flee from Turkey, first to Mecca, then to San Remo, to meditate on the instability of worldly glory; his cousin Abdulmejid, appointed to the henceforth barely "spiritual" Khalifate, was forced to abdicate and to emigrate with his family to Switzerland; Husein, Grand-Sherif of Mecca, for the last eight years independent King of Western Arabia, acquiesced to his being proclaimed Khalif in Transjordania and perhaps in some other parts; and demonstrations against all these decisions took place in Egypt, India, and other places. It is no wonder that the public is anxious to know what is to become of the Muslim world after all these amazing events.


In opposition to the common error that the Khalif is the spiritual head of the Mohammedans, a sort of Muslim pope, let it be remembered that the Muslim community (or the Mohammedan church, to express it in a Western manner) has had but one spiritual head in the good thirteen centuries of its existence: that was Mohammed, the Prophet, God's Apostle, who transmitted the revelations wherefrom the believers derived all that was necessary for the regulation of their lives and thoughts according to Allah's will. Besides being the instrument for the transmission of these oracles, Mohammed as a matter of course became at the same time the authentic interpreter of Allah's words. As this interpretation expanded and grew into completion, the Apostle of God was indeed the spiritual head of his community.

Nowhere in the Qoranic revelations is there trace of a provision being made for the assumption of one of the above functions by another at Mohammed's death. Apart from Mohammed's having had predecessors who had accomplished a similar task among other peoples, his work was considered as essentially connected with and limited to his person. This conception so strongly dominated the thoughts of his community in its beginnings that for a couple of centuries they imagined, almost against better judgment, that their whole life was exclusively controlled by the words of God, as collected in the Qoran, and by the sayings and exemplary actions of the Prophet. Judged on the merits of the case, this notion was entirely erroneous, for it did not take into account the great evolution, extending even to the fields of dogma and law, which was brought about by the astoundingly rapid spread of Islam over many lands. If one will compare the system of Islam as it had developed three centuries after the death of Mohammed, with the Qoran, one has the impression of meeting a full-grown man who was last seen in the cradle.

Seeing no lawful way to recognize any authority but that of God and His Apostle, the first generations of Mohammedans found themselves in difficulties which were at first evaded by an artificial and unhistorical extension of the traditions concerning Mohammed's words and deeds. In the first two centuries there was practically no other path to the solution of an urgent new problem than that it be clothed in the form of a narrative about Mohammed. Thousands of sayings and actions were attributed to him just to serve as the foundation for regulations and decisions which later appeared necessary. Thus the main part of the canonical tradition concerning Mohammed is fictitious. Having, during his lifetime, exercised the functions of Apostle of God and spiritual head of his community, he continued for a long time after his death to exercise this last-named function in the imagination of his followers.

But the time came when this procedure was no longer possible. The mass of fictitious traditions could not be augmented without limit, and after two centuries the character of the unsolved problems which still presented themselves no longer permitted the fiction that Mohammed had known and solved them. The canonical tradition was now indeed sufficient to cover the greatest part of a solid system of dogmatics and law that, according to a critical point of view, was the creation of the Mohammedan community, and this system left ever less room for important development or modification. But it was not yet wholly crystallized; the evolution of society and state again and again necessitated revision of application or interpretation. Yes, a close scrutiny of the legislative and dogmatic structure built in the course of two or three centuries could not fail to reveal even to Mohammedan scholars without high critical faculties that not all the materials used derived their origin from Mohammed. There began to be felt the need of a trustworthy organ, which lived and remained alive, and which could be consulted at any time on all important questions.

This need sought and has found satisfaction, not in the designation of a person or a special body to continue the work of Mohammed, but in the acceptance of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Mohammedan community in its entirety. This doctrine finally became the foundation of the whole system. The scholars whom public opinion designated as authoritative served as the spokesmen of this infallible church. Any Mohammedan who wants to know may easily ascertain which out of the works of earlier scholars time has found trustworthy and reliable, and whom out of the living doctors he may confidently consult on matters of belief and law. This authority, however, has never been concentrated in a definite body, council or synod, and still less in a single person. Theoretically it has ever been almost intangible; practically one may easily meet with its representatives. It goes without saying that its edicts are not always and everywhere identical. Difference of opinion between the composing elements of the infallible whole is expressly permitted, nay accepted as a blessing of God.

