#3rdMarch1924 – Know your history

“We must put an end to anything which brings about any Islamic unity between the sons of the Muslims. The situation now is that Turkey is dead and will never rise again, because we have destroyed its moral strength, the Caliphate and Islam.”

Lord Curzon, British Foreign Secretary (1919-1924), House of Commons

To some, the 3rd of March passes every year as a day like any other. But every year, whether we know it or not, we pass the anniversary of an event that marked the fate of the Muslim Ummah arguably more so than any other event since the time of Rasoolallah (saws) – the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Throughout Islamic history, one of the uniting aspects of the Muslim world was the caliphate. After the death of Prophet Muhammad (saws), his close companion, Abu Bakr, was elected as the first khalif, or caliph, of the Muslim community. This position does not only involve political leadership over the Muslim state, but also to act as well as a leader in religious matters, given that this office is inherently an Islamic one. Following the Khulafa Rashidun, various Islamic empires rose and fell. Despite later having aspects of hereditary rule, and generally being declined in Islamic spirit, the idea of the state being based upon the Quran and Sunnah and implementing the sharia remained, until the early 20th century.

Yet it was on this day in 1924, the Grand National Assembly abolished the caliphate itself and the last Khalif, Sultan Abdul Macid II, was escorted from Istanbul to Switzerland. Turkey was thereafter declared a secular state by Kamal Ataturk[1].


The fall of Islam as a form of governance was a gradual one, prompted by a lack of Islamic ideas and as the ideas of secularism spread from Europe. The Ottoman state specifically had been in decline for many decades having been unable to tackle the rise of colonialism dividing up many parts of the Muslim world. Groups such as the Young Turks, Western-educated liberal secularists, vehemently disagreed with the Islamic direction later Ottoman caliphs such as Abdul Hamid II[2] tried to reinforce with the state. This then set the stage for Turkey to enter WWI, entering unilaterally on the German side. By 1918 when the war ended, the Islamic state was divided and occupied by the victorious allies, leaving only the central Anatolian highlands under native Turkish control[3]. After the war, Ataturk made his priorities clear – the establishment of a secular state based on Turkish nationalism.

Presented under the guise of reform and progress, the secular state of Turkey rescinded all sharia laws in state matters, creating a European model of social and economic governance. The Islamic dress, namely the hijab and even traditional headdresses such as the turban and the fez, were banned. The calendar was changed from the Islamic calendar to the Gregorian. The Adhaan was banned and rewritten using Turkish words which was forced upon mosques. The Arabic language was removed from curriculums and within a few decades even Ottomon Turkish was effectively extinct[4]. The effects of years of repressive secularism still remain in the region, and pose many problems for Turkey today.

But this was an event that impacted not only Turkish Muslims, but the Muslims of the entire world. The loss of the collective leadership of the global Ummah left it without any defence against the many challenges that have emerged in the decades since. From the establishment of Israel as marked by the Nakba, to the tyrannical rule of many Arab and Asian governments, down to the recent establishment of ISIS, instability has characterised Muslim lands for the past 90 years


Today, Muslims all over the world are connected to the global Ummah and are starting to see through the artificial concept of nation states as the de facto way of organising the world. As Muslims, we need to be aware of our history and recognise that this was not always our situation. We must return to what Allah (swt) guaranteed would bring us success – unifying based on our belief in Islam and our desire to see His laws implemented.

It is bizarre that people think it is “reasonable” or “realistic” to call for an adapted form of western liberal secularism for the Muslim world – which has nothing to do with the beliefs of the people and history of the region – instead of the system that gave dignity and civilisation for so long.

In a famous hadith, Muhammad (saws) warned us:

“The knots of Islām will be undone one by one, each time a knot is undone the next one will be grasped, the first to be undone will be the ruling and the last will be the prayer.”[5]

If we do not heed this warning, and pick and choose the parts of Islam we wish to implement, we will find ourselves letting go of the Deen entirely. It is time for us to recognise and be proud of Islam as a holistic way of life, capable of solving problems for individuals and society.

Further reading




[1] http://lostislamichistory.com/how-ataturk-made-turkey-secular/

[2] http://lostislamichistory.com/the-last-great-caliph-abdulhamid-ii/

[3] http://lostislamichistory.com/how-the-british-divided-up-the-arab-world/

[4] Ochsenwald, William, and Sydney Fisher. The Middle East: A History. 6th. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.

[5] Musnad Aḥmed, ḥadīth no.31


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