Ottoman Caliphate
خلافت مقامى
Hilâfet makamı
Flag of Ottoman Caliphate
Caliphate standard of Abdulmejid II (1922–1924)
Coat of arms of Abdulmejid II (1922–1924) of Ottoman Caliphate
Coat of arms of Abdulmejid II (1922–1924)
Working languagesOttoman Turkish (dynastic)
Arabic (religious)
Sunni Islam
GovernmentHereditary caliphate under an empire (1517–1922)
Elective caliphate under a parliament (1922–1924)
• 1517–1520
Selim I (first)
• 1922–1924
Abdulmejid II (last)
• Al-Mutawakkil III formally surrenders his title over to Selim I
Preceded by
Abbasid caliphs of Cairo

The caliphate of the Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Turkish: خلافت مقامى, romanizedhilâfet makamı, lit.'office of the caliphate') was the claim of the heads of the Turkish Ottoman dynasty to be the caliphs of Islam in the late medieval and early modern era. During the period of Ottoman expansion, Ottoman rulers claimed caliphal authority after the conquest of Mamluk Egypt by sultan Selim I in 1517 and the abolition of the Mamluk-controlled Abbasid Caliphate. This left Selim as the Defender of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina and strengthened the Ottoman claim to leadership in the Muslim world.

The demise of the Ottoman Caliphate took place because of a slow erosion of power in relation to Western Europe, and because of the end of the Ottoman state as a consequence of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire by the League of Nations mandate. Abdulmejid II, the last Ottoman caliph, held his caliphal position for a couple of years after the partitioning, but with Mustafa Kemal Pasha's secular reforms and the subsequent exile of the imperial Osmanoğlu family from Turkey in 1924, the caliphal position was abolished. Mustafa Kemal Pasha offered the caliphate to Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi, on the condition that he reside outside Turkey; Senussi declined the offer and confirmed his support for Abdulmejid II.[1]

With the establishments of Bektashi and Mevlevi orders, heterodox, syncretic and mystic approaches to Islam like Sufism flourished.[2][3][4][5]


Selim I to Abdulaziz (1517–1876)

See also: Ottoman Old Regime

The Battle of Marj Dabiq between the Ottoman and Mamluk armies
Commemorative plaque where the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca was signed

In 1517, the Ottoman sultan Selim I defeated the Mamluk Sultanate in Cairo in the Ottoman–Mamluk War. The last caliph of Cairo, Al-Mutawakkil III, was brought back to Constantinople as prisoner. There, it is said, al-Mutawakkil formally surrendered the title of caliph as well as its outward emblems—the sword and mantle of Muhammad—to Selim, establishing the Ottoman sultans as the new caliphal line.[6] And they gradually came to be viewed as the de facto leaders and representative of the Islamic world. From Constantinople, the Ottoman sultans ruled over an empire that, at its peak, covered Anatolia, most of the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus, and extended deep into Eastern Europe.

Strengthened by the Peace of Westphalia and the Industrial Revolution, European powers regrouped and challenged Ottoman dominance. Owing largely to poor leadership, archaic political norms, and an inability to keep pace with technological progress in Europe, the Ottoman Empire could not respond effectively to Europe's resurgence and gradually lost its position as a pre-eminent great power.

The first political (rather than religious) usage of the title caliph, however, would not occur until 1774, when the Ottomans needed to counter the Russians, who announced that they needed to protect Orthodox Christians under the Ottoman Empire, by making a similar claim about the Muslims living in Russia.[7][8] The British would tactfully affirm the Ottoman claim to the caliphate and proceed to have the Ottoman caliph issue orders to the Muslims living in British India to comply with the British government.[9]

In the nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire initiated a period of modernization known as the Tanzimat, which transformed the nature of the Ottoman state, greatly increasing its power despite the empire's territorial losses.[10] Despite the success of its self-strengthening reforms, the empire was largely unable to match the military strength of its main rival, the Russian Empire, and suffered several defeats in the Russo-Turkish Wars. The Ottoman state defaulted on its loans in 1875–76, part of a wider financial crisis affecting much of the globe.[11]

The British government supported the view that the Ottomans were Caliphs of Islam among Muslims in British India and the Ottoman sultans in return helped the British by issuing pronouncements to the Muslims of India, which extolled them to support British rule; these came from sultan Selim III and sultan Abdulmejid I.[12]

Abdul Hamid II (1876–1909)

See also: Decline and modernization of the Ottoman Empire § İstibdat 1878–1908

Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who ruled 1876–1909, felt that the Empire's desperate situation could only be remedied through strong and determined leadership. He distrusted his ministers and other officials that had served his predecessors and gradually reduced their role in his regime, concentrating absolute power over the Empire's governance in his own hands. Taking a hard-line against Western involvement in Ottoman affairs, he emphasized the Empire's "Islamic" character, reasserted his status as the Caliph, and called for Muslim unity behind the Caliphate. Abdul-Hamid strengthened the Empire's position somewhat, and succeeded briefly in reasserting Islamic power, by building numerous schools, reducing the national debt, and embarking on projects aimed at revitalizing the Empire's decaying infrastructure.

