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Back to Asia? South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula

Burying Mohamed Ali Jauhar: The Life and Death of the Meccan Republic

L’enterrement de Mohamed Ali Jauhar : La vie et la mort de la République mecquoise
John M. Willis


Cet article examine le projet jusqu’ici ignoré du Mouvement indien Khilafat pour établir un gouvernement républicain dans la ville de La Mecque après l’effondrement de l’Empire ottoman. Il soutient que si les activistes du Mouvement Khilafat ont été en mesure d’articuler une vision éthique d’un État transnational enraciné dans le concept islamique de fraternité (ikhvat), ils ont été incapables de porter efficacement cette vision dans le domaine politique, en particulier dans la confrontation avec la puissance émergente de l’État saoudien et de ses alliés intellectuels.

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  • 1 FALASṬÎN, 1931, p. 5. On the political context of Mohamed Ali’s burial, see AZARYYAHU and REITER, 2 (...)

1In early 1931, the Indian Khilafat Movement activist Mohamed Ali Jauhar was buried in a grave not far from Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque. He had passed away in England while attending the First Round Table Conference to discuss constitutional reforms in India, and his brother and longtime supporter, Shaukat (d. 1938), intended to send his body back to Delhi for burial. It was a telegram from Palestine’s Ḥâjj Amîn al-Ḥusaynî that changed his mind, and at Ḥusaynî’s insistence, Mohamed Ali was interred in Islam’s third holiest city. His burial in Jerusalem, which was attended by thousands of mourners, marked the passing not only of one of India’s most fervent activists but also one of the foremost advocates of Islamic unity. After several eulogies Shaukat Ali, delivered a speech in English, in which he proclaimed to the audience of mourners: “If I’ve lost one brother, I’ve found in all of you thousands of brothers.”1 In this brief moment, Mohamed Ali was able to achieve in death that which had eluded him in life: the cultivation of a true Islamic fraternity that united all believers regardless of national, ethnic, linguistic, or sectarian identity.

2Although Mohamed Ali has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most significant activists of the Indian Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements, his project to establish a republican government in Mecca after the First World War has lingered in relative obscurity. This is no doubt due to the fact that the project gained little support beyond its South Asian partisans and was actively opposed to ‘Abd al-‘Azîz b. al-Sa‘ûd who announced the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Born in the wake of the First World War, the idea of the Meccan Republic sought to take advantage of the rise of the Sa‘udi state and the conquest of Mecca and Medina by 1925 to formulate a new nomos of the world that would depart radically from the international system of nation states and European empire by rejecting the normative status of territory as the space in which sovereignty operated, emphasizing instead the ethical bond of universal fraternity or ikhvat whose earthly center was the holy city and whose temporal and spatial presence was clearest in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

  • 2 On Saudi state formation, see AL-ENAZY, 2010; AL-RASHEED, 2002; VASSILIEV, 2000; and KOSTINER, 1993 (...)

3The historiography of what became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 has tended to obscure the type of internationalist politics represented by the Khilafat Movement and its allies. This analytical blindness can be attributed both to the central role played by state formation in the historiography of the Arabian Peninsula in the early twentieth-century, but also due to a methodological nationalism that has prioritized the context of Arab regional politics and the use of Arabic language sources to the neglect of the region’s imbrication in global networks of migration, intellectual exchange, and capital formation that continued long into the era of modern state formation.2 In doing so, whether intentionally or not, the field has neglected other forms of political thought and practice that have located neither the state nor national territory as their primary domain of action. In the case of the Meccan Republic, it was the fraternal relationship rather than the territorial state that provided the framework for a transnational, if not global, polity, which requires a global analytical perspective to evaluate both its claims and its limits.

  • 3 On the Khilafat Movement as a specifically “Pan-Islamic” organization, see LANDAU, 1994; SCHULZE, 1 (...)
  • 4 DEVJI, 2013, pg. 81.
  • 5 IQBAL, 2013, p. 126.

