BEDIUZZAMAN AND THE THIRTY-FIRST OF MARCH INCIDENT
After nine months of CUP rule, increasing discontent found expression in the famous `thirty – first of March Incident’. Many aspects of this revolt , which started with Certain sections of the Army in Istanbul mutinying and continued for eleven days, have still not been brought to light, but what is certain is that contrary to the claims of the CUP and their heirs, it was not a `reactionary’ movement. For, as Bediuzzaman noted after it: “certain people who make politics the tool of irreligion accuse others of political reaction and exploiting religion for the sake of politics in order to conceal their own wrongdoing.” And as a well-known historian pointed out, the CUP labelled all their opponents `reactionary’ (murteci), and the word `reaction’ (irtica) became synonymous with `opposition’.3 And so in some respects it continues to be used in the same manner to this day in Turkey.
Bediuzzaman played no part in the revolt, on the contrary as far as he could he used his influence and reputation in persuading the rebelling soldiers to obey their officers and return to barracks, and to no mean degree was successful in this. Nevertheless, when order was restored on the arrival of the `Operation Army’ from Salonica, Bediuzzaman was arrested along with many hundreds of others and sent before one of the military courts. The reason for this was his involvement with the ittihad-i Muhammedi Cemiyeti or Society For Muslim Unity, which was accused of inciting the revolt. In any event, not only was he acquitted, and in one hearing, but a ruling of non-responsibility was also given. His defiance speech, which was also instrumental in forty to fifty other prisoners being released, was published in 1911 entitled The Testimonial of Two Schools of Misfortune or The Court Martial.
· The Society For Muslim Unity
The Society For Muslim Unity had been founded on 5 February , 1909, though the full versions of its manifesto and code of rules did not appear in the Volkan newspaper until 16 March, 1909. The ceremony to mark its founding took the form of a Mevlid and was held at the later, date of 3 April, to coincide with the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)’s birthday (12 Rebiulevvel 1327). Bediuzzaman played a prominent role in the Mevlid, which was held in Aya Sophia, giving a sermon that lasted two hours. But before describing it, let us lern from Bediuzzaman’s address to the Court Martial his reasons for joining the Society, and how he viewed it.
“I heard,” said Bediuzzaman, “that a society had been formed called the Society For Muslim Unity [ ittihad-i Muhammedi] . I was frightened to the utmost degree that certain people would act in error under this blessed name. Then I heard that some sound people like Suheyl Pasa and Seyh Sadik had joined so as to make their actions more purely worship and follow the Exalted Sunna of the Prophet. They had transferred from that political society [CUP] and cut their relations with it, and they were not going to interfere in polities. But again I was afraid, I said: `This name is the right of everyone, it cannot be appropriated or restricted.’ As for me, just as I belonged’ in some respect to seven societies because I saw that their aims were the same, so too I joined this blessed name. However, I define the Society For Muslim Unity I belong to as follows:
“It is a circle bound with a luminous chain stretching from east to west , and from north to south. Those within it number more than three hundred million at this time. The point of unity of this Society and what binds it is Divine Unity. It oath and its promise is belief in God. Its members are all believers, belonging from the time of God’s covenant with man. Its register is the Preserved Tablet. The Society’s means of communication are all Islamic books. Its daily newspapers, all religious newspapers whose aim is `upholding the Word of God’. Its clubs and councils are the mosques, religious schools, and Sufi tekkes. Its centre is the two sacred cities [Mecca and Medina]. Its head, the Glory of the World [the Prophet Muhammed]. Its way is the struggle of the each person with his own soul; that is, to assume the morality of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), to give new vigour to his practices, and to cultivate love for others and, if it is not harmful, offer them advice. The regulations of this Society are the Practices of the Prophet, and its code of laws, the injunctions and prohibitions of the Seriat. Its swords are clear proofs, for the civilized are to be conquered through persuasion, not compulsion. Investigating the truth is with love, while enmity is for savagery and bigotry. Its aim and purpose is `Upholding the Word of God’. And ninety-nine per cent of the Seriat is concerned with morality, worship, the Hereafter, and virtue. One per cent is concerned with politics; let our rulers think of that.”
