Turkish scholar’s selective sampling of history reflects his grandiose and discriminatory attitudes

Turkish scholar’s selective sampling of history reflects his grandiose and discriminatory attitudes

A general view of a statue erected in Lahore, Pakistan after success of TV series depicting origins of the Ottoman Empire. (Reuters/File Photo)
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In this final part of my response to a series of recent newspaper articles by Turkish scholar Zakaria Qurshon, it is important to be aware that we are facing a situation where some historians use history to advance political agendas or achieve ideological and ethnic objectives.

This is why many historians speak loudly as they try to persuade us that they are the only ones who speak the truth. In pursuit of their aims, they use different methods: They select words and cite texts that serve their agendas, and try to persuade others by using methods of repetition and the perpetuation of fixed ideas.

The method of perpetuation and affirmation often uses ideas that are difficult for everyone to believe easily. Therefore some strategies seek to use repetition to make the audience feel over time, in one way or another, that they need to rethink the matter to convince themselves of the merit of what is being presented.

What Qurshon attempted to perpetuate includes what we previously mentioned regarding hostility to the Ottomans, the Ottomans’ custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques, and the idea that the Ottoman rule of the Hijaz was positive. All of this is the result of the history war between the Saudis and Ottomans, in which the Saudis shattered the Turkish myth in the Arab world.

This is why the Turks always embrace outdated ideas to win people’s hearts during their siege of history. They always propose the idea of the caliphate, of protecting the Islamic world, and that the Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state and not a colonial country. This idea emanates from the Turks' hidden sense of the opposite, when they implicitly admit their crimes and recognize the shortcomings of their own history.

During a banquet held at King Abdul Aziz’s palace in Makkah in honor of the Hajj delegations in 1931, the king had a frank and transparent conversation with one of his guests that provided great evidence of the Ottoman reality in the Arabian Peninsula.

The guest was Ahmet Vahideddin, the grandson of the Ottoman sultan, and King Abdul Aziz said: “We have been harmed and fought in the path of dawah (propagation of Islam), but we were patient and we resisted. The greatest of those who fought us were the grandfathers of this man (the Sultan’s grandson), and they fought us only because we refused to say that we are the slaves of Amir Al-Mu’minin. No, no, no. We are slaves of no one but God.”

He then recited this Qur’anic verse: “And they resented them not except because they believed in Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy.” [85:8]

The Kingdom’s founder wanted to remind Muslims of what had happened so that they could learn and be informed — especially of the Ottoman invasions and wars against the first Saudi state, during which its capital, Diriyah, was destroyed, along with many other cities in the center, south and east of the country.

The Ottomans described the Saudi state and Saudis as “Wahhabis,” which caused Saudi Muslims to detest them, because they distorted the Saudi principles and mission, which were based on true religion. This was documented in issue 333 of Umm Al-Qura newspaper (the official newspaper), published on May 1, 1931, which the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) has shared on its Twitter account.

The direction of Zakaria Qurshon’s discourse in the name of his government has thrown him into a deep abyss. History will have no mercy on him, and the applause of his admirers will be of no use.

Talal Al-Torifi

Qurshon formulates history in his own way — even if it is not logical — to establish his ideas and his goals. He proposed the idea of Turkey giving Saudi Arabia several options: The first was regional convergence, followed by discussions about the management of Hajj.

He also pointed out that King Abdul Aziz was the originator of the idea of joint Islamic management of Hajj. And before he waded through this matter, he hastily reviewed Saudi-Turkish relations during the reign of King Abdul Aziz and the stages of unifying the Arabian Peninsula, which he did by referring to a booklet on Saudi history written during that period in Turkey.

Nothing he said about the matter pertains to joint Islamic management of Hajj. Qurshon referred to the Muslim conference King Abdul Aziz convened after he annexed the Hijaz. The king emphasized during the conference that its main goal was to endorse a form of Hajj management in line with what was proposed by the countries of the Islamic world.

The first meeting of the World Muslim Congress was in 1926 (1346 AH), and Turkey, for whom Qurshon speaks, did not participate. Qurshon did not refer in any way to joint management, but rather to the countries of the Islamic world offering their opinions, propositions and demands for Hajj season.