4From the perspective of global intellectual and political history then, it may be more beneficial to view the activities of Mohamed Ali and the Khilafat movement, not within the broader movement of “Pan-Islamism,” a designation that is inevitably over-determined by histories of European nationalism and essentialist notions of Islam, but within the global history of internationalist associations, especially as they emerged in the interwar period.3 As Faisal Devji has argued, “we might also see in Khilafat one of the many attempts to remake the world in the wake of the war, when for a while anything seemed possible in a political geography defined by the fall of three empires and the establishment of a communist state on the remains of one.”4 Or one could turn to the Indian poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) who, in a 1930 lecture, declared that “...Islam is neither Nationalism nor Imperialism but a League of Nations which recognizes artificial boundaries and racial distinctions for facility of reference only, and not for restricting the social horizon of its members.”5 That is, even though he rejected the territorial and racial foundations of political community that he associated primarily with the West, his frame of reference was nonetheless the institutional embodiment of the new international order—the League of Nations.

5For the purposes of this article, I would like to engage in a figurative exhumation of Mohamed Ali and his republic to think through Mecca’s cosmopolitan possibility as the center of a community whose limits were not defined by territory or the state. Rather, its democratic possibilities were embodied in the temporal and geographical movement of the thousands of pilgrims who made their way to the city once a year, enacting the ethical relationship of brotherhood that Mohamed Ali felt was the bedrock of popular, participatory government. As a form of political practice, this meant that Ali and the Khilafat Movement had to engage in the emerging forms of associational life that were integral to interwar internationalism. In this case, I want to look at the main forum in which he and the Khilafat Movement most forcefully advocated for the republican project: the Mecca Conference of June 1926, which was held under the auspices of Ibn Sa‘ûd during the Hajj of that year, and the series of Indian delegations that preceded it.

  • 6 See SLUGA, 2013, p. 45-78 and, for the Middle Eastern context, ARSAN, 2012.
  • 7 AYDIN, 2017, p. 144.
  • 8 Eg. JAGMOHAN, 2020; LOURO, 2018; ROBERTS, 2017; and STOLTE, 2012.

6In revisiting the conference, I have two primary goals. First, I would like to suggest that the conference should be seen, not merely as a singular episode in a broader history of interwar Pan-Islamic activism, but as an enactment of the new forms of global associational politics that emerged in the aftermath of the Great War.6 Even though, as Cemil Aydin has demonstrated, the diversity of interwar political and cultural movements that self-identified as “Islamic” in character were united by “discourse of Islamic civilization, especially in their challenging to Eurocentric notions of civilization and race,” they also can be fruitfully compared to other interwar movements and organizations that were transnational in scope and ambition.7 Indeed, treating this moment as a global exception due the Islamic nature of these movements removes the possibility of understanding their emergence within a global transnational politics that rejected Eurocentrism and the racial politics of empire that produced organizations such as the League Against Imperialism (est. 1927), Marcus Garvey’s Universal Nego Improvement Association (est. 1914), the Institute of Pacific Relations (est. 1925), or obviously the Comintern itself (est. 1919), which convened the Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920.8

  • 9 CRITCHLEY, 2004, p. 177.

7Second, I would like to reflect more broadly on the type of universal politics that was proposed by the Khilafat movement during the conference, which was intended to provide both a normative framework and a political praxis, rooted in the idiom of fraternity or ikhvat. It was during the Mecca conference, I contend, that the ethical project of fraternity, as Mohamed Ali and others imagined it, revealed its internal limits through its encounter with Ibn Sa‘ûd. In particular, to quote Simon Critchley on the work of Emmanuel Levinas, it revealed “the disquieting necessity of the passage from ethics to politics.”9 That is, the ethical promise of fraternity, which Mecca so clearly symbolized, was characterized by a deep ambivalence as it emerged as a form of discursive and material power within the domain of the political. In short, the discourse of ikhvat, in spite of its liberatory claims, could just as easily foster a repressive politics of exclusion.