Bediuzzaman then continued: “Our aim now is to urge everyone towards the ka’ba of achievement and perfections on the way of progress with an eagerness and desire of the conscience through making that luminous chain vibrate. Because at this time the greatest cause of upholding the Word of God is through material progress.
“Thus, I am a member of this Society. I am one of those working for this Society’s manifestation. I do not belong to the parties and groups which cause dissension.”
Bediuzzaman, then, was firstly concerned to prevent a society bearing the name of the Prophet (PBUH) being appropriated by any group, and, being exploited for political ends, becoming a source of dissension and disunity. Rather, the Society For Muslim Unity embraced all believers and formed a barrier to the serious differences which had developed between the various societies and political parties in the months of CUP rule – differences so bitter that it was to this that Bediuzzaman ascribed what he called `the great disaster’, that is, the 3l st of March Incident.
In a newspaper article Bediuzzaman wrote: “Our Society’s way is love towards love, and enmity towards enmity. That is, to assist love among Muslims, and defeat the forces of enmity.” Infact, he described the ittihad-i Muhammedi as ittihad-i Islam, or Islamic Unity, that is, “the unity that exists either potentially or in fact among all believers.” The unity and brotherhood of Muslims were “like hidden veins of gold in half the globe”, and the Society in Turkey was “a new flame which had appeared in one corner of it and gave the good news of that mighty reality being wholly revealed.” This Society had emerged from the potential to the actual and now sought to awaken other believers and urge them towards the way of progress through the drive of the conscience. Muslims had not realized that vast potential. Through neglect, the luminous chain of unity which had bound the centres of Islam together had become inert, it had not been benefited from. Now it had to be brought to life and made to vibrate.’
The foundation of unity and progress and of the strengthening and liberation of the Islamic world was moral renewal, and Bediuzzaman saw the Society as spearheading a more widespread movement for `moral rearmament’ through putting new energy into observing the Seriat and following the Practices of the Prophet. He stated: “The reason for our worldly decline was failure to observe our religion. Also, we are more in need of moral improvement than government reform…”
In these articles Bediuzzaman is explaining in greater detail the aims of the Society For Muslim Unity as they appeared in the Society’s Manifesto and Code of Rules. In addition, the Manifesto pointed out that at that time socials and parties of every shade and variety had been organized in different parts of the world, and stated that just as it was not injurious for a Muslim not to belong to the Society, so also belonging to it did not form an obstacle to belonging to other societies, whether religious or political. Societies were necessary, because “the desired fruits can never be plucked from Constitutionalism without parties and societies.” The Society recognized (“does not even look askance at”) the fact that under the Constitution all citizens, that is non-Muslims as well as Muslims, were equal before the law. Furthermore, the Manifesto was at pains to point out that all its activities, and the activities it aimed to promote among Muslims, were to be within the law.
· The Mevlid in Aya Sophia Mosque
That a Mevlid was being organized by the Society in Aya Sophia Mosque coincide with the Prophet’s birthday was announced in the Volkan on 18 Mart , 1325/31 March, 1909. It stated that the Society “had entered a new era of tranquillity and progress having successfully surmounted all the attacks to which it had been subject, and the crises arising from those attacks.” “The Mevlid was to be “a gift to Muhammed (PBUH)’s pure and unstained spirit.”
The news of the Mevlid evoked a tremendous response among the population of Istanbul, and something in the region of one hundred thousand people gathered on the specified day. Never before had there been such a throng in the area surrounding Aya Sophia. However, despite the numbers, no unto ward incidents occurred either before or after the Mevlid, and the whole occasion was most orderly; “a display of Islamic brotherhood and decorum.” Dervis Vahdeti described Bediuzzaman’s arrival and address as follows:
“Round about ten o’clock Bediuzzaman Said Kurdi Hazretleri arrived at the head of the Society for Students of the Religious Sciences. We greeted him at the. outer doors, where we were meeting all who arrived…. The turbans on the students’ heads were white like light and enspiriting like flowers. But more than anything, it was the religious education they had received which gave the students an exceptional quality.
