“Muslim For The State”: The Druze Community and Their Legal Status During World War ITuba Yıldız
This study focuses on the political and legal dimension of Djemal Pasha’s policies toward the Druze in World War I and examines the sectarian effects on the Druze from the Pasha’s ideological approaches. Due to the principle of justice, the Ottoman Empire did not interfere with Druze private law. Djemal Pasha, however, subjected the Druze to the opposite practice for the same reason. This study will focus on the political and religious dimensions of this practice and examine the identity crisis experienced during World War I from the perspectives of the Druze and the Ottoman Empire.
“Devletçe İslam”: Birinci Dünya Savaşı’nda Dürziler ve Hukuki StatüleriTuba Yıldız
Bu çalışma, Cemal Paşa’nın Birinci Dünya Savaşı’nda Dürzilerle kurduğu ilişkinin siyasi ve hukuki boyutunu ele almakta, aynı zamanda Paşa’nın ideolojik yaklaşımlarının Dürziler üzerindeki mezhepsel etkilerini incelemektedir. Osmanlı Devleti’nin daire-i adalet prensibi içinde özel hukukuna karışmadığı Dürziler, Cemal Paşa tarafından aynı amaçla tam tersi bir uygulamaya tâbi tutulmuşlardır. Çalışmada bu uygulamanın politik ve dini boyutları üzerinde durulacak, Birinci Dünya Savaşı sırasındaki kimlik bunalımına Dürziler ve Osmanlı Devleti perspektifinden bakılacaktır.
World War I was loosened upon the Palestine front in November 1914 as a result of the British attack on the port of Aqaba, and Djemal Pasha quickly went to Damascus. The Pasha’s task was primarily to control the war in Syria and Palestine, stop Britain’s advance in Egypt, and maintain law and order. However, Djemal Pasha had to deal with another delicate situation in Syria. In order to alter the course of the war, the Pasha’s agenda involved implementing a policy against the nationalism-based movements that had begun emerging at the beginning of the 19th century, progressed through their cultural stages, and fostered the ideal of independence. Thanks to the relations the Pasha established with Arab tribal leaders, Djemal Pasha gained some political experience regarding the nationalist delusions during his governorship of Baghdad. However, a different discipline was required in Damascus and Beirut, where this ideal had arisen. The ideal of Arab independence without regard to any religion or sectarianism ideology had spread from the intellectual class to the social classes and begun to gain wide support among the Syrian and Lebanese populations. One of the groups that required careful policies in this regard was the Druze community.
The Druze’s devotion to the Ottoman Empire and their attitude toward Arab nationalism were more evident than with other non-Sunni and non-Muslim sects in the region. Although some Druze members had joined the Arab nationalism-based Syrian Scientific Society in 1857, some of the reactions arising from the “Dual Governorship System” that had been implemented in Lebanon between 1845-1860 had clearly triggered this participation. Prior to World War I, however, the Druze in Havran had started a revolt against Sultan Abdul Hamid II, but their lack of support for the uprising from the Druze in Lebanon highlighted the balance between the parameters in their relationship with the state and with communal ties.
The Druze are an esoteric group that emerged from the Ismaili branch of Shiism in the 11th century. The Druze are considered a non-Sunni group who believe in the divinity of the 6th Caliph of the Fatimid state, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. After the Ottoman Empire conquered Bilad al Sham in 1516, the Druze became a part of the Ottoman nation and gained political and legal autonomy to the extent of their loyalty to the empire. Although the Druze revolted against the empire from time to time due to tax revolts, the Ottoman Empire did not question their divinity beliefs or legal structures. Thus, the Druze, who had their own rulings on marriage, divorce, and inheritance according to their own legal systems, managed to preserve their identity despite not being part of the nation system.
