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Ottoman Caliphate and the Khilafat Movement

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk campaigned against Islamofascism.

The Khilafat movement (1919–1924) was a pan-Islamic, political protest campaign launched by Muslims in British India to influence the British government and to protect the Ottoman Empire during the aftermath of World War I. It won the support of Mahatma Gandhi and the predominantly Hindu Congress movement because of its anti-British overtones. In India, although mainly a Muslim religious movement, the movement became a part of the wider Indian independence movement. The movement was a topic in the Conference of London (1921, 1922); however, most Arabs saw it as a threat of continuation of Turkish dominance of Arab lands.

Ottoman emperor Abdul Hamid II (1842–1918; reigned 1876–1909) launched his Pan-Islamic program in a bid to protect the Ottoman Empire from Western attack and dismemberment, and to crush the Westernizing democratic opposition at home. He sent an emissary, Jamal Adin Afghani, to India in the late 19th century. The cause of the Ottoman emperor evoked religious passion and sympathy amongst Indian Muslims. Being a Caliph, the Ottoman emperor was nominally the supreme religious and political leader of all Muslims across the world. However, this authority was never actually used. Abdul Hamid II was forced to restore the constitutional monarchy marking the start of the Second Constitutional Era by the Young Turk Revolution. He was succeeded by Mehmed V in 1909 but following the revolution, the real power in the Ottoman Empire lay with the nationalists.

Although political activities and popular outcry on behalf of the Caliphate emerged across the Muslim world, the most prominent activities took place in India. A prominent Oxford educated Muslim journalist, Mohammad Ali Jouhar had spent four years in prison for advocating resistance to the British and support for the Caliphate. At the onset of the Turkish War of Independence in 1919, Muslim religious leaders feared for the Caliphate, which the European powers were reluctant to protect. To the Muslims of India, the prospect of being conscripted by the British to fight against fellow Muslims in Turkey was anathema. To its founders and followers, the Khilafat was not a religious movement but rather a show of solidarity with their fellow Muslims in Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire, having sided with the Central Powers during World War I, suffered a major military defeat. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) reduced its territories and diminished its political influence but the victorious European powers reluctantly promised to protect the Ottoman emperor's status as the Caliph. However, the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) were far more severe on the Ottomans than those imposed on the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles.

Within Turkey, a pro-Western, secular nationalist movement arose; Turkish National Movement. After the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1923), led by one of the Turkish revolutionaries, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk abolished the Treaty of Sèvres with the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Pursuant to Atatürk's Reforms, the Republic of Turkey abolished the position of Caliphate in 1924 and transferred its powers to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Back-story: For all the power he had already wielded in Turkey, Kemal did not dare to abolish the Caliphate outright, as it still commanded a considerable degree of support from the common people. Then an event happened which was to deal a fatal blow to the Caliphate. Two Indian brothers, Mohammad Ali Jouhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali, leaders of the Indian-based Khilafat Movement, distributed pamphlets calling upon the Turkish people to preserve the Ottoman Caliphate for the sake of Islam. Under Turkey's new nationalist government, however, this was construed as foreign intervention, and any form of foreign intervention was labeled an insult to Turkish sovereignty, and worse, a threat to state security. Kemal promptly seized his chance. On his initiative, the Grand National Assembly abolished the Caliphate on March 3, 1924. Abdülmecid II was promptly sent into exile marking the official end of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Epilogue: Abdülmecid II (1868–1944) was the last Sunni Caliph of Islam from the Ottoman Dynasty, nominally the 37th Head of the Ottoman Imperial House from 1922 to 1924. In 1924, together with his family, Abdülmecid II was deposed and expelled from Turkey. Abdülmecid II was an avid collector of butterflies, an activity that he occupied himself with during the last 20 years of his life. On 23 August 1944, Abdülmecid II died at his house in Paris, France. His death coincided with the Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation. He is buried in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

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