I. Heterotopian Mecca

  • 10 See, MINAULT, 1982, p. 72-79.
  • 11 See QURESHI, 1999, ch. 6 and MINAULT, 1982, p. 86.
  • 12 Eg. ÂZÂD, 2006, p. 178 and NADVÎ, 1971, p.
  • 13 MANELA, 2007.

8The issue of Mecca’s future arose in the aftermath of the First World War and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Indian Khilafat Movement was formed in 1919 by members of the Bombay merchant class as a means of pressing the British government to ensure the continued suzerainty of the Ottoman caliph over the holy cities in the Hijaz and the independence of Istanbul.10 As the movement spread to other parts of India, it also brought into its fold not only merchant classes, but also a broad swathe of the Muslim professional class and the religious elite. Mohamed Ali and his brother Shaukat who became two of the leading figures of the movement were part of this professional class. Mohamed Ali, in particular, had been trained at Lincoln College, Oxford, and, after failing the Indian Civil Service exam, had found employment with the princely states of Rampur and Baroda, late finding success as a prominent newspaper editor. The Khilafat Movement was joined in its efforts by the Association of Indian ‘Ulamâ or Jam‘iyyat-i ‘Ulamâ-yi Hind, also formed in 1919, whose goal was to provide religious guidance and interpretation to India’s Muslims as opposed to the Khilafat Movement’s largely political aims. The plan to partition Ottoman lands among European and regional powers raised alarms that the ruler of the holy cities, Sharîf Ḥusayn b. ‘Alî, was essentially a British asset who would usher in a period of colonial suzerainty in Mecca and Medina.11 It was in this context that Mohamed ‘Ali (among others) began to lobby the British government to support the independence of the Arabian Peninsula and the holy cities, not merely according to a framework of self-determination but according to the Prophet’s testamentary statement, narrated by Ibn Shihab, that “no two faiths shall coexist in the Arabian Peninsula” (la yajtami‘u dinani fi Jazirati al-‘Arabi).12 Beyond the movement’s immediate goals of securing both the Ottoman caliphate and the independence of the holy cities, it adopted the Indian National Congress’ political goal of self-rule or swaraj and what ultimately became the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22) in support of that objective. To focus primarily on the Khilafat Movement’s role in a broadly national program, however, would be to ignore its role in articulating a profoundly internationalist politics that stood in stark contrast to the project of Indian self-rule. Not merely an iteration of the liberal internationalism of the “Wilsonian moment,” the aspirational politics of the Khilafat Movement and its supporters transcended the state system itself, imagining an ethical order that could cure the social and political ills that had to led to the Great War.13 And while the 1924 abolition of the caliphate by the Turkish national government has marked the end of the movement for many scholars, it could also be argued that the end of the formal caliphate opened up a new political horizon in which the holy city could play a more significant role in the Islamic political imaginary of the interwar period.

  • 14 See, for example Rashîd Riḍâ’s discussion of materialism’s effects on Western society in RIḌÂ, 1922 (...)
  • 15 ĀZÂD, 1966, p. 11. Âzâd’s interwar support of Ibn Sa‘ûd’s conquest of the holy cities and his unwil (...)
  • 16 From a letter to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI, May 28, 1920. In HASAN, ed., 1986, p. 3:79.
  • 17 DERRIDA, 2001, p. 5 and DERRIDA, 2000, p. 25.
  • 18 FOUCAULT, 1998, p. 178.

