Sultan Abdul Hamid II was the last great Caliph to have ruled the Muslim world.
Born in 1842, Abdul Hamid ruled the Ottoman Caliphate for 33 years, from 1876 to 1909.
He is renowned for reviving the zeal of the Muslim world at a time the Caliphate was falling to European encroachment and nationalism. By instilling the love of Islam into the hearts of his people, he was able to unify their ranks and repel any potential division.
During his reign he paid off 90% of the Caliphate’s debts and built several universities, libraries and schools.
He also famously renovated Makkah and Madinah and went to great lengths to uphold the sanctity of the two Holy cities. He established hospitals, barracks and infrastructure within them and ensured they were well safeguarded. He also equipped Makkah with a modern water system to protect the precinct from relentless flooding.
In the 1800’s he commenced the construction of the Hijaz railway which ran through Istanbul, Palestine, Syria and ended in Madinah. He also strategically ensured that the rail tracks were incompatible with European trains to protect the Holy Cities from any potential European invasion.
His expertise in both politics and leadership was in fact noted by many of his contemporary rivals. German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II stated that “I have learned the game of politics from Abdulhamid.”
English Admiral Lord John Fisher also described Sultan Abdülhamid as being the “Most skillful and quick thinking diplomat in all of Europe.”
He vehemently resisted European imperialism with an iron fist and fiercely fought to protect Palestinian lands from the hands of corruption. When the founder of the Zionist movement Theodor Herzl offered to give 150 million pounds of gold in exchange for some land in Palestine, Sultan Abdul Hamid II replied:
“I advise Dr. Herzl not to take any further steps in his project. I cannot give away a handful of the soil of this land for it is not my own, it is for all the Islamic Nation that fought for the sake of this land and watered it with their blood. The Jews may keep their millions. If the Islamic Caliphate is one day destroyed then they will be able to take Palestine without a price. But while I am alive, I would rather push a sword into my body than see the land of Palestine cut and given away from the Islamic State. This will not be. I will not start cutting our bodies while we are alive”
(The diary of Theodore Herzli, Vol. 1)
He upheld his firm stance to safeguard Palestine up until his overthrowal by the secular Young Turks in 1909. He fought against their bid to establish a Jewish state in Palestine and was consequently exiled because of this.
“I quit being Caliph because of the oppression and threats by the Young Turks. This group insisted that I approve the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. I rejected this proposition. They finally offered 150 million British gold pieces. I rejected this as well and I told them: ‘I would never agree with you even if you offer not 150 million British gold but all the gold in the entire world. I served the Muslim community for more than 30 years. I did not let my forefathers down. Following my final response, they agreed on my dethronement and sent me to Thessaloniki. I pray to Allah, I did not accept to establish a new state on Palestinian lands on the Ottoman State and the Islamic community.”
After being forced into house arrest, he lived to witness the domain he once ruled suffer tremendously at the hands of European colonialists. They violently devoured the resources of the Muslim world and instilled division into their ranks.
He famously once stated that “Had I been ruling the Ottoman Empire I would have kept the Europeans fighting each other, and Muslims could have continued to live in peace.”
On February 10th, 1918 he woke up for the Fajr drawn prayer and washed himself. He held his wife’s hand, kissed her and supplicated for her. He then proclaimed “Allah! Allah!” in a loud voice and passed away.
He was laid to rest in a mausoleum in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, beside his grandfather Mahmud II and his uncle Abdülaziz.
May Allah have mercy on the great Sultan Abdul Hamid II and grant him the highest ranks of Paradise for his service to the Muslim Ummah.
Ottoman Records and Archives.
Some info sourced from Professor Yakoob Ahmed (Ottoman Historian- Istanbul University)
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