King Abdul Aziz stressed that his government would serve the Grand Mosque of Makkah and its pilgrims. Upon his annexation of the Hijaz, he said: “We welcome all Muslim pilgrims to the Grand Mosque and rejoice at their arrival during the Hajj season of 1343 AH. We will be responsible for ensuring their comfort, protecting all their rights, and facilitating their trips to Makkah from whichever port they arrive.”

As for what happened during that first conference, if what Qurshon claims is true, it would have been included in its recommendations. The conference did not, however, refer to any of that in its agenda or recommendations.

King Abdul Aziz said in his opening speech: “You see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears from those who arrived before you in these lands to visit and perform Hajj that public security across the Hijaz and between the Two Holy Mosques is on an unprecedented level of perfection. This level has not been achieved for many centuries, and nothing surpasses its order and strength in the finest of kingdoms.”

This confirms King Abdul Aziz’s insistence that the Two Holy Mosques are part of the homeland, and the government’s service to these holy places is a duty in which it takes pride. His sons later followed in his footsteps in the service of Muslims during Hajj.

What Qurshon said is nothing but deceit, as is his custom and misuse of speech to achieve his goal. Turkey did not attach any importance to the Hajj, nor to the Two Holy Mosques at the beginning of the era of the republic and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Therefore the current Turks and their government cannot have any real idea of what the Kingdom has done since its foundation, and they only see it as a rival that took from them what gave them legitimacy.

The matter occupying the minds of the Turks — and the Ottomans before them — has to do with their custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques, which gave them the legitimacy that supported them and their ascent to the top of the Islamic world.

Saudi Arabia, with all that it has done, has never looked from the angle to which the Turks’ eyes are confined. The Kingdom sees serving the Two Holy Mosques as the right and the duty of the Saudi government, and every Saudi citizen feels the privilege of serving God’s house.

In conclusion, Qurshon wanted to degrade Arabs and Arab tribes by pointing out that Arabs are the worst in terms of disbelief and hypocrisy. He based this assertion on the following verse: “The Bedouins are stronger in disbelief and hypocrisy and more likely not to know the limits of what (laws) Allah has revealed to His Messenger. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.” [9:97]

Qurshon here insinuates that the verse describes Bedouins absolutely, when he is not aware of the implications of the verse nor what the concept of Arabs or Bedouins means. He forgot that in the same Surah (At-Tawbah), God says: “But among the Bedouins are some who believe in Allah and the Last Day and consider what they spend as means of nearness to Allah and of (obtaining) invocations of the Messenger. Unquestionably, it is a means of nearness for them. Allah will admit them to His mercy. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [9:99]

The verse here negates part of the previous verse and does not carry the absolute sense to which Qurshon referred. Despite this, the verse is narrowed down in its reasoning and general concepts.

Qurshon further revealed how racist he is by saying: “These tribes today tweet in the same vein and attack the Ottoman Empire on social media in order to please the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. They should know that their tribes’ records, and the signatures and seals of their ancestors, are still preserved in the Ottoman archives in the ‘Arabian bundle’ section.”

This statement is intended to demean all Arab tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, but he does not realize that this is not a reason for shame. In exchange for the bundle, the Ottoman Empire maintained roads and was entrusted with protection. And the Ottomans could not impose their authority except with money.

Going back to history, when Qurshon said that the Arabian bundle was in Ottoman archives, we would not be going against human nature by reminding him of old historical details that were swept under the carpet. Among them was the issue of ancient slavery and its arrival in the Islamic world; this slavery does not agree with civilized humanity.

After the early conquests reached Turkish lands, the Umayyads and the Abbasids worked to establish their power in Central Asia. Islam continued to spread in those parts until the Turks began to serve the Islamic state. The Abbasid state invested in its service, especially during the reign of Caliph Al-Musta’sim Billah, when most of the soldiers were Turks. They were the mainstay of his state and his forces until it was said that he alone had approximately 20,000 Turkish Mamluk slaves. (For more information, see: “Al-Inba’ Fi Ta’rikh Al-Khulafa” by Mohammed Al-Imrani (580 AH/1184 AD), edited by Qassem Al-Samirrai (Cairo: Dar Al-Afaq Al-Arabiya, 2001), 104-110; “Tarikh Al-Islam Wa Wafiyyat Al-Mashahir Wal Aaalam” by Mohammed Al-Zahabi, edited by Omar Al-Tadmori, 2nd edition (Beirut, Dar Al-Kitab Al-Arabi, 1993), 17:379; “Al-Bidaya Wal Nihaya” by Ismail ibn Katheer (774 AH/1372 AD), edited by Ali Sherri (Beirut: Dar Ihya Al-Turath Al-Arabi, 1988), 10:325).

