Featured, History

How Muslims in the 19th century viewed the Caliphate

Sheikh Taqiuddin an-Nabhani says, “Prior to World War One, Muslims knew that they had the Islamic State. Despite its weakness, decline and the diverse views towards it, the State remained the focus of their thought and vision. Although the Arabs viewed it as being imposed upon them, and that it suppressed their rights, they still looked at the Islamic State as their State, and attempted to reform it with their hearts and minds.”[1]

What follows are some extracts from the highly recommended book, ‘Islam in Victorian Liverpool: An Ottoman Account of Britain’s First Mosque Community by Yusuf Samih Asmay. This book gives an insight in to the Muslims of the 19th century and how they viewed the Ottoman State. One common thread that appears throughout the book is that Muslims, whether in the west or Muslim world, viewed the Ottomans as the official representatives of Islam, since they held the seat of the Caliphate. Any complaints or requests Muslims in the UK or America had, were directed through the Ottoman Consulate in their respective countries. This conforms to the definition of the Caliph who is “the man who represents the Ummah in ruling, authority and in the implementation of the Divine laws (Sharia).”[2] Al-Mawardi mentions, “Imamate is prescribed to succeed prophethood as a means of protecting the deen and of managing the affairs of this world.”[3]

1- Muslims in America

In 1894, Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb, a leading American Muslim convert appointed Nafeesa Keep, another convert to Islam in America, as secretary of the Moslem World Publishing Company, secretary of the American Islamic Propaganda, and editor-in-chief for The Voice of Islam.

She had a dispute with Webb over the management of his movement and so wrote to the Ottoman Consul in New York, Ismael Bey to resolve them.[4]

2- Muslims in the UK

On 3rd August 1895, Nafeesa Keep, who had now moved to Liverpool from America, wrote a letter to the Caliph Abdulhamid II requesting he grant her citizenship of the Ottoman Caliphate.  She wrote, “I want to reach a country where the people are true Muslims. I want to learn the Moslem prayers and ablutions. I want to live and die amongst true Believers.

My fortune is gone, my husband is dead, I have no children, I have no money, my health is broken fighting against the false teachers of Islam in America and in England: therefore I pray your gracious Majesty help me to find a home, among your gracious Majesty’s loyal subjects, where I may earn enough money to feed and clothe myself properly.”[5]

Abdullah Quilliam was President of the Liverpool Muslim Institute (LMI), and on 2nd May 1898 he had a private interview with Abdulhamid II and reported that the caliph had told him that “the success of Islam in the British Isles lies very near to His Majesty’s noble and generous heart.” His second, successful trip to Istanbul was crowned by the caliph awarding him the Order of the Osmanieh (fourth class) ten days later, a prestigious honour normally given to civil servants and military personnel for services to the Ottoman state.[6]

At the tenth annual meeting of the Liverpool Muslim Institute on 22nd June 1896 the members proceeded to elect officers of the Institution and they chose as their patron, His Imperial Majesty Ghazi Abdul-Hamid Khan, Sultan of Turkey, Protector of the Holy Cities, Caliph of the Faithful and Defender of the Faith.[7]

3- Muslims in Nigeria

Muhammed Shitta Bey, a black sheikh from among the Islamic scholars of Lagos in Nigeria, one of the British colonies, was granted the Ottoman Order of the Third Medjidie by His Highness the Caliph in order to reward his efforts to raise money to build a mosque in the above-mentioned city. The Ottoman Foreign Office sent the said order to the Ottoman Embassy in London to be delivered to the said sheikh.

The Ottoman Embassy in London sent the Order to the Ottoman Consulate in Liverpool for handing over to Abdullah Quilliam who then sailed to Nigeria and handed over the Order directly to the sheikh.

[In 1894] When Mr. Quilliam described the overwhelming respect and esteem in which he was held by the Muslims of Lagos, he related that [they said], “Since you came here as the deputy of the Caliph of the Muslims, we will carry you over our heads all the way to Khartoum should you wish it so.”[8]

4- Muslims in Egypt

Yusuf Asmay was a Turkish-language teacher based at an Ottoman-run school in Tanta Egypt. He was also a journalist and produced a pro-Ottoman newspaper Mıṣr, written in Turkish. He was also a keen travel writer and is the author of the book we are now quoting from.

The LMI produced a weekly English newspaper called The Crescent which promoted Islamic unity and was sent out across the Muslim world.

Yusuf Asmay was critical of this newspaper and said, “When I stated the truth and averred that the language of Muslims is not English, but that knowledge is with our Prophet, the Imam of Muslims. Muslims are brothers and sisters and while they are spiritually connected, they are physically connected too through the call of “O Muslims” by the caliph of the prophet of the Lord of the Worlds. If you publish The Crescent in Arabic and choose the seat of the caliphate as the disseminating point for your publications, it would be regarded as authoritative among the Muslims.”[9]


[1] Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘Structuring of a Party,’ translation of At-takattul el-Hizbi, Al-Khilafah Publications, 4th edition, 2001, pp.8

[2] Hizb ut-Tahrir, ‘Institutions of State in the Khilafah,’ translation of ‘Ajhizat Dawlat-al-Khilafah,’ Dar ul-Ummah, 2005, pp.21

[3] Abul-Hasan al-Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance, translation of Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyah, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.10

[4] Yusuf Samih Asmay, ‘Islam in Victorian Liverpool: An Ottoman Account of Britain’s First Mosque Community’ pp.170

[5] Ibid, pp.130

[6] Ibid, pp.52

[7] Ibid, pp.158

[8] Ibid, pp.123

[9] Ibid, pp.80