In 1899, the Ottomans would grant a request from the United States government and leverage their religious authority as caliphs to order that the Tausug Sultanate (located in what is now southern Philippines and northeastern Malaysia) stop the defence of the sultanate and surrender to American invasion; Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II of the Tausug Sultanate would heed the caliph sultan Abdul-Hamid II's order, and surrender.[13][14]

The coup by the three Pashas in 1909 marked the end of his reign. Western-inclined Turkish military officers opposed to Abdul-Hamid's rule had steadily organized in the form of secret societies within and outside Turkey. By 1906, the movement enjoyed the support of a significant portion of the army, and its leaders formed the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), informally known as the Young Turk Party. The Young Turks sought to remodel administration of the Empire along Western lines. Their ideology was nationalist in character, and was a precursor of the movement that would seize control of Turkey following World War I. CUP leaders presented their ideas to the public as a revival of "true Islamic principles". Under the leadership of Enver Pasha, a Turkish military officer, the CUP launched a military coup against the sultan in 1908, proclaiming a new regime on 6 July. Though they left Abdul-Hamid on his throne, the Young Turks compelled him to restore the parliament and constitution he had suspended thirty years earlier, thereby creating a constitutional monarchy and stripping the Caliphate of its authority.

Counter-coup and 31 March Incident

Main articles: 1909 Ottoman countercoup and 31 March Incident

A counter-coup launched by soldiers loyal to the sultan threatened the new government but ultimately failed. After nine months into the new parliamentary term, discontent and reaction found expression in a counter-revolutionary 31 March Incident movement, which actually occurred on 13 April 1909. Many aspects of this revolt, which started within certain sections of the mutinying army in Constantinople, are still yet to be analyzed. Its generally admitted perception of a "reactionary" movement has sometimes been challenged, given the results and effects on the young political system.

Abdul-Hamid was deposed on 13 April 1909. He was replaced by his brother Rashid Effendi, who was proclaimed sultan Mehmed V on 27 April.

Mehmed V (1909–1918)

With Libya

In 1911 Italy warred with the Ottomans over Libya, and Turkey's failure to defend these regions demonstrated the weakness of the Ottoman military. In 1912 Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece formed the Balkan League, an anti-Ottoman alliance that subsequently launched a joint attack on the Ottoman Empire. The ensuing Balkan Wars eliminated what little presence the Ottomans had left in Europe, and only infighting between the Balkan League allies prevented them from advancing into Anatolia.

Internally, the Ottomans continued to be troubled by political instability. Nationalist uprisings that had plagued the Empire sporadically for the past fifty years intensified. The masses were growing frustrated with chronic misgovernance and the Ottomans' poor showing in military conflicts. In response, the CUP led a second coup d'état in 1913 and seized absolute control of the government. For the next five years, the Empire was a one-party state ruled by the CUP under the leadership of Enver Pasha (who returned to Constantinople after having served Turkey abroad in various military and diplomatic capacities since the initial coup), Minister of the Interior Talat Pasha, and Minister of the Navy Cemal Pasha. Though the sultan was retained, he made no effort to exercise power independent of the Young Turks and was effectively their puppet. The Caliphate was thus held nominally by Mehmed V, but the authority attached to the office rested with the Young Turks.

World War I

See also: Middle Eastern theater of World War I

As World War I broke out in Europe, the Young Turks struck an alliance with Germany, a move that would have disastrous consequences. The Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in November 1914, and Britain, France, and Russia immediately declared war on Ottoman Empire.[15] During the development of the war, the empire's position continued to deteriorate, and even in the Middle East – the very heartland of the Islamic world – would soon be lost.

Call for Jihad

Main article: Declaration of jihad by the Ottoman Empire

Though the Young Turks had compelled the sultan in his capacity as the Caliph to declare a jihad urging all Muslims to resist Allied encroachment on their lands, the effort was largely unsuccessful. The Young Turk government resigned en masse and Enver, Talat, and Cemal fled Turkey aboard a German warship. sultan Mehmed VI, who was proclaimed sultan after his brother Mehmed V died of a heart attack in July, agreed to an armistice. The Armistice of Mudros formalizing Ottoman surrender was signed aboard HMS Agamemnon on 30 October 1918. Allied troops arrived in Constantinople and occupied the sultan's palace shortly thereafter.[16]

Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire

Main articles: Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, Occupation of Constantinople, Khilafat Movement, and Treaty of Sèvres

By the end of the war, the Ottomans had lost virtually their entire Empire. Hoping to keep his throne and preserve the Ottoman dynasty in some form or another, the sultan agreed to cooperate with the Allies. He dissolved parliament and allowed an Allied military administration to replace the government vacated by the Young Turks.

Khilafat Movement

See also: Khilafat Movement

The Khilafat movement (1919–22) was a political campaign launched in British India over British policy against Turkey and planned dismemberment of Turkey after World War I by allied forces.[17][18][19]

Leaders participating in the movement included Shaukat Ali, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar,[20] Hakim Ajmal Khan,[21][22] and Abul Kalam Azad[23] some of whom were seeking to restore the caliph of the Ottoman Caliphate, while others promoted Muslim interests and to bring the Muslim in national struggle.

Mahatma Gandhi had supported the movement as part of his opposition to British Empire and he also advocated wider non-cooperation movement at the same time.[24] Vallabhbhai Patel, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and other Congress figures also supported the movement.[25][26]

Generally described as a protest against the sanctions placed on the Ottoman Empire after the First World War by the Treaty of Sèvres, the movement is also noted for Hindu-Muslim unity.[27] It ended in 1922 after the end of non-cooperation movement.[28][29][30][31][32]


Abdulmejid II, the last Ottoman caliph
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Main article: Abolition of the Caliphate

See also: Abolition of the Ottoman sultanate and Atatürk's reforms

"Turks War on Patriarchs", following the Abolition of the Caliphate as reported in The New York Times, 16 March 1924

The Turkish national movement, as the details explained in Turkish War of Independence, formed a Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara on 23 April 1920, and secured formal recognition of the nation's independence and new borders on 20 Feb 1923 through the Treaty of Lausanne. The National Assembly declared Turkey a republic on 29 October 1923, and proclaimed Ankara its new capital. After over 600 years, the Ottoman Empire had officially ceased to exist. However, under Allied direction, the Sultan pledged to suppress such movements and secured an official fatwa from the Sheikh ul-Islam declaring them to be un-Islamic.[33] But the nationalists steadily gained momentum and began to enjoy widespread support. Many sensed that the nation was ripe for revolution. In an effort to neutralize this threat, the Sultan agreed to hold elections, with the hope of placating and co-opting the nationalists. To his dismay, nationalist groups swept the polls, prompting him to again dissolve parliament in April 1920.

Initially, the National Assembly seemed willing to allow a place for the Caliphate in the new regime, agreeing to the appointment of Mehmed's cousin Abdülmecid as caliph upon Mehmed's departure (November 1922). But the position had been stripped of any authority, and Abdülmecid's purely ceremonial reign would be short lived. Mustafa Kemal had been a vocal critic of the Ottoman House and its Islamic orientation. When Abdülmecid was declared caliph, Kemal refused to allow the traditional Ottoman ceremony to take place, bluntly declaring:

The Caliph has no power or position except as a nominal figurehead.

In response to Abdülmecid's petition for an increase in his pay, Kemal wrote:

Your office, the Caliphate, is nothing more than a historic relic. It has no justification for existence. It is a piece of impertinence that you should dare write to any of my secretaries!

Still, for all the power he had already wielded in Turkey, Kemal did not dare to abolish the Caliphate outright, as it still commanded a considerable degree of support from the common people.