When World War I broke out, Djemal Pasha first benefitted from the Druze’s political activities in Syria and Lebanon and then granted the Druze certain privileges. The Druze who’d been exempted from military service formed volunteer units under the leadership of Shakib Arslan and joined the Ottoman army. Djemal Pasha acknowledged that the Druze might gain the privilege of not being drafted into the military. However, he took a different step in his policy of Islamic unity than his predecessors, one that clearly showed his intention to keep the Druze community under the auspices of the Sunni Ottomans. Due to their active presence in Syria and Lebanon as well as their military capabilities, the warrior Druze were a backbone of society despite gradually losing power as a result of internal conflict. Therefore, uniting the Druze in terms of their legal identities was also critical in terms of maintaining the delicate balances. Such a legal union would also show the effect of Djemal Pasha’s personal strategies. The issue of the Druze community’s practices regarding Sharia law had previously been brought before the Sublime Porte and the Meshihat numerous times, but the State had always dismissed their practices. Eliminating this privilege of the personal status did increase the impact of Pasha’s authority in this regard.
The primary essence of the legal identity crisis that started between Djemal Pasha and the Druze was revealed with the appeal the Deputy Governor of the Syrian Province sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Although the deputy stated being aware of the Council of State’s decision taken in 1912, he mentioned some details about an amendment to that decision. Accordingly, the Druze were registered as Muslims because they were recognized as prostate Muslims. They also had no churches and temples like other non-Muslims, nor was any case present of them building a new temple or repairing an old one. Therefore, the Druze had to be treated like other Muslims in personal matters involving inheritance, testament, marriage, and divorce. In other words, the place for Druze trials was in the Sharia courts.
This unexpected decision led the Druze religious leaders to gather and send their objections to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In November 1915, more than 40 religious leaders asked why the Shaykh al-Aql who had previously been authorized by the Empire was no longer permitted to hear cases. Meanwhile, they emphasized that their community was not like that of the Ismailis and Nusayris and that they had settled inheritance and testament cases among themselves with laws recognized by the Ottoman State. The petition sensitively emphasized the depth of the Druze’s loyalty and devotion to their Ottoman identity and the caliph. However, they did not want to apply Hanafi fiqh. For this reason, the Meshihat was requested to not retract the previous decision.
Talat Pasha forwarded the issue to both the Meshihat and the Command of the Fourth Army. Djemal Pasha’s answer was delivered to Talat Pasha quicker than the Meshihat’s. According to Djemal Pasha, although the Druze were Muslims, they were exempted from conscription. Making exceptions in personal cases would have opened the door to their independence. Therefore, having their own courts for their own cases was an unnecessary exception. For Djemal Pasha, the decision the State had made was thus wrong from the very beginning. The custom was for the Meshihat to leave the final decision to the Sublime Porte, which had faced the issue of the legal identity of the Druze community many times before the war had removed the choice of abstaining. Shortly after Djemal Pasha’s reply to Talat Pasha, Shaykh al-Islam Mustafa Hayri Efendi stated that he considered upholding the decision to be appropriate, thus ending the last solution for the Druze.
One of the most important backgrounds regarding Djemal Pasha’s policy of legal allegiance with the Druze undoubtedly involved the likelihood that they would otherwise attempt independence. The demographic conditions for this were created in the environment of war. In addition to the nation-state understanding of the strict approach that had appeared in state policy during the war, benefit is had in dwelling on the situation that was being faced with England beyond the front. England’s policy toward the Druze throughout the 19th century had been to ensure the loyalty of Druze tribal leaders and to spread Protestantism among the community through missionary activities. In this context, the Islamic identity was considered important in terms of preventing Arab nationalists’ national ambitions, because for the Pasha, the Sherif Hussein bin Ali had dealt a great blow to the Islamic world by attempting to separate the two brotherly Muslim nations of the Turks and Arabs. For this reason, Muslim siblinghood was important for preventing any Druze revolt. However, Djemal Pasha’s idea for establishing legal unity was actually one of the political approaches that had shaken this siblinghood. As a matter of fact, even though living under Ottoman rule was one of the prescriptions of Islam for the Druze, this was valid only so long as they preserved their legal identity. However, the traditional understanding of law required abolition due to the conditions of the war, whereas the legal identity of the Druze who lived under the Ottoman rule had been the most important factor that enabled them to live in the Ottoman mosaic.