Politics of Religion during the First World War: Ottoman Islamic rhetoric in Morocco

By Odile Moreau
Submitted to Session P4913 (Politics of Religion During WWI as lived and remembered in the Ottoman Empire, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
19th-21st Centuries;
This paper will analyse Ottoman use of Islamic rhetoric during the First World War, especially in Morocco. In North Africa, “Teskilât-? Mahsusa”, the Ottoman Special Services led paramilitary activities carrying out military goals, psychological war, by propaganda (beyannâme, call for jihâd), and helped to foment uprisings against the French colonial power.

At the eve of WWI, the Ottoman Empire issued a call for jihâd using “Pan-Islamic” ideas of Ittihad-i Islam to mobilize local leaders and tribes against the French authorities. At the same time, the local Moroccan sultan Mawlay Yusuf ignored the fetwa from the Ottoman sultan and remained loyal to France.

In Istanbul, Enver Pasha, the War Minister, was supporting the Pan-Islamic propaganda. Tracts were composed in Istanbul, Berlin or Madrid. While Salah Sharif at-Tunisi, a North African Nationalist, wrote and published numerous pamphlets to the Moroccans published in French, Arabic or Tamazight, it was very difficult to bring all the propaganda material to Morocco. As early as in December 1914 the Ottoman Embassy in Madrid asked to receive the proclamation of the jihad in Arabic.

From the Spring 1915 Amir ‘Abd el-Malek Muhy al-Din was fighting against the French in North Morocco and used the Islamic rhetoric as well. Born in Syria, Amir ‘Abd el-Malek Muhy al-Din was one of the youngest son of ’Abd el-Qader al-Jazairi. When the First World War broke out in 1914, Amir ‘Abd el-Malek Muhy al-Din was in the service of the French customs police in the port city of Tangier. However, in March 1915, he escaped to the Rif Mountains and became the main leader of the resistance against the French Protectorate. Interestingly, in the Ottoman press, articles depicted his fight within the Islamic propagande of Jihad. Amir Abd el-Malek Muhy al-Din was in contact with his brother Amir ‘Ali, the vice-president of the Ottoman Parliament, and the CUP in Istanbul. In order to threaten the French, Amir Abd el-Malek Muhy al-Din promoted a Pan-Islamic message.

This paper draws from various archives and documents throughout the different areas of the conflict, such as France, Morocco, Germany, the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain.