Leading Muslim cleric issued fatwa, condemning Turks for killing Armenians
Published: Thursday August 16, 2012
I recently came across an extremely significant Islamic document that severely criticizes Turks for using religion as a cover to killing Armenian Christians.
This rarely seen document is a Fatwa or religious decree issued in May 1909 by Grand Sheikh Salim al-Bishri of Egypt, condemning Turkish Muslims for massacring 30,000 Armenians in Adana, a major city in the Ottoman Empire.
Sheikh al-Bishri of Al-Azhar Mosque, leader of the Muslim world's preeminent center of Islamic studies in Cairo, issued this Fatwa in order to counter the decree issued in April 1909 by a Turkish Mufti (religious leader), urging Turks to kill Armenians because "they were against Muslims and God."
Upon seeing a passing reference to the Egyptian fatwa on the internet, I contacted Prof. Mohammed Rifaat al-Emam, an expert on Armenian history, whom I had met during a recent visit to Cairo. Dr. al-Emam kindly sent me the original Arabic text of this important religious document, excerpts of which are presented below in English translation for the first time:
"We have seen in local newspapers agonizing news and vile reports about Muslims of some Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire attacking Christians and killing them brutally. We could not believe these reports and hoped that they were false, because Islam forbids aggression, oppression, bloodshed, and harming human beings -- Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
Oh Muslims living in that region and elsewhere beware of actions prohibited by Allah in His Sharia [Islamic law] and spare the blood that Allah prohibited to spill and do not transgress on anyone since Allah does not like aggressors....
Your duty towards those who are allied with you, who entrusted their safety to you and who reside among you and next to you from Ahlul Dhimma [Jewish and Christian minorities protected under Islam], as imposed by Allah, is to uplift them as you would uplift yourselves, prevent them from what you prevent yourselves and your kinsfolk, make your strength their strength, make pride and prosperity out of your strength, and protect their monasteries and churches the way you protect your mosques and temples.
Whoever abuses their women, draws the sword on them, and oppresses them contradicts Muslims' pledge to Allah, which is the obligation of Muslims.
Be informed that if what the public is hearing is true, then you have angered your Allah and did not satisfy your Prophet and the Sharia. You kept your Muslim brothers away from their religion, whose rejection became hideous by this heinous act, violating what is forbidden, and you let loose tongues of people ignorant of your religion to pronounce hideous words against all Muslims.
Then, hear some of what your Prophet said about conditions similar to what you are in today. He said: ‘He who kills an allied person [person joined with Islam by an agreement in order to give help and support] will not smell the fragrance of Paradise and if he smells it, that would be at a distance of 40 years.' He also said: ‘A person who rejects a dhimmi [a person from Jewish and Christian minorities] will be whipped with flagella of fire on Judgment Day.'"
This document makes it amply clear that the Armenian massacres of 1909 and the subsequent Genocide of 1915 were not the result of religious conflict between Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians. The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar rightly condemned the Turks for the mass murder of Armenians, which was committed for racist Pan-Turkic -- not Pan-Islamic -- reasons, along with the intent of capturing Armenian lands and properties. The various Fatwas issued by Turkish Muftis (clerics) were intended to provoke fanatical Turkish mobs to attack and massacre innocent Armenians.
Sheikh al-Bishri's 1909 Fatwa was further reinforced by the decree issued in 1917 by Al-Husayn Ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, ordering all Muslims to defend Armenians and "provide everything they might need ... because they are the Protected People of the Muslims about whom the Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Whoever takes from them even a rope, I will be his adversary on the day of Judgment.'"
In 2009, when Turkish Prime Minister Rejeb Erdogan stated that "Muslims don't commit genocide," he was only partly right. He should have said: "Good Muslims don't commit genocide." The leaders of the Young Turk Party who masterminded the Armenian Genocide in 1915 were not faithful Muslims, judging by the teachings of the Quran -- the Holy Book of Islam. They were simply criminals who used Islam as a convenient cover to carry out mass murder. The compassionate Fatwa of the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar still rings true today as the Muslim world celebrates the end of Ramadhan.
The following update came on August 21, 2012:
Fatwa on Armenian massacres attracts world attention despite Turkish denials
By Harut Sassounian
Last week's column on the 1909 Fatwa issued by Egypt's top Islamic cleric condemning Turks for massacring Armenians in Adana drew widespread attention. The article was posted on websites in many countries, including Pakistan, India, Israel, France, Russia, Lebanon, Armenia, and the United States.
Although my columns are often translated and reprinted in the Turkish media, last week's article broke all records. It appeared in summary form in dozens of Turkish newspapers and websites. In addition, prominent syndicated columnist Taha Akyol wrote a lengthy rebuttal published in Hurriyet, CNN-Turk, and others publications. Akyol is a right wing journalist who switched his allegiance from the ultra-nationalist Alpaslan Turkes, leader of the Grey Wolves, to Pres. Abdullah Gul and his ruling Islamist AKP party.
Akyol describes me as "one of the Armenian Diaspora's fiercest leaders," and "a Tashnak militant." To prove to his Turkish readers that I am a "radical" Armenian, Akyol quotes from an earlier column in which I had stated that Armenians could regain Western Armenia someday when unexpected developments take place in that region, creating a power vacuum. Akyol was joined by former Turkish Ambassador Omer Engin Lutem in denouncing my views on Western Armenia. While calling me an "extreme nationalist," Amb. Lutem depicted me as someone "highly admired and frequently read by Diaspora Armenians. In addition to the value of his writings, he is a person that must be taken seriously because of his influence over the Armenian Diaspora."
In his article, Akyol uses standard denialist tactics by reducing the number of Armenian victims in Adana and mischaracterizing the killings as a clash between Armenians and Turks. In reality, 30,000 Armenians were killed by Turkish mobs which had been whipped into frenzy by Ismail Hakke, the Mufti of Bahce, a town near Adana. Akyol's gross misrepresentation of the facts is contradicted by the July 31, 1909 decree of the Council of Ministers of Ottoman Turkey which placed sole responsibility for the massacres on the shoulders of provincial Turkish officials.
In a vain attempt to make his distorted views more credible, Akyol reports that he consulted Prof. Kemal Cicek, Director of the discredited Turkish Historical Society, who "had published a book last month titled, ‘The Adana Incidents of 1909 Revisited.'" In fact, the book was published a year ago, and Cicek is not the author, but editor of a volume consisting of papers presented at a 2009 Ankara conference. In response to Akyol's question as to whether the Turkish Mufti had issued a Fatwa, Cicek reportedly stated: "I studied the Adana court records. Armenians had made such claims at the time, but no such documents or witnesses were found. There is absolutely no such Fatwa."
Contrary to Cicek's claims, there are a number of references confirming that Ismail Hakke, the Turkish Mufti, did issue a Fatwa to legitimize the atrocities. Dr. Ali Osman Ozturk, Professor at Canakkale's "March 18 University," wrote the following in the Milli Folklor Journal (2009): "The government hanged the Mufti of Bahce in Dortyol because of the Fatwa he had issued, stating that ‘Armenian blood and property are helal [religiously sanctioned].'" Historian Raymond Kevorkian also mentions the Turkish Fatwa in his monumental book, "The Armenian Genocide, a Complete History," by referencing two sources: Z. Duckett Ferriman's "The Young Turks and the Truth about the Holocaust at Adana, in Asia Minor, During April, 1909," and the Turkish parliamentary commission's report by Judges Fayk Bey and Haroutioun Mosdichian. Dr. Vahakn Dadrian also refers to several Fatwas issued by Muftis in various Turkish towns, including the Mufti of Bahce, who "surpassed in intensity and scope the atrociousness of the rest of his colleagues." Dadrian then quotes the German newspaper Berliner Tageblatt which reported the eyewitness account of German engineers: "The Mufti had excited and agitated the fanatical and criminal rabble of Bahce and its environs."
To his credit, Akyol does not deny the Fatwa issued by the noble Egyptian Grand Sheikh Salim al-Bishri of al-Azhar. Akyol admits the possibility that the Arab Sheikh had issued such a Fatwa. I can assure him that such a Fatwa exists, since I have in my possession a photocopy of the document, excerpts of which were published in translation in my last week's column. Akyol also acknowledges that the Turkish Mufti of Bahce was in fact hanged for his crimes in Adana!
Over a 100 years later, the Fatwa of Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar remains a most valuable document, particularly in these turbulent times. Copies of this righteous Fatwa along with the compassionate Decree issued in 1917 by the Sharif of Mecca should be disseminated by the Armenian Republic, church leaders, and civic groups to all Muslim states, their Ambassadors, media, and mosques worldwide, particularly in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the Arab world.