Turkey in the First World War

Proclamation of Holy War

In November 1914, when the Ottoman Empire officially entered the war against the Allies, the Sultan had issued a declaration stating that it was a "Cihad-ı Ekber" (the greatest of all wars). This was not enough. It had to be declared as a "Cihad-ı Mukaddes" (holy war), because the Ottoman Sultan was at the same time the Caliph of all the Muslims in the world. This meant that the Muslims of the world were supposed to join the Turkish efforts to fight against the "infidels."

The Sheikh-ul Islam, the top religious officer of the Ottoman government, proclaimed the holy war at the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul by reading the "fatwa" (religious decree).

“Would it be a religious duty for all the Muslims in all countries, whether young or old, infantry or cavalry, to resort to jihad with all their properties and lives, as required by the Quranic verse of Enfiru, if the Sultan of Islam declares war and calls the entire population under arms, when there is an enemy attack against Islam and Islamic countries are extorted and pillaged and Islamic people are enslaved?

Answer: It would.

In this way, would it be a religious duty for them to declare war against Russia, Britain and France and their helpers and supporters, who are enemies of the Islamic Caliphate and trying to –may God forbid- extinguish the divine light of Islam by attacking the seat of the Caliph and the Ottoman nation with battleships and land forces?

Answer: It would.

In this way, when success depends on all Muslims to resort to jihad, would it be a sin and a major rebellion if they –may God forbid- refuse to do so and would they deserve the wrath of God and the punishment for this great sin?

Answer: They would.

In this way, would the above mentioned state, who are fighting against the state of Islam deserve to be killed and burn in infernal fire if they, deliberately or under coercion, murder Muslim people, destroy their families and fight against the soldiers of the state of Islam?

Answer: They would.

In this way, would the Muslims living under the sovereignty of Britain, France, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and their supporters deserve sever suffering if they fight against Germany and Austria, who are helping the Ottoman government, because it would be harmful for the Caliphate of Islam?

Answer: They would.”

Ketebetülfakiri ileyhüm taala

Hayri bin Avni Elürgabi

Afa anhüma

Text of the fatwa

Leaflet with a popular version of the call for jihad
Source: Edhem Eldem collection / © Altay Atlı / this page is last updated on December 29, 2014