The above account of some main facts in the history of the doctrine of principles in Islam may serve to make it clear that since the death of Mohammed there has never been room in Islam for a spiritual head, able to proclaim or to explain dogma or to interpret and complete the divine law, or for one which could regulate human life in its fullest sense. It is therefore absolutely erroneous to consider the Khalif as the spiritual head of the Mohammedans.


Nevertheless Khalif (or rather, Khalifat Rasul Allah) means nothing more nor less than successor, lieutenant of the Apostle of God. Besides being the mouthpiece of God and the authentic interpreter of the revelations, Mohammed was, in the second period of his prophetic activity,--after his migration to Medina --ruler, judge, and commander-in-chief of the army of his state. It is only in these functions that he had successors, who were indeed addressed as commander of the faithful (amir al-mu'minin), and later also by the name of imam (leader). The Khalifate was born immediately after Mohammed's death out of the press of political circumstances. In the beginning there was some hesitation: neither a word of Allah nor a disposition of His Apostle decided that the political unity of the community after Mohammed should continue under one head. But particularistic inclinations were speedily silenced, for all saw that the young state, without an energetic government fully conscious of its aim, would perish in a short time. The prominent men in Medina decided at once that those of Mohammed's functions which could be exercised by others should continue united in one person, and this decision, as well as their designation of the first Khalif and their definition of his task, they enforced upon the mass of the faithful.

The Muslim community has never had reason to regret this hasty decision. The victory of Muslim arms over the Arabs who revolted against the central government or who had not yet been made subject to Mohammed; the conquest, shortly afterwards undertaken, of the Persian and other important parts of the Byzantine empire; the creation of an enormous world-empire on the simple foundations laid by Mohammed; all that would have been unthinkable without the Khalifate. Islam honored its Khalifs as the authors and preservers of its military glory and of its political power.

This does not tend to deny that the Khalifate was intimately connected with religion. The Mohammedan community is religious in origin and in nature. It was the task of the Khalif to maintain the Law of God within Islam, at the same time seeking to extend the boundaries of the empire of God as much as possible. But even to the first four Khalifs, whose thirty-year reign Muslim historians have intensely idealized, and who, in opposition to their successors, are represented as saintly models of Muslim piety, even to these no legislative power nor personal authority as interpreters of law has been conceded. There is no more evident proof of the political character of the office than the fact that after those golden thirty years the Omayyads, the representatives of the old Meccan aristocracy, could have themselves been recognized as Khalifs, and that the son of Mohammed's most stubborn enemy (Moawiya, the son of Abu Sofyan) because of his political talents proved the logical man to become the successor of God's Apostle--in his functions, of course, as chief of the state and of the army, the "commander of the faithful." From that time on the Khalifate, which thus far could be compared with the presidency of a theocratic republic, became something like a constitutional monarchy, whose throne was occupied for ninety years by members of the same family.

Damascus, the Omayyad capital, was in those years the center of an Arabic-Mohammedan realm whose political ideal was the gradual subjection of all mankind. The Omayyads, however, had not gained the supreme power in the state without encountering resistance. From the beginning they had to combat the open and secret opposition of competitors, and although all of these were Arabs, at the time of the formation of their political parties the interests of peoples of other race, subjected by Islam, already demanded recognition. In the political strife, which was very often carried on with religious slogans but which actually was a struggle for the supreme power, the Omayyads in 750 A.D. had to give way to the Abbasids (the descendants of Mohammed's uncle Abbas) who then resided as Khalifs in Bagdad for five centuries. Resided, that is, not ruled; for after a short time the instruments of government at their disposal proved insufficient to preserve the political unity of an empire extending from Spain in the west to Central Asia in the east.