9In the context of what many Muslim critics believed was a clear sign of the imminent decline of Western civilization, torn apart by materialism and militarized nationalism, Mecca stood out as the geographic center of a general rejection of European empire, the European state system, and the forms of racism on which they were based.14 This association with the holy city was as much affective as political: Abûl Kalâm Âzâd (d. 1958), a prolific newspaper editor and one of the most significant thinkers of the Khilafat Movement, would look longingly to Mecca as the center of universal humanity, a space, which would “unite humanity’s scattered hearts and dejected souls.”15 For Âzâd, the annual Hajj pilgrimage marked a temporal and spatial enactment of “human fraternity” as a living force (zinda quvvat), which erased all distinctions of race, class, and sectarian difference. Similarly, Mohamed Ali saw Mecca at the center of a global community that transcended the emergent forms of state sovereignty associated with Arab and Turkish national claims: “[T]he Jazirat ul Arab,” he wrote, “is not the private property of the Arabs any more than it is of the Turks to give away or to retain, but the common heritage of Islam, and subject to the wardenship of the entire Moslem world as a divine trust.”16 What both were suggesting was the foundation of Mecca as a city of refuge in which a universal ethics of fraternity/ikhvat would be sited through the act of hospitality or welcoming—the notion that Mecca was a “universal home” (‘âlamgîr ghar) for all of humanity (insaniat). It was the act of absolute hospitality toward the stranger that, for Jacques Derrida, marked the possibility of a new cosmopolitanism beyond the state and the potential for a “democracy to come.”17 The global realignment at the end of the First World War and the rise of Ibn Sa‘ûd had seemingly created the conditions of possibility to enact this spiritual cosmopolitanism as a form of politics. The future Mecca they imagined was more heterotopian than utopian, in the sense that it was, according to Foucault’s formulation, a “real” place, bounded spatially and temporally, that contested, suspended, and reversed the qualities of the broader geographies in which it was situated, in this case the global geography of European empire.18 For activists such as Mohamed Ali, Mecca was not a utopian aspiration but a living example of the Islamic community’s democratic nature, even if it only emerged in practice during the annual pilgrimage. This nature had been founded in history in the community of the Prophet and the rightly guided caliphs and suggested the immanent possibility of its restoration after centuries of dynastic rule.

  • 19 DARYABÂDÎ, 2005, p. 212.

10It is no surprise then that with the collapse of the Sharfian dynasty in the holy cities and Ibn Sa‘ûd’s quick occupation of the Hijaz that many of these same reformers and activists began to think through the movement of this ethical vision into the domain of the political. ‘Abd al-Mâjid Daryabâdî (d. 1977), a prominent scholar of Islam and journalist, represented the majority view of the Khilafat Movement when he wrote that “if the intention is to reform the Hijaz, then for the future this pure land should be rescued from monarchy. Every tribulation is due to kingship and monarchy (malikiat aur bâdshâhat). Now, it could be that today Sharîf Ḥusayn holds sway and seeks out and burns the books of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim, tomorrow the Najdis conquer and start digging up graves and domes, and the day after the reins of government fall into the hands of Yemen's Zaydis who begin to disrespect the two shaykhs. Should a republic founded in sharî‘a (shar‘î jumhûriat) be established—according to the counsel of and for the benefit of the world's Muslims and on the basis of the opinion and consultation of the Islamic world—these quarrels would be extinguished in days.”19

  • 20 ALI, 1940d, vol. 2 p. 337.
  • 21 ALI, 1999, p. 155.
  • 22 From an article published in Foreign Affairs in July 1920, under the title “Islam and the Khilafat. (...)

11Mohamed Ali also referred to this past and future community as a jumhûriat, a republic that embodied both God’s sovereignty and the equality of all believers. As he expressed to a reporter from the Bombay Chronicle in May 1926, just before he departed for the Mecca conference: “This republic had no sovereign other than God. All people enjoyed equal status and the caliph held only the rank of first among equals.”20 Unlike in other republics, the divine origins of the law meant that it could not be altered or amended by any mortal, thus avoiding the possibility of anyone claiming political power beyond the law. Nor was the Islamic republic akin to the French and American examples, which he argued were based on racism and capitalism (rang aur sarmâyadârî parastish). As Ali wrote, “I felt that the least that one could prophesy with safety as one of the consequences of this war would be that the post-war Europe would not be the pre-war Europe, and after the terrible nightmare of this war it could easily be awakened into the Kingdom of God in which every man would be a brother and a fellow-subject of God, the sole Sovereign of His Universe.”21 That is, the fraternity of Islam was open to all of humanity, but the fraternal relationship was itself mediated by “the acknowledgement of man’s servitude to God.”22

  • 23 ALI, 1882, p. iii.
  • 24 ALI, 1902, p. 253.
  • 25 ÂZÂD, 2008, p. 23.

