This year on the 4th of March was the 86th Anniversary of an event so momentous that we are still feeling the after-shocks of it today. It marked a turning point in history, but one that many people are blissfully unaware of. To fully appreciate it the significance of this anniversary, we must take ourselves back to Istanbul. The year is 1924.
It is sometime after midnight. A single light, coming from the library, is on in the Dolmabache palace. There, an old man sits and reads the Qurʾān pondering over the state of his Ummah. Even though he is surrounded by such opulence as the eye can barely contain, he cuts a lonely figure. His name is Abdul Mejeed and he is the 101st Caliph of Islam.
Two years ago, his cousin Muḥammad VI had been exiled to Italy (where he later starved to death) and the Ottoman Sultanate had been abolished. The secular forces of the Young Turks had finally brought about the end of the Ottoman Empire, yet they didn't feel they could abolish the Caliphate straight away. They began a campaign of violence and intimidation making sure that all those who would support the Caliph were removed from the picture.
Finally, on the night of March 4th, they made their move. A young army messenger opened the door to the library. The Caliph continued to read the Qurʾān. The messenger initially was taken aback by the sight, but steeled himself and read out the proclamation from the Grand National Assembly. The Caliph refused to leave Istanbul, but his staff were worried that they would all be killed by the army that had now surrounded the palace. After weighing his few options, he reluctantly packed some of his clothes and went into exile.
Before Fajr prayer, the Caliph was taken to the main train station at gunpoint where he and his family were put on the Orient Express bound for Switzerland. An envelope containing £2000 was given to the man who left behind entire palaces full of diamonds, emeralds and gold. The station master quickly took the Caliph and his family into his small house adjoining the train station to shelter them from the cold on the platform whilst they awaited the train to start on its sad journey. As they drank tea, the Caliph thanked him for his hospitality. The station master, a Jew, began to cry. “How can you thank me?” he asked especially knowing that it was the Caliphs of Islam who had preserved the life and dignity of the Jewish people whenever they were persecuted elsewhere in the world. Instead, he thanked the Caliph for the honour of being able to serve him even if for the briefest moment.
In the morning, the Muslims awoke to the news that they had scarcely believed would ever happen – the Caliphate had been abolished. There were isolated riots and uprisings in various places, but the army put them down ruthlessly. The last Caliph spent his days walking along the promenade in Paris, France. There he lived a humble life until he died of a heart attack in 1944 during the Nazi occupation of France. Now, on the 86th anniversary of this Earth shattering event, the United States of America still have their President, England still has its Queen, the Catholics still have their Pope – but the Muslims are condemned to roam the wilderness leaderless. As no Caliph had ever been buried in non-Muslim lands, the Caliph remained unburied with no Muslim country willing to take his body. Caliph Abdul Majeed II was eventually buried in Jannat Al Baqi in Madīnah. Amidst the greatest heroes of Islams past was laid to rest our most potent symbol of a fractured present. There to this day, the first Caliph and the last Caliph of Islam lie within a few yards of each other- a reminder of a once great Muslim nation that has no one to lead it.