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İttihad-i Muhammadi Cemiyeti

By:
Feroz Ahmad
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

İttihad-i Muhammadi Cemiyeti

A political and religious organization was founded around the newspaper Volkan (Volcano) in February 1909 by Hafiz Derviş Vahdeti, a Naqshbandī from Cyprus. Named İttihad-i Muhammadi Cemiyeti (Muhammadan Union), it is known for its role in the insurrection of April 1909 in Istanbul that aimed to destroy the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the political movement that played the leading role in the constitutional revolution of 1908 and seized power in the coup of January 1913.

Conservative forces in the Ottoman Empire had been alarmed by the winds of change that blew through the capital after the restoration of the 1876 constitution in July 1908. The press flourished with the end of censorship, workers went on strike, and modern middle-class women left the home to take their place in public life alongside men. The world of the conservatives was shaken, and they blamed the constitution. They objected to the sultan-caliph 's loss of power and to the weakened role of sharīʿah (Turkish şeriat, Islamic law) in daily life. Initially, this opposition took religious form.

The first manifestation of religious reaction was the “Blind Ali Incident” of October 7, 1908. A certain Hoca Ali Efendi led a large crowd to Yıldız Palace and asked Sultan Abdülhamid to abolish the constitution and restore the sharīʿah, even though the Muslim holy law was still recognized. This demonstration proved ineffective; it was spontaneous and disorganized and lacked the support of the liberal-conservative faction within the Young Turk movement.

During the first nine months of revolutionary activity, the real struggle for power was between the radical members of the CUP and the moderate liberals. Though the liberals (who at the time controlled the government) were sure that they would win the December elections, the CUP was victorious. Only after the CUP had voted out the liberal Anglophile cabinet of Kamil Pasha on February 13, 1909, did the opposition come out into the open. It took a religious form, even though the liberals were as committed to reform as the CUP; the liberals were willing to use Islam to destroy their rivals.

The first issue of Volkan appeared on February 16. It was the voice of İttihad-i Muhammadi and called for Islamic unity as the basis of the Ottoman state. The İttihad 's doctrines and program were clerical and opposed to the reforms envisaged by the constitutional regime. Its own goals were described as nonpolitical, limited to reforming public morality in keeping with sharīʿah law.

Volkan used its columns to attack the CUP and Freemasons, as well as the constitutional regime, which it denounced as the “regime of devils.” The religious prejudices of its readers were exploited fully with attacks on “modern” women and non-Muslims. The paper was distributed free, leading to rumors that it was financed by the Palace or the British Embassy. The İttihad 's propaganda made great headway, and on April 6, the Şeyhülislam (in Arabic, Shaykh al-Islām) was forced to defend his government 's policies against Volkan 's accusations that these policies violated the sharīʿah. Feelings against the CUP rose dramatically after the murder of an opposition journalist on April 7 and his funeral the next day. Meanwhile, Islamist propaganda had reached the troops of the Istanbul garrison through itinerant theological students; on April 10 the troops were forbidden to have contact with such men. In this atmosphere of tension, the garrison mutinied on the night of April 12–13 and almost succeeded in destroying the CUP. But the mutiny was crushed, the Ittihad was proscribed, and some of its leaders, including Derviş Vahdeti, were hanged. The Ittihad-i Muhammadi and the events of 1909 have since come to symbolize religious reaction in Turkish political life.

See also ABDüLHAMID II and YOUNG TURKS.

Bibliography

  • Ahmad, Feroz. The Young Turks. Oxford, 1969. Useful for the history of the period 1906–1914.
  • Fahri, David. “The Şeriat as a Political Slogan, or, The  ‘Incident of the 31st Mart.’  ”Middle Eastern Studies7 (1971): 275–316. Critical evaluation of the religious factor in the insurrection.
  • Hanioglu, M. Sukru. The Young Turks in Opposition. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • McCullagh, Francis. The Fall of Abd-ul-Hamid. London, 1910. Gripping eyewitness account of the insurrection and the activities of the Volkan group.
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