Ottoman-era Turkish newspapers support Hindu-Muslim unity in India

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By Omair Anas

The writer is an assistant professor in the department of international relations at the University of Ankara Yildirim Beyazit.

ANKARA (AA) – The digitized form of the newspaper files of the end of the Ottoman Empire, released by the Turkish government and Turkish non-governmental organizations, adds new knowledge about Ottoman society, culture and politics.

Among many Ottoman newspapers, the Sebilurresad is one of the most popular publications which has covered and closely followed Indian affairs. The bimonthly magazine was first launched in 1908 under the name Sırat-ı Mustakim by Ebul’ula Zeynelabidine and H. Esref Edip with Mehmet Akif as editor.

Forced several times to cease publication or to change its name, it became Sebilurresad in 1912. Mehmet Akif, who actively participated in the Turkish national struggle and would later write the national anthem of Turkey, was the editor-in-chief of Sebilurresad. The Sebilurresad editorial team had traveled extensively to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe to mobilize awareness and support for Turkey.

When Sebilurresad was launched, Anglo-Ottoman relations had already started to decline. Parts of Turkish territories were under Allied control after WWI.

The status of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina was the greatest source of concern for the Muslim community around the world, including the large Muslim population of the Indian subcontinent. They had already set up an organization like Anjuman Khuddam-e-Kaba (Assembly of Kaba Servants) and the Khilafat Indian Movement, to demand the protection of the holiest places in Islam.

– Long list of political questions concerning India, Turkey

When Sebilurresad correspondents started covering Indian affairs, they found a long list of political questions that concerned the future of India and Turkey.

Abdurreshid Ibrahim, SM Tevfik, Ahmed Halil, Ashraf Edip, Omer Riza Dogrul can be seen among the frequent contributors on Indian affairs at Sebilurresad. The Pan-Asian Abdurresid İbrahim had traveled to India en route to Japan in 1908 and had published his observations both in the Sirat-i Mustakim “and then in the Sebilurresad, when the name was changed.

In one of his letters from India, he wrote: “If I say that India is the most sacred place in the world, it will not be wrong. The prophet Adam is said to have landed near India at Srandip (Sri Lanka). Abdirresid Ibrahim’s Arab biographer, Salim Muhammad emphasizes his suggestion that India’s independence should be fought together by Muslims and Hindus.

Abdurresid Ibrahim wrote a long article in 1922 to analyze the struggle for independence in India. In this article, the Ahmedabad session of the Indian National Congress in 1921 caught his attention, as it was held under its Muslim president, Hakim Ajmal Ahmad Khan. He found this to be a strong message of unity from all Indians against British rule.

In this article he wrote: “India is a country of the greatest diversity of religions, languages ​​and faiths; however, their disunity will spoil their dreams of independence. The unity shown by Indians of all faiths in the Indian Khilafat movement was an example. “

After Abdurresid Ibrahim, SM Tevfik traveled extensively in Indian cities from 1912 to 1913 and published his 37-part travel diary titled Hind Yolunda (On the Road to India).

Sebilurresad is said to be a magazine of conservative Ottoman politicians. This makes it a unique understanding of the complex relationship between Islam, nationalism, and Muslim identity. Their generous admiration for Indian rulers and Indian Islamic scholars including Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Shaukat Ali, Shibli Nomani and many others speaks volumes about this unique understanding.

– Praise to Maulana Azad

Sebilurresad, while covering Indian affairs, had no idea that India could one day be divided some two decades later on religious grounds. For them, Maulana Azad was not only a politician but also a great Islamic thinker who had inspired a new awareness among Muslims around the world. Maulana Azad’s articles and speeches were immediately translated and published in Sebilurresad and other magazines. During this period, the magazine began to cover Indian affairs more actively.

Maulana Abul Kalam’s famous speech in a court in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) received a lot of attention and was published in Sebilurresad and other magazines. His speech was translated into Ottoman Turkish and subsequently published in book form. In addition, events in small Indian towns like Rampur, Lucknow, Hamirpur and other citizens caught the attention of the newspaper.

From 1908 to 1925, about 500 articles, information or translations of documents related to India were published in Sebilurresad. Early articles include reports by Abdurresid Ibrahim, who visited Bombay, Hyderabad and other cities in 1908. Abdurresid Ibrahim was the first Turkish journalist and activist to introduce his Turkish readers to Indian political affairs. His writings helped Ottoman politicians better understand Indian politics, and as a result, Ottoman / Turkish interest in Indian affairs grew rapidly.