12Mohamed Ali was not alone in this sentiment: Indian Muslim reformers had been arguing for decades that the period of the Rashidûn or “rightly guided” caliphs represented the true political ends of Islam and offered a historical precedent for contemporary democratic or republican projects. Cheragh Ali (d. 1895), a member of the modernist Aligarh movement, was already arguing in the 1880s that the early caliphate was “purely Republican in nature” since the law “did not recognize the existence of a king, of a nobility, or even of a gentry in the sense in which the term was at first understood.”23 Sayyid Ameer Ali (d. 1928), the jurist and founder of the London Muslim League, similarly opined in the 1902 edition of his The Spirit of Islam that “[w]hilst the Republic lasted none of the Caliphs could alter, or act contrary to, the judgments of the constituted courts of justice.”24 But it was perhaps Abûl Kalâm Âzâd, one of the senior figures of the Khilafat Movement, who most precisely articulated the republican virtues of the early caliphate. Writing in the newspaper al-Hilâl, of which he was the editor, Âzâd insisted that Islam’s republican impulse could be found in a single Quranic verse: “and consult them in the matter” (wa-shâwiruhum fî-l-amri) (3:159), which constituted the divine foundation for consultative government. More specifically, Âzâd delineated what he believed to be the principal attributes of republican government (jumhûrî ḥukûmat), all of which could be found in Islam. These were a rejection of dynastic monarchy and all forms of patrimonial rule, equality before the law, elected leadership, and popular consultation in matters of public expenditure.25

  • 26 KAWÂKIBÎ, 1902.
  • 27 Eg. KAWÂKIBÎ, 2008, p. 198-200 and 204-208. On Kawakibi’s “Arabicization of Islam” see RAHME, 1999, (...)

13Noticeably absent from their discussions was Syrian ‘Abd al-Raḥmân Kawâkibî’s Umm al-Qurâ, which was published in 1900 and later in serialized form in the Egyptian-based journal, al-Manâr. At first glance, his treatise about an imagined world Islamic congress convening in Mecca for the purpose of cultivating a spirit of unity and religious reform through a deliberative and democratic process provided a clear template for Mohamed Ali’s own initiative. Though Ali could not read Arabic, an Urdu translation was published by the Aligarh Institute in 1902.26 There is no evidence, however, that the Ali brothers or other members of the Khilafat leadership read the work, none of whom mention the treatise nor its author in their writing from this period. Even if they had, they would have no doubt found much to criticize in Kawâkibî’s work. His critique of Ottoman rule would have had little traction on a movement committed to defending the empire nor would his insistence on the preeminence of the Arabs in Islam have been well-received among activists who had routinely rejected any form of racial distinction in Islam.27

  • 28 WELLS, 1916, p. 440. For greater explication of Wells’ influence on Mohamed Ali’s thought, see my c (...)

14Rather, Mohamed Ali notes in his autobiography that during his period of imprisonment during the First World War (where he had violated draconian British press laws) he was inspired by two sets of readings. The first was the Urdu translation of the Quran, which he had never read closely, even as a student at Aligarh, the modernist school established by the Sayyid Ahmad Khan. But the second comprised the wartime writings of the British author, H. G. Wells. Friends sent him the novels Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916) and Soul of a Bishop (1917) in addition to Wells’ meditation on modern Christianity, God, the Invisible King (1917). Quite contrary to Wells’ other techno-utopian works or his science fiction, his wartime novels were imbued with a deep pessimism regarding humanity’s turn to militant nationalism and visceral loyalty to monarchy, which he believed led to the catastrophic destruction of the war. United by an entreaty to embrace a dogma-free understanding of God, not as a distant paternal figure, but as an immanent force of love and guidance that could be found in all of humankind and all faiths, including those of the East. For Wells, the coming “Kingdom of God” foretold the establishment of a world republic beyond national and religious difference. In the words of the main character of Mr. Britling Sees It Through, and English internationalist who loses his son in the war, “Let us set up the Peace of the World Republic amidst these ruins. Let it be our religion, our calling.”28

  • 29 ALI, 1999, p. 151.
  • 30 ALI, 1999, p. 122.