When the Turks increased their contact with the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant, they frequented the cities of the Islamic world and filled those lands. Some of them became leaders in the military and dominated the affairs of state. However, this activity, which became obvious after the era of Al-Mu’tasim Billah, involved individuals and families, not tribes or large groups, as most of them were slaves serving the state. (See “Tarikh Al-Dawla Al-Othmaniya” by Shakib Arslan, edited and collected by Hassan Suwaidan (Beirut, Dar Ibn Katheer, 2001), 26.)

Although they were Mamluks, they became powerful to the point where they could isolate and kill the caliphs and control state funds after taking control of leadership positions. In 861 AD, a Turk named Baghir dared to kill the caliph, Al-Mutawakkil Ala Allah, in his palace because the caliph wanted to send away his father’s Turkish Mamluk, Wasseef.

This marked the beginning of the actual power of the Turkish Mamluks in the Islamic state, after the reign of Al-Mu’tasim Billah, because no one could match their power and control and the only competition was among themselves. (See “The Ottoman Empire: Its Political and Military History” by Saeed Berjawi, (Beirut: Al-Ahlia for Publishing and Distribution, 1993) 13; “Nozhat Al-Anzar Fi Aja’eb Al-Tawarikh Wal Akhbar” by Mohammed Moqadish, edited by Ali Al-Zuwari and Mohammed Mahfouz (Beirut: Dar Al-Gharb Al-Islami, 1988), 1:256).

At a time when the Turks reached their peak strength, power and influence, they did not seek to summon the Turkish tribes with their organizations and forces. They were keen to attract individuals and military groups made up of mercenary soldiers, most of whom were bought like slaves. Maybe this is because Turkish tribes only gradually integrated into other civilizations.

That is why the Islamic state, like other civilizations, created a barrier separating itself from Turkish groups to protect its lands from the barbarity of those groups during their emigration — as was believed at the time.

The Abbasids were keen to establish a boundary between the borders of their eastern state and the Turkish tribes by forcing Bedouin Turkish groups to settle in areas that separated the Abbasids from the tribes, who pushed their people to infiltrate Abbasid areas. (See “History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey” by Stanford Shaw [New York: Cambridge university press, 2002], 2-3).

However, this did not last long. The flow of Turks increased and, with time, they arrived in larger groups until the Seljuks, who started as mercenaries, came to protect the caliph against any threats, thus increasing their influence in the Abbasid state and as leaders among the Bedouin Turkmen tribes. Their role was both to protect and run the state, in addition to being Turkmen leaders. The Abbasids became caliphs with spiritual leadership and no authority. (See Shaw’s “History of the Ottoman Empire,” 4-5).

That is why it does not surprise us that Qurshon has become so desperate in his discourse, limp in his information, and a fraud in his references. He took what he wanted from history, leaving and ignoring what he did not — or what did not suit his discourse. Based on such as that, I believe a piece of stone has the same worth as a dinar.

In the end, we had expected that Qurshon would choose to compose a scientific discourse in his series of articles since, after all, he is an academic professor with an academic degree. The degree makes it unacceptable for its holder to be shallow and directed by a changeable political compass.

All the history he included in his articles was weak and faulty. He relied on the presumptuous rhetoric and superior attitude of Turks in their view of other peoples. This direction of Qurshon’s discourse in the name of his government has thrown him into a deep abyss. History will have no mercy on him, and the applause of his admirers will be of no use.

History is clear, its sources are available and its methods are accessible to all. Everyone who wants to verify its truth has only to turn to the sources, uncover the facts and analyze them according to logic, not according to ethnicity and political interest.

  • Talal Al-Torifi is a Saudi academic and media specialist.

Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the five-part series: 

1. Turks’ pre-Ottoman history based on myth and imagination

2. Turkey repeating Ottoman Empire’s crimes against Arabs

3. Turkish propaganda ignores Ottoman violations of Two Holy Mosques

4. Turks defrauding history with Ottoman monuments narrative

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