During these years Indian Muslims were helped with the Ottoman government’s Hijaz railway project and the construction of ports in Turkey. Indian activities in Iran received special attention in the newspaper.

It is possible that Abdurresid Ibrahim also met Rabindranath Tagore and Subash Chandra Bose while in Japan.

Since the start of World War I in 1914, the magazine has covered matters related to the war, especially the position of Indian Muslims. The question of British policy towards the Ottoman Khilafat and the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina received particular attention. In this tumultuous time, the Khilafat Movement had also started. In 1924, when Rabindranath Tagore reached Japan, Abdurresid Ibrahim was already there, and he closely followed the Tagore conferences and published his reports on the Tagore conferences in four parts.

– The Khilafat movement finds cover

One of the most widely covered topics in these articles is the struggle for Indian independence. Then the Khilafat movement found significant coverage in these newspapers. The subjects of Indian history, culture and society have also been covered extensively in many issues of Sebilurresad. Japanese politics, Pan-Asianism, the Hijaz Railway, British policy towards Mecca and Medina, centers of Islamic scholarship in India such as Deoband, Nadwatul Ulama, and the works of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Allama Shibli Numani found significant mention.

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh’s trip and Tagore’s results also caught their attention. Interestingly, news from small towns like Azamgarh, Rampur, Hamirpur, Lucknow, Kanpur also caught the magazine’s attention. Even the prevalence of traditional Perso-Arab medicine known as Unani medicine in India also caught the attention of SM Tevfik, who published a lengthy report on its prevalence in India in issue 257 of 1911.

Among the political issues, the Indian Khilafat movement, the Indian National Congress, Gandhi, Azad, the British conferences on India received a lot of attention. According to a report published in issue 528 of Sebilurresad from 1920, the Indian Khilafat movement offered to mediate between Arabs and Turks to settle their differences.

In issues 551-552, detailed articles on Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali, known as the Ali Brothers, were published. The report also noted that Ali Brothers had enormous support from all Muslims and non-Muslims in their anti-British policies. For the Ali brothers, like Maulana Azad, support for the Ottoman Khilafat during the era of the British occupation of Istanbul and other Islamic holy places, Mecca and Medina, was no different from their struggle against domination. British colonial rule in India.

– Interesting expectations

In an article published in issue 286, February 1913, on Indian Muslims’ expectations of Turkey, visiting Sebilurresad correspondent SM Tevfik includes two interesting expectations. The Ottomans should watch closely and learn from the rise of Japan. Second, Turkey should establish close trade relations with India and all Asian countries even though the trade volume is low.

In issue 292, 1913, Tevfik observed that the failure of India’s first war of independence in 1857 made the Indian masses more sensitive and aware, especially the Hindus.

They discovered that modern education is necessary to compete with the West. For these reasons, the Hindus in Calcutta opened schools and colleges and sent their children to Europe for higher education in science and mathematics.

He writes that nationalist sentiments are intensified among Hindus, to such an extent that a Hindu working with any British office is publicly ridiculed and humiliated. Those who work for the UK authorities are now hiding their identity or resigning from their jobs.

These nationalist sentiments are reflected in their political struggle within the Indian National Congress. This year, they chose a Muslim, Syed Muhammad Khan as president at the Karachi session of 1913. In the July 11, 1911 issue, the magazine featured a Paris-based magazine, Vande Matram, founded by the British fighter. freedom Madame Bhikaji Kama.

In a report on Indian happiness with Edirne’s return to Ottoman rule, SM Tevfik presented Vande Matram magazine and translated the magazine’s motto which read: “Life is nothing without independence.” There is no difference between the dead, those buried in their graves and those without freedom. “

– On the Hindu-Muslim riots

Tevfik discovered that any Indian in possession of this magazine should lose everything.

The July 25, 1913 issue carefully covered the riots in Kanpur. The authors said the British authorities abused communal violence to weaken Hindu-Muslim unity against British colonialism. SM Tevfik noticed that Hindu and Muslim businessmen from Madras (Chennai) had jointly created a chamber of commerce.

After reporting in many cities, SM Tevfik announced that he would write a detailed introduction to Hinduism for Turkish readers. In most of the reports, Sebilurresad has always emphasized the unity between the different Indian religions for the sake of their common political future. The cover of India in the magazine shows Turkey’s humanistic worldview towards Indian affairs by appreciating India’s diversity and the efforts of its rulers to make India a country of ideas and values pluralistic.

* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Anadolu Agency.


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