15In Mohamed Ali’s words, upon reading Wells he discovered that he was firm supporter of republicanism, but not merely because he rejected monarchism: “[h]e was a republican because he was a believer in theocracy—the most ancient of all forms of Government.”29 But perhaps more fascinating is the fact that Ali’s account of his discovery of the Quran in his autobiography largely mirrors the religious epiphany experienced by Mr. Britling and later elucidated in God, the Invisible King. Namely, like Wells, it dawns on Ali that Islam is more than a set of doctrines and commands, but a single divine impulse that unites all of creation, calling it in to the Lord’s service. Most importantly, this metaphysical “Kingdom of God” for Ali, as for Wells, was not located in an indeterminate future but immanent in the world: “. . . it was not a ‘far off divine event,’ nor had we to wait for the Advent of the Messiah and the realization of a millennium when God’s kingdom was to come. It had already come. Nay, there never was a time when it was not there. This was God’s Kingdom and every man was a ‘Servant of the Lord’. . .”30 It was this sense of timeliness, that the time to establish a divine order for all humanity had arrived, that, in part, explains the urgency with which he pushed the republican project in Mecca. Ibn Sa‘ûd represented a force for this immanent change that promised to upset the post-war balance of power in the Hijaz and provide the conditions of possibility for the emergence of new democratic order in the region.

II. The Meccan Delegations

  • 31 WIZÂRAT AL-KHÂRIJIYYA, 1925, p. 6-7.

16The war between Ibn Sa‘ûd and Sharîf Ḥusayn had elicited alarm among Indian Muslim activists who feared that the pilgrimage would become increasingly dangerous and that holy sites in Mecca and Medina might be damaged or destroyed. In the midst of this conflict, the Central Khilafat Committee proposed to mediate an end to hostilities and to decide the future of the holy cities. Between 1925 and 1926 several delegations were sent to examine the current state of Mecca and Medina and to meet with the warring parties. They were guided by an eight-point resolution passed by the Central Khilafat Committee in December 1924 that set out a vision for the political future of the Hijaz. The first point insisted on the formation of an independent republican government based in Islamic law that would be free from foreign interference and whose foreign relations would be determined by the global community of Muslims. An Islamic conference, convened in Mecca with members representing both the independent Islamic countries and those under imperial rule, would decide the parameters of this future government. But the political aims of the Central Khilafat Committee’s resolution exceeded the immediate conflict in the Hijaz, extending to greater Arab World. In addition to the formation of a republican government in the Hijaz, the committee called also for the unification of the Arab emirates of the Arabian Peninsula both in compliance with Islam’s call to spiritual fraternity and as a means of forming an effective deterrent to foreign invasion.31

  • 32 WIZÂRAT AL-KHÂRIJIYYA, 1925, p. 13-14 and NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 47-49.