Then in 1924, two Indian brothers, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali, leaders of the Indian-based Khilafat Movement, distributed pamphlets calling upon the Turkish people to preserve the Ottoman Caliphate for the sake of Islam.[34] Under Turkey's new nationalist government, however, this was construed as foreign intervention, and any form of foreign intervention was labelled an insult to Turkish sovereignty, and worse, a threat to State security. Kemal promptly seized his chance. On his initiative, the National Assembly abolished the Caliphate on 3 March 1924. Abdülmecid was sent into exile along with the remaining members of the Ottoman House.[35][36] Mustafa Kemal Pasha offered the caliphate to Ahmed Sharif as-Senussi, on the condition that he reside outside Turkey; Senussi declined the offer and confirmed his support for Abdulmejid.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b Özoğlu 2011, p. 5; Özoğlu quotes 867.00/1801: Mark Lambert Bristol on 19 August 1924.
  2. ^ Algar, Ayla Esen (January 1992). The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520070608.
  3. ^ Sirriyeh, Elizabeth (2005). Sufi Visionary of Ottoman Damascus: ʻAbd Al-Ghanī Al-Nābulusī, 1641-1731. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415341653.
  4. ^ Wasserstein, David J.; Ayalon, Ami (17 June 2013). Mamluks and Ottomans: Studies in Honour of Michael Winter. Routledge. ISBN 9781136579172.
  5. ^ ́Goston, Ga ́bor A.; Masters, Bruce Alan (21 May 2010). Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. Infobase. ISBN 9781438110257.
  6. ^ Drews, Robert (August 2011). "Chapter Thirty – The Ottoman Empire, Judaism, and Eastern Europe to 1648" (PDF). Coursebook: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to the Beginnings of Modern Civilization. Vanderbilt University.
  7. ^ Barthold
  8. ^ Finkel, Caroline (2005). Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. New York: Basic Books. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-465-02396-7.
  9. ^ Qureshi, M. Naeem (1999). Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918–1924. BRILL. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-90-04-11371-8.
  10. ^ Quataert, Donald (1994). "The Age of Reforms, 1812–1914". In İnalcık, Halil; Donald Quataert (eds.). An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1914. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 762. ISBN 0-521-57456-0.
  11. ^ Quataert, Donald (2005). The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 (2 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 72. ISBN 978-0-521-54782-6.
  12. ^ M. Naeem Qureshi (1999). Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918–1924. BRILL. pp. 18–19. ISBN 90-04-11371-1.
  13. ^ Karpat, Kemal H. (2001). The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State. Oxford University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-19-513618-0.
  14. ^ Yegar, Moshe (1 January 2002). Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lexington Books. p. 397. ISBN 978-0-7391-0356-2.
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  16. ^ International Law Studies
  17. ^ Hutchinson, J.; Smith, A.D. (2000). Nationalism: Critical Concepts in Political Science. Routledge. p. 926. ISBN 978-0-415-20112-4. Retrieved 9 February 2023. Khilafat movement which was primarily designed to prevent the allied dismemberment of Turkey after World War One.
  18. ^ Ali, A.; Sahni, J.; Sharma, M.; Sharma, P.; Goel, P. (2019). IAS Mains Paper 1 Indian Heritage & Culture History & Geography of the world & Society 2020. Arihant Publications India limited. p. 273. ISBN 978-93-241-9210-3.
  19. ^ Vipul, S. (2009). Longman History & Civics Icse 10. Pearson Education. p. 88. ISBN 978-81-317-2042-4.
  20. ^ "Muhammad Ali Jauhar and the Mutiny Trial". Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  21. ^ Hussain, Intezaar (2003). Ajmal e Azam. Sang-e-meel. ISBN 9693509919.
  22. ^ Andrews, C.F (1922). Hakim Ajmal Khan.
  23. ^ "Khilafat movement | Indian Muslim movement |". Archived from the original on 8 December 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  24. ^ Carl Olson (2007). The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction. Rutgers University Press. p. 29.
  25. ^ Inamdar, N.R. (1983). Political Thought and Leadership of Lokmanya Tilak. Concept. p. 259. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  26. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (7 December 2013). "Sardar and the Swayamsevaks". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  27. ^ Tejani, S. (2021). Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History, 1890-1950. Indiana University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-253-05832-4.
  28. ^ Bandyopādhyāẏa, Ś. (2004). From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India. Orient Blackswan. p. 304. ISBN 978-81-250-2596-2.
  29. ^ Ahmad Hasan Dani (1979). World Scholars on Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Volume 1. Quaid-i-Azam University. p. 85. the Khilafat agitation ended in 1922
  30. ^ Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (1982).
  31. ^ Burton Stein (2010). A History of India. John Wiley & Sons. p. 300.
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  33. ^ Gingeras, Ryan (2009). Sorrowful Shores. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 95. ISBN 978-0-19-956152-0.
  34. ^ "Khilafat movement | Causes, Date, History, & Facts | Britannica". 22 December 2023.
  35. ^ Finkel, Caroline (2007). Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. Basic Books. p. 546. ISBN 9780465008506.
  36. ^ Özoğlu, Hakan (2011). From Caliphate to Secular State: Power Struggle in the Early Turkish Republic. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313379567.