Even if we leave aside, for purposes of brevity, the schismatic movements which gave rise to the foundation of heretical Khalifates, there still would remain a long story to be told of dismemberment of the empire of Islam into numerous states, politically independent, sometimes even hostile to one another, though most of them, in deference to tradition, continued to pay homage to the Abbasid Khalifate. One century only after the appearance of the Abbasids the political unity of Islam had vanished forever. Even at Bagdad the actual power fell into the hands of generals, and afterwards of sultans, who did not abolish the Khalifate but condemned it to inactivity, leaving to it only its exterior glamor.

Two centuries and a half after its birth the Khalifate had become utterly powerless: a monumental symbol of the political unity of Islam which had existed for a short time and the future revival of which was the hope of some, although it was soon conceded that such a revival could only occur by miracle.

Thus, when in 1258 the Mongol storm destroyed Bagdad and put out of the wav the accessible members of the Abbasid family, this was a bewildering event for the central dominions of Islam, but to the Muslim world it was not an irreparable blow; spiritual interests suffered no damage. Islam had not possessed a single, general spiritual leader since Mohammed's death in 632. The ever-increasing number of spiritual leaders who, intending simply to interpret the law and the dogma, actually determined the development of these norms, had continued their labor during all those centuries in spite of political changes, revolutions and misfortunes, guided by a common catholic instinct but without organization or central direction; and the downfall of the Khalifate disturbed them not at all.

The functions for which the Khalifate had been called into existence had in the thirteenth century passed on to the rulers of the different Mohammedan states, or were no longer exercised. Soon after the gigantic assault of the first hundred years, the project of world-conquest has been laid aside and further served only to determine the attitude of the Muslims toward the outside world and to hinder their cooperation with other communities. The scholars, who together represented the infallible Mohammedan church, generally were distrustful of, if not actually hostile toward, the state authorities, and they expressed their disapproving criticism, a.o., in a tradition which made the Prophet say that only the first four Khalifs bore their title with full right.

It may be said that from the middle of the thirteenth until the middle of the sixteenth centuries Islam did without a Khalif, and even that the majority of the Mohammedans did not so much as notice the lack. Egypt was an exception, but in appearance only. Even accepting the genuineness of the genealogy of the prince who took refuge there, declaring himself an Abbasid escaped from the massacre of Bagdad, we cannot consider his elevation by the slave-sultans of the Nile valley to the dignity of Khalif as anything more nor less than an idle show. A famous Muslim historian has well said that whereas the later Khalifs of Bagdad were at least still able to keep up the appearance of power, the Khalifs who had their seat in Cairo possessed such appearance no longer, but bore the bare name. Although it happened now and then that a Muslim prince deemed it worth the trouble to get for himself a diploma of investiture from such an Egyptian sham Khalif, in general their existence was almost ignored. They mainly served to lend a certain splendor of nobility to a dynasty whose members climbed from slavery, through the army, to the throne.

Thus, according to the criterion of the least politically-minded doctors of Islam, the Khalifate lived no more than thirty years. Those who valued facts above theory reckoned this life at two or three centuries, followed by three or four centuries of apparent existence. Without the political unity of the earlier time and without the boundlessly ambitious political program with which Islam began, the Khalifate had indeed lost its raison d'être.

Be that as it may, in the course of the sixteenth century the Khalifate showed new signs of life,--not to fulfil a need felt by the Mohammedan world, but because a glorious newly-risen dynasty could not resist the temptation to adorn itself with the highest title ever known amongst Muslims after that of Apostle of God, a title reminiscent more than any other of the grandiose political past of Islam and at the same time firing anew the never entirely extinguished political aspirations of bygone days.


According to a false tradition, still current in European literature, the Ottoman conqueror of Egypt, Selim I, in 1517 persuaded the last Abbasid Khalif, whom he found at Cairo, to give over to him his title for the payment of an indemnity. This error is traceable to that in general most meritorious work of the Armenian author d'Ohsson, "Tableau General de l'Empire Othoman," published at Paris in 1788. Now it is true that, practically speaking, the succession in the Khalifate has often taken place with great deviation from the rules laid down in the law of Islam; but never has this highest office of the original Muslim state been degraded into forming an object of sale. In fact, however, the Ottoman Sultans have shown a great deal of indifference toward the empty title borne by the Abbasids residing in Cairo. They allowed that mock Khalifate to continue its existence until it died a natural death in 1543. Even then they were in no hurry to add that to the many and illustrious titles with which they used to deck themselves out. They had serious reasons for this indifference.