“Since it was requested of him, `Our Hazret’, that is, the Wonder of the World of Islam [Bediuzzaman], mounted the pulpit with that famous Kurdish dress and heroic manner of his and like always with a dagger at his waist, and standing, delivered an eloquent address…”
Bediuzzaman began the address with the words: “The truth has risen naked from the grave of the heart. Let those for whom it is prohibited not gaze on it.” And mentioning all the important political, social, and religious subjects of the time, he continued for two hours. In the words of one of those present: “The sermon Bediuzzaman delivered standing in the pulpit was a masterpiece.”
· Dervis Vahdeti
Bediuzzaman was one of the twenty-six members of the Governing Board of the Istanbul Central Committee of the Society for Muslim Unity.It functioned from the offices of the Volkati newspaper, the owner of which was Hafiz Dervis Vahdeti, and it was Dervis Vahdeti who had first founded the Society.
Dervis Vahdeti continues to this day to be something of an unknown quantity. While according to the `official’ histories, he has been portrayed as a radical `reactionary’ opposed to Constitutionalism, and even as a subversive and British agent, from recent research these accusations appear to be false. He now appears more as a victim of circumstance who was made the symbol of the Revolt and paid the consequences. For from the first issue of the Volkan, which appeared on 28 Tesrin-i Sani 1324/11 December 1908, Vahdeti used it to answer the attacks on the Seriat and Islamic traditions and morality made by the newspapers supporting the CUP. As Vahdeti himself put it, the Volkan: was “very small but active”, “moderation” was its “way” “however, when truth and right are attacked, it is not possible for the Volkan not to erupt.” Nevertheless, it supported the Constitution and the rule of law, and its aim was to promote the interests of Muslims, and to further the cause of Islam and the Qur’an in the face of the daily increasing despotism and unlawfulness of the CUP and their supporters.
The apprehension expressed by Bediuzzaman on hearing that “certain people” had founded a society called the Society For Muslim Unity mentioned above refers to his anxiety that a society bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammed [ PBUH] should become involved in politics or be limited to one group, rather than referring to Dervis Vahdeti. Nevertheless, however much he shared the views expressed by the newspaper, it is probably fair to say that he wished Dervis Vahdeti to adhere to the moderation which was its way. For Bediuzzaman was severely critical of the divisive role of the press in that period and on several occasions published articles pointing out how the newspapers should conduct themselves. At the end of two long articles of the fifteen of his that appeared in the Volkan, Bediuzzaman wrote a brief reminder to Vahdeti advising him of his responsibility to act moderately as Islam requires:
“My Brother, Dervis Vahdeti Bey!
“Writers should be mannerly. And their manners should be moulded by the manners of Islam. Let the sense of religion in the conscience order the Press Regulations, for this Islamic revolution has shown that what rules in all consciences is Islamic zeal, the light of lights. Also, it has been understood that the Society For Muslim Unity includes all the people of Islam. There is no one outside it.”
Articles written by Bediuzzaman appeared in most of the leading newspapers of the day, including Tanin, Ikdam, Serbesti, Mizan, Misbah, and the ,Sark ve Kürdistan Gazetesi, not only in the Volkan. He defended the same ideas in all of them. Since, along the Mizan and other papers, the Volkan had taken up an open position against the CUP, it was itself, and the Society For Muslim Unity, for which it spoke, the objects of much criticism. In his articles, therefore, in the most moderate and reasonable tone, Bediuzzaman particularly sought to allay fears about the Society, explaining it in the terms described above. Three of his later articles, appearing between 31 March 1909 and 15 April, specifically answered criticisms, misgivings, and questions concerning it. The final two installments of the third, `Dispelling Doubts in the Light of the Truth’, appeared after the 3l st March Incident had broken out, and this article was given as a further reason for his being arrested and sent before the Court Martial. As for Dervis Vahdeti, he was accused and found guilty of inciting the rebellion, and was hanged along with twelve others on 19 July 1909. Indeed, the committee of Union and Progress well and truly took their revenge: the total numbers executed were two hundred and thirty-seven.