On 27 June 1916 Sharif Hussein bin Ali, Emir of Mecca, issued a proclamation in which he announced himself, as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed ﷺ as the true leader of the Islamic faith. In this he was effectively seeking to depose Ottoman Sultan Mehmed Vas spiritual leader, whom he represented as a mere tool of the Young Turk administration.
Numerous reasons were cited to support Hussein’s claim, not least of which was the alleged mistreatment by the Turks of Arabs in Syria, and the controversial argument put forward by the Young Turks (in 1909) that all religions were to be regarded as equal.
Hussein’s objective in initiating the Great Arab Revolt was to establish a single independent and unified Arab state stretching from Aleppo (Syria) to Aden (Yemen), based on the ancient traditions and culture of the Arab people, the upholding of Islamic ideals and the full protection and inclusion of ethnic religious minorities.
Click here to read the text of King Hussein’s 27 June 1916 proclamation. Reproduced below is the text of the March 1917 proclamation issued by the Ulema (body of priests of Mecca) providing crucial support to Hussein.
Proclamation by the Ulema, March 1917
In the Name of Allah the Merciful.
Proclamation to the Faithful.
We, the elders and lawyers of the House of God, are among those whom God has permitted to serve the faith and defend its truths. The world and its treasures, in comparison with truth, are not worth the wing of an insect, for there is no other purpose for man in this life except to prepare for eternity.
The Moslem soul rejoices in beholding the Grand “Kaaba” in the first streak of dawn and in the shadow of evening, and he is sanctified by dwelling in the land blessed by the Prophet of God. The peace of God be upon him! Can such a man allow his faith to be scorned or see evil befall the things that are holy? Even so it is with us who dwell in this holy place.
We have discerned the hearts of the usurpers of Osman’s empire. We have learned their evil purpose with regard to our faith, we have beheld their crimes and wickedness in this our holy land, and our faith has shown us the path of salvation, and in its name we have acted according to our duty to ourselves and the Moslems of the world.
Every Moslem who would consider this matter should seek its cause and ascertain the nature of evil against which we rose in arms, when we found words were of no avail.
As for us, we are absolutely certain that the secret committee of the Young Turk Party has notoriously disobeyed God. No words stayed their hand from crime, and no opposition prevented the evil consequences of their actions. Let no one think that we speak vain things. There stand the facts and events which every man by inquiry can ascertain for himself.
We shall bring forth these facts and lay them before the Mohammedan world when necessity demands. Now we content ourselves with begging those of our brethren who oppose us to send some reliable person or persons to Constantinople, the capital of the Unionists, and there witness personally, as we have ourselves witnessed, Moslem women employed by the Government and exposed in public places unveiled before men of strange nations.
What do our true Moslem brethren who oppose us in haste think of this matter, an example of an evil that will greatly injure us if it increases and of which we publicly complain?
Would the obedience of people who do such a thing (and it is the least of their crimes against Islam and Moslems) be a true obedience or would it be disobedience to God? Never, by the God of the “Kaaba,” never. To obey them is to disobey God. Far from it that any of the faithful should consent to this.
We endeavoured to please God and avoid a rebellion so long as it was possible. We rebelled in order to please God, and He gave us victory and stood by us in support of His law and religion, and in accordance with a wisdom known to Him which would lead to the uplifting of this people.
Every Moslem heart in the Ottoman Empire, even among the Turks in Anatolia and among the members of the Turkish royal family in the palaces, prays God for our success, and God always answers the prayers of the oppressed and the righteous.
There is no doubt about it, that if the inhabitants of those countries which the Unionists have lost through their alliance with Germany in this war had revolted against those oppressors, just as we did, they would have no more been regarded as belligerents and would thus have saved their countries for themselves. But if things should continue as they are, no territory will remain for this empire.
If you keep this in mind and remember what the Indian paper Mashrek wrote on September 12th and 19th on the subject of the disqualification of the Beni Osman to be the Caliphs of Islam, you will understand that we have risen in order to avert these dangers and to put the Islamic rule on a firm foundation of true civilization according to the noble dictates of our religion.
If our revolution were only to preserve the integrity of our country and to save it from what has befallen other Islamic countries, it is enough, and we are amply justified.
We call the attention of those who oppose us to the necessity of saving the other countries from the calamities into which their inhabitants have fallen and to deliver them from the destruction and ruin into which those criminal hands are dragging them, if any true religious enthusiasm is left at all.
We have done what we ought to do. We have cleansed our country from the germs of atheism and evil. The best course for those Moslems who still side with and defend this notorious gang of Unionists, is to submit to the will of God before their tongues, hands, and feet give witness against them.
It is a great mistake to suppose that in rising against this party we are rising against a legitimate Caliph possessing all the legal or, at least, some of the conditions qualifying him to be such.
What does the Mohammedan world say of the Beni Osman who pretend to be Caliphs of Islam, while for many years they were like puppets in the hands of the Janissaries; tossed about, dethroned, and killed by them, in a manner contrary to the laws and doctrines established in the books of religion on the accession and dethronement of Caliphs – which facts are recorded in their history?
History is now repeating itself. To those Janissaries, grandsons have appeared in these days who are repeating the acts enacted in the days of Abdul Aziz, Murad, and Abdul Hamid. The murder of Yussuf Izzedin, the Turkish heir apparent, is too recent to be forgotten.
Those who oppose us and side with the Beni Osman should do one of two things: (1) Consider the Janissaries and their grandsons as the final authority on the question of the Caliphate, which we do not think any reasonable man would do, because it is against the laws of religion; or (2) consider those Janissaries and their grandsons as void of authority on the Caliphate question, in which case we should ask them, “What is the Caliphate and what are its conditions?”
Therefore, it remains for those who oppose us to repent, to come to their senses and unite with us in appealing to the Moslem world to use all effective measures for the strengthening of Islam and the restoring of its glory.
We want those who are present here to tell you who are far away that we shall confess before Almighty God, on the last day, that today we do not know of any Moslem ruler more righteous and fearing God than the son of His Prophet who is now on the throne of the Arab country.
We do not know any one more zealous than he in religion, more observant of the law of God in words and deeds, and more capable of managing our affairs in such a way as would please God. The people of the Holy Land have proclaimed him their King simply because, in so doing, they would be serving their religion and country.
As to the question of the Caliphate, in spite of all that is known of the deplorable condition in which it is situated at the present moment, we have not interfered with it at all and it will remain as it is pending the final decision of the whole Mohammedan world.
Salams to all who hear what is said and believe the good in it. May God lead us all into the path of right.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923