Claims of Turkish Sultans to the title of Khalif were more than susceptible of well-founded challenge. Never before, neither in the years when the genuine Khalifs made Islam into a world-power, nor during the centuries when the powerless Khalifs hovered above the Muslim Sultans, had other than Arabs from the tribe of Qoraish been candidates for the Khalifate. This historical fact had even been made a political dogma long before the Turks played a role on the Mohammedan stage by means of a tradition attributing to Mohammed the words "The imams are from Qoraish." In fact, since the Khalifs had lost all influence, court-poets and other flatterers of princes used liberally to adorn the objects of their praise with this epithet, and after the downfall of the Bagdad Khalifate even Indonesian petty rulers assumed the title; all of which was taken seriously by no one and was only one more indication that the genuine Khalifate had been relegated to history. Quite naturally the Ottomans, being the last Muslim rulers who extended the dominions of Islam by force, were also called by their panegyrists Khalifs of God's Apostle, or even of God himself, but this added little to their glory and nothing to their authority. As far as we know, the Sultans never issued a decree by which they adopted the title officially. There was, however, no lack of obliging doctors who removed the legal objections to a Turkish Khalifate.

The requisites demanded of candidates for the Khalifate as given by the authorities on Mohammedan political law ignore human limitations. A Muslim without blame, perfectly sound in body and mind, equipped with all the qualities and capabilities which make up the perfect ruler, judge, and general,--these are only a few of the conditions considered necessary by the Shari'ah (Sacred Law) for him who is to occupy the Khalifate. Let us consider further but two out of the long list. First, the Khalif must be a descendant from Qoraish; and second, he must have at his disposal the instruments of power necessary to make good his authority.

Now the whole Muslim law, as the doctors have explained it in the course of time, is mainly an ideal. Therefore the scholars are of the opinion that its application grows more and more impossible, as human society is deteriorating morally. Applying this principle to their doctrine of the Khalifate, they arrive at the conclusion that only the first four Khalifs have fulfilled all conditions, and that the later occupants of this office became worse and worse. They teach, then, that also in this field one has to acquiesce in the inevitable and be content with what material is at hand. In fact they make so many concessions that little is left of that amazing list of original requirements. But the greatest difficulty comes in connection with the two items referred to above,--that he be a descendant from the tribe to which Mohammed belonged, and have at his disposal the necessary instruments of power.

In the twelfth century the question of descent did not as yet cause great difficulty because the first four Khalifs, the Omayyads and the Abbasids, did indeed all belong to the tribe of Qoraish. This requirement was, however, the only one wherein concession seemed impossible; one either was a Qoraishite or was not a Qoraishite, and there was no question of degree. The scholars who undertook to defend the claims of Turkish Sultans to the Khalifate have therefore laid all possible emphasis on the possession of the instruments of power. They argued that the Muslim ruler proving himself more able than others to make his authority recognized by the adherents of Islam as well as by its opponents, was, whatever his descent, the only person worthy of bearing the sacred title which essentially belonged to the Mohammedan world-conquerors.

Without showing an exaggerated appreciation of this title, which could do nothing to remedy the dismemberment of the Muslim community, and which was unable to bring even orthodox Mohammedan princes of Central Asia, India, North Africa, etc., under the sway of the title-bearer, the Turkish Sultans, after the family of the sham Khalifs of Cairo had died out, took pleasure in the flattery and accepted the sacred name. Indeed it did not appear one bit sillier than so many of the inherited titles of European princes, and at that time would not have appeared to better advantage if possessed by any other Muslim prince than the Sultan of Constantinople, who was unequalled in political and military activity.

This ornament did not acquire positive value for the Ottomans until in 1774 their power, especially in Europe, began to decline and the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire commenced. In the west there was often quite an erroneous conception of the character of the Khalifate. It was believed that it represented spiritual authority in distinction from worldly power. The Khalif was in fact considered the Pope of Mohammedanism. The only point of truth in this idea was that after the disintegration of the Muslim empire the Khalifs had gradually lost all worldly authority. The splendor which surrounded them, however, especially in Bagdad until 1258, suggested the error that they must be clad with the highest spiritual authority. Now after the assumption of the title by the Turkish Sultans this false conception led to the conclusion that henceforth with the worldly power which they possessed in common with other Muslim rulers they combined the spiritual authority which was to be represented by one person only. It escaped the attention of European statesmen that by assuming the title of Khalif the Ottoman Sultans actually called themselves lords of all Mohammedans, monarchs of all Muslim dominions.

With the political decline of the Ottoman Empire the above-mentioned misconception did brilliant service. When a Turkish Sultan had to cede a part of his territory, inhabited by Mohammedans, then such a cession meant not only a loss for the ruler, but an intolerable injury to any Sultan who called himself Khalif. It was commonly thought among Mohammedans that no true Khalif would ever assent to such a thing. From 1774, when the first treaty of peace implying such a cession was concluded with Russia, appearances were saved by granting to the Khalif continued spiritual authority over the inhabitants of the ceded territory. This authority was in such cases either quite imaginary, or it consisted in a purely formal confirmation of appointments made by the new lords of the country to offices closely connected with the canonical law of Islam, such as that of qadhi or of mufti. In the ears of the Sultan's subjects, however, the maintenance of his authority as a Khalif meant nothing more nor less than his continued recognition as the ruler, however limited--temporarily, they hoped--his authority might be in certain respects.

Apart from this welcome means of glossing over such inevitable political humiliations, the western misconception of the Khalifate has procured still other advantage to the Ottoman Sultans of recent times. Were they clad with spiritual authority, then might they in a friendly way call non-Mohammedan governments to account for the manner in which they treated their Mohammedan subjects, a proceeding which otherwise would have been considered impudent. On the other hand, Mohammedans under non-Mohammedan rule now felt authorized to appeal in certain events to the Sultan-Khalifs. To them such an appeal took the character of a complaint to their real ruler concerning actions of their temporary oppressors. The Turkish Government could free such a measure from its odium by apparently taking up the point of view of the western statesmen.

The Pan-Islamic policy developed under the auspices of Sultan Abdul Hamid (1876-1909) was highly favored by this current error. The British now and then boasted to the Mohammedans in India of their friendship with the "spiritual head of Islam." The Germans tried during the World War to unchain, under the same false banner, Muslim fanaticism against their enemies. All such misconceptions have certainly not furthered political understanding between the adherents of Islam and the rest of mankind. At last even in Turkish circles, where the intellectual influence of Europe has made itself felt, confusion has arisen concerning the Khalifate.

During recent centuries a thorough knowledge of the history of Islam and of Mohammedan peoples has become rare in the Muslim world. This is only one of the many symptoms of its retrogression since the Middle Ages. In 1908 I met in leading Turkish circles at Constantinople persons who asserted in full earnestness that the sherifate of Mecca--a local princedom born out of the political confusion of the twelfth century and finally brought under Turkish sovereignty--was a religious institution inseparable from Islam; and they were unwilling to give up this evident error. Why should not others have adopted the western conception of the Khalif-Pope with the same stubborn simplicity?

This question presents itself to our mind quite spontaneously in view of what happened at Angora in November, 1922, when the National Assembly assumed the Sultanate, i.e., all government functions, and conferred a "spiritual" Khalifate on the prince-painter Abdul Mejid, who seemed to be the nearest claimant after the flight of the last Sultan-Khalif Wahiduddin Mehmed VI. It is difficult to distinguish between the parts played by simplicity and by cunning in this ridiculous distribution of roles. This Turkish mock Khalifate had from its birth even less importance than that of the Abbasids, instituted by the slave Sultans of Egypt in the thirteenth century. The Egyptian Khalifate was at least in the same capital as the real retainers of power; it was carried on in a blaze of magnificence, and every new Sultan let himself be crowned by the Khalif. To the last Ottoman Khalif, however, even such a show was not left, and neither he nor the National Assembly made any effort to produce the impression that anything proceded from the Khalifate. It is as if both parties felt from the beginning that the separation of the "spiritual" Khalifate from the Sultanate was only a transitory measure, a first step on the way leading to entire abolition. (That it was deemed necessary, on the occasion of the abrogation of this vain dignity, to banish the whole Ottoman family from Turkey, seems to indicate the fear that otherwise the adherents of reaction might gather around it awaiting the psychological moment for a coup d'état.)

When 666 years ago Bagdad was destroyed by the Mongols, and the glamor of the six-centuries-old Khalifate was extinguished in the blood of all Abbasids who were unable to escape, the Muslim world was not put out of joint for all that horror, and her spiritual direction was not for a moment interrupted. So with the Turkish Khalifate, which never was more nor less than an ornament of power gained by military force, and whose last occupant has now exchanged his palace for a hotel room in Switzerland. Such Mohammedans as attached to it any importance at all never looked to it for decisions concerning dogma or law, but simply for political support in their struggle for independence. This minority of the Muslim community, to be found mostly in lands which have never experienced any contact with the living Khalifate, such as India, may now try to get similar support from the National Assembly in Angora. It remains to be seen whether amongst those Mohammedans who are not entirely indifferent to the Khalifate there will be some who prefer another solution to that offered by Angora, and whether they will take active steps in another direction.


In considering the question as to whether or not some groups of Muslims will try to find a political fulcrum elsewhere than at Angora, it seems that we may leave out of sight the fugitive Sultan-Khalif at San Remo as well as the exiled "Spiritual" Khalif at Territet. Whatever may be their personal qualifications, neither of them looms up as a possible future head of a powerful political party. Therefore, those to whom the fascination of the Khalifate is inseparable from Turkey, or those who simply prefer the friendship of the most influential Mohammedan state, will have to content themselves with the National Assembly. If this body, however burdened with its herculean labor for the political and economic reconstruction of Turkey, should find leisure to try to give direction to the political life of Mohammedans in distant countries, it could then very well replace in this respect the Ottoman Sultan-Khalifs.

Amongst the monarchs of other Muslim states many will certainly be unwilling to obey any watchword issuing from Angora, but most of them will understand the uselessness of efforts to take its place themselves. An exception is the King of the Hijaz, Husein bin Ali, who has already been proclaimed Khalif in some Arabic-speaking lands.

The young kingdom of the Hijaz began its existence on June 22, 1916, when Sherif Husein, since 1908 Emir of Mecca (or, as he is usually called in Europe, Grand-Sherif), proclaimed his independence of Turkish sovereignty and joined the Entente in the Great War. Let us here briefly review the government of Mecca during the last nine or ten centuries.

With the decline of the Bagdad Khalifate from the ninth century onwards the central government was no longer able to control regularly such a distant place as Mecca. The Holy City of Islam thus became politically neglected. Some of the numerous descendants of the Prophet (by his daughter, Fatima, and Ali, his cousin), who had been living in Western Arabia since about 1000 A.D., availed themselves of the general unrest to establish their mastery over Mecca and so much of the neighboring territory as they were able to snatch. Strenuous disputes arose amongst some of those Alid families concerning this booty, but about 1200 A.D. Qatâdah became the undisputed lord, and since that time his descendants have been the Emirs of Mecca. The very numerous family of Qatâdah was divided, during all the seven centuries of its existence, by strife for the lordship, or rather for the privilege of exploiting the Meccan pilgrimage. The rulers of the surrounding Muslim states protected their subjects by giving to the pilgrim-caravans military escorts, which often were stationed for a long while at Mecca. From such supervision there developed a protectorate over the holy province, which came to be exercised in the nineteenth century now by Egypt, now by Turkey. Since 1840 the Hijaz has been a Turkish vilayet, where an Emir from the family of Qatâdah has represented the traditional authority, but under the supervision of a Turkish governor, or vali.

In 1908 Sherif Husein was appointed to replace his cousin Ali, deposed after the Turkish revolution. Thus he commenced his Emirship under Turkish sovereignty, and at one time aided the Turkish Government to subdue rebel Arabic tribes. It is therefore clear that he, like his predecessors, did not feel any fundamental objection to the supremacy of a Khalifate of Ottoman Sultans. In fact, like many an earlier Grand-Sherif, he has done his best to free himself from the control of the Turkish valis sent to supervise his administration; and the various difficulties which the Turkish Government had to face after the revolution of 1908 favored these attempts. When the English navy blockaded the Hijaz and British agents opened to Emir Husein the brilliant prospect of independence for the Arab Mohammedans under his rule if the war should be successfully concluded, he joined England and caused his subjects to swear allegiance to him as King of Western Arabia and of a more extensive territory whose boundaries were to be determined at leisure after the war.

Of course the Turks branded this desertion of Husein as apostasy, and many other Mohammedans more or less emphatically expressed their assent to that disapproval. Those Indian Mohammedans who were interested in the Khalifate would have nothing to do with King Husein, and accused him of having sold himself to Great Britain. The King has always defended himself against this accusation by calling to mind the fact that he had lent his support to the Allies only on well defined conditions, of which the most important was the absolute and unlimited independence of the Arabian lands after the war. He justified his cooperation in depriving the Turkish Empire of these lands by pointing out the attitude, in many respects in defiance to the prescriptions of Islam, which the Turkish Government had assumed after the revolution of 1908.

The glorification of the pagan past of the Turkish race--"the Turanians"--which had become the fashion in leading circles in Constantinople with the slogan "first Turk, then Muslim," and the preference of the Effendis for following modern institutions of state and society rather than the revealed law regulating every department of life, induced Husein to take upon himself, at the head of his Arabs, the defense of the genuine Islam against Angora and Constantinople. He is lauded by his partisans not only as the "Saviour" of the Arabs, but also as the maintainer of the Shari'ah (Sacred Law).

In the Meccan newspaper The Liblah, which appears three times a week and which was born at the same time as the new kingdom, the political opinions of this offspring of Qatâdah are duly expounded. A while ago accusations against the Turkish Government took up a good deal of space; but since the Turkish deputation at Lausanne explicitly recognized, in the name of the Angora Government, the absolute independence of Arabia, these invectives have decreased. Concerning England the tone of the articles has been now sweet, now bitter. In a manifesto (dated November 24, 1923, and published in The Liblah January, 1924) which is addressed to the British Government and the British nation, all kinds of grievances, aired by no means for the first time, are once more summarized. Great Britain, says The Liblah, which owes its victories in Syria and Mesopotamia to the support of Husein, entirely failed to fulfil its solemn promise of cooperation in effecting the complete independence of the Arabian lands. It allowed France, acting as mandatory, to take hold of Syria after the forceful removal of Husein's son, Faisal, who had been destined to be its Emir. England itself retained, as mandates, Transjordania, where Husein's son, Abdallah, was set up as ruler; Mesopotamia, where Faisal was established as monarch; and Palestine, which, in order to fulfil the foolish promise of Balfour, was torn from its Arabian bond and given over to the Zionists. Husein loses no occasion to declare that he still hopes that the British nation may sometime force the British Government to keep its word.

On the question of the Khalifate Husein has always expressed himself with a certain reserve. Of course the Turkish Khalifate, in its later phases, could no longer find favor in his eyes. Husein rightly brands as absurd a Khalif without worldly power. To him the Khalif is the supreme monarch, so proclaimed by the Muslims, who at his accession promises solemnly that he will maintain the law of Islam without reservation. Upon several occasions Husein has made it clearly understood what this maintenance of the law implies in his mind. Thieves had their right hands cut off by his order; those who drank forbidden liquor or those who broke the fast of Ramadhan were publicly flogged, and so on. Articles in The Liblah concerning the Khalifate, however, generally ended with the phrase used when naming those who are deceased: "Allah be merciful to the soul of the Khalifate." In this way it was meant to show that no decision had been made as to whether or not this dead Khalifate was capable of resurrection. Whenever flatterers called him "Commander of the Faithful" or "Khalif of God's Apostle," he did not absolutely refuse such homage, but he often pointed out explicitly that he did not assume such titles, and that he was even ready at any time to hand over the task of acting as "Saviour" of the Arabs to any man deemed more fitted than himself for its accomplishment.

Recent events raise the question of whether an important group of Mohammedans is likely to gather around Husein and his liberated Arabs and ask him to put aside exaggerated discretion and to take upon himself the burden of the Khalifate. Thus far this seems not very probable.

In the enormous peninsula of Arabia Husein's influence is limited to the western strip of coast, the province of the Holy Cities. He himself is seated at Mecca, while his son, Ali, is his governor at Medina, but during the eight years of his independent reign he has not yet succeeded in making safe for peaceful pilgrim traffic the way between these two places. The mighty Emir of the Wahhabi's, Bin Sa'ûd, who rules with energy over Central and East Arabia, is his enemy. In Southern Arabia Husein has no influence at all, and his efforts to come to a political understanding with Yahya, the Imam of the Zeidi's in Yemen, had no effect. It is highly questionable whether Transjordania would remain in the hands of Abdallah or Mesopotamia in the hands of Faisal if the British declared their mandates finished. It is still more doubtful whether Syria, supposing that the French gave it up, would join the banner of Husein.

The Muslim world outside of Arabia is even less enthusiastic about the aspirations of Husein to the Khalifate. With Egypt his relations were never cordial, and at the last pilgrimage (1923) they became actually strained. On that occasion Husein's refusal to admit into his country a sanitary mission sent by the Egyptian Government induced the Egyptians to embark their mahmal, that symbol of the participation of the Nile valley which used to grace the pilgrimage for centuries, and to take back home the kiswah, the new cloth for the House of Allah sent from Egypt annually since immemorial times. The Turkish Government would no more think of recognizing a Meccan Khalifate, in whatsoever shape it might present itself, than would the Sultan of Egypt. The Mohammedans in India by now probably have become convinced that Husein has not sold himself to Great Britain, but the Indian movement for the Khalifate will not on that account accept his claims. All know that Husein is unable to lend to Mohammedans under non-Mohammedan rule the support they expect from a Khalif.

The King of the Hijâz is more than septuagenary, and he has never enjoyed an opportunity of acquiring the experience and knowledge necessary for an all but absolute monarch if he is to play a part in international political life. He is full of energy but he is not a little obstinate and has some other qualities which often make it rather difficult to transact business with him. Neither his outward circumstances nor his personal character make Husein an acceptable candidate for the Khalifate. His ancestor Qatâdah on his deathbed urgently exhorted his descendants to limit their ambitions to the sacred province, this territory being difficult of access to other princes and offering them little attraction. Husein is the first of the sons of Qatâdah to act in contradiction to the ancestral will. The near future will decide whether he was wise.

It seems likely that Husein will try to strengthen his position by calling together a Pan-Islamic congress for the discussion of matters in which all Muslims as such are interested. It is true that of late voices have been heard in intellectual Mohammedan circles advocating an international all-Islam congress as the only means of bringing to a desirable solution several problems of high importance for Islam. But such a conference would be likely to choose another kind of president than the autocratic monarch of Western Arabia. And it is still a long way to even serious efforts for the foundation of such an organ for the expression of the consensus of opinion of the Mohammedan community. For the time being there is only chaotic confusion, and we are inclined when pronouncing the word "Khalifate" to add, as King Husein used to do until a short time ago, "of blessed memory."

The Pan-Islamic idea is not dead, but many changes will have to take place before the Muslims will be able to point to one man as its generally recognized personification. And this is what a Khalif in the twentieth century should be; otherwise he will be but an idle phantom.

[i] NOTE--It has not been possible for the author to take into account developments which have taken place since his article was written in the spring.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • SNOUCK HURGRONJE, Professor at the University of Leiden, for many years the leading western authority on Mohammedanism
  • More By Snouck Hurgronje