17The first delegation was in the Hijaz for most of the month of January, 1925. It was led by the preeminent scholar and member of the Central Khilafat Committee, Sayyid Sulaimân Nadvî (d. 1953), who was accompanied by two other members. They communicated primarily with the ministry of foreign affairs of Amîr ‘Alî’s embattled state in Jidda, and by all accounts the delegation was largely unsuccessful. The Hijaz government largely dismissed the members’ concerns over what it considered largely internal matters. But the suggestion that Amir ‘Ali, who had taken over from his father in 1924, should adopt a republican form of government that would be responsive to all residents of the region, Arab and non-Arab, was met with particular incredulity. In response, the Hijaz government’s foreign minister noted that the indigenous population knew nothing of republicanism, understanding only the sharî‘a or local custom. As for the rest of the population, these were Muslims from other countries who resided in the Hijaz temporarily while they completed the rites of the pilgrimage and would have no right to vote in a republic. Moreover, any election would provide a perfect opportunity for foreign intervention. ‘Alî’s government also rejected it on the basis of faith, noting that there was no legal injunction in Islam that demanded a republican government, and to do so would be an insult to the independent Islamic nations such as Iran and Afghanistan (the model of the Turkish Republic was rejected outright for its adoption of secularism as state policy). The foreign minister even suggested that any republican government in the Hijaz would be seen as a threat by the sultanates and imamates of the Arabian Peninsula. As for the conference, the Hijaz government demurred that it was not aware of any interest in such a gathering beyond the Central Khilafat Committee itself.32

  • 33 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 59-60 and UMM AL-QURÂ, 1925, p. 1-2.

18In March 1925, a second delegation departed for the Hijaz, this time to meet Ibn Sa‘ûd in Mecca, which the previous representatives had been unable to do. Led by Muḥammad Shâfi‘ Daûdî (d. 1949) and accompanied by members of the Central Khilafat Committee and the Jam‘îyyat-i ‘Ulamâ, the delegation was meant to secure Ibn Sa‘ûd’s commitment to protecting and rebuilding the holy sites destroyed or damaged during the war with the Sharifian dynasty. Contrary to the experience of the previous delegates, Daûdî and his companions were met warmly by Ibn Sa‘ûd at the end of the Hajj. While Daûdî praised the amir’s role in overcoming the corrupt regime of Ḥusayn and ‘Alî and working to unite the global community of Muslims, Ibn Sa‘ûd declared his determination to summon all people to Islam, to rule only according to the Qur’an and sunna, and finally to ensure the absolute independence of the Hijaz and the holy cities.33

19The final delegation was dispatched following the news that Ibn Sa‘ûd’s army had laid siege to the city of Medina, damaging the dome of the Prophet’s mosque (al-Masjid al-Nabawî) in the process. Upon discovering that the news of excessive damage to the holy sites of the city had likely been exaggerated, the Central Khilafat Committee put together an investigative delegation of four members, led again by Sayyid Sulaimân Nadvî. Their ostensible purpose was to meet with Ibn Sa‘ûd and demand the convention of an international Islamic conference that would discuss the future of the Hijaz. Where they had failed with Amir ‘Alî they hoped to succeed with Ibn Sa‘ûd. The delegation departed Bombay on October 1925, and made their way to the Hijaz. For the next two months the delegation met with what it described as “people of every class” in Jidda, Mecca, and Medina in order ascertain the current state of the cities and to present their demand for an Islamic conference to Ibn Sa‘ûd.

  • 34 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 24-26.
  • 35 Ibid. p. 69.
  • 36 ZAIDÎ, 1986, p. 150.

20As with the second delegation, the committee members were received cordially by Ibn Sa‘ûd and his government. Ḥâfiẓ Wahba, the first minister of state, assured the delegation that all efforts were being made to protect the holy sites, and he declared that the state would repair any that were damaged during the fighting. The Khilafat activists even reported that Ibn Sa‘ûd sent a telegram to his son Muḥammad, currently directing the siege of Medina, commanding him to respect all of the holy sites in the city.34 If Ibn Sa‘ûd’s openness to the delegation’s concerns gave the Khilafat activists cause for satisfaction, emerging disagreements among the delegation’s members suggested the potential points of contention in their program. In particular, Ẓafar ‘Alî Khân, the editor of the Lahore newspaper Zamîndâr, refused to submit the committee’s demand for the establishment of a republican government in the Hijaz to Ibn Sa‘ûd, expressing that “there were still doubts in his heart” concerning the republican project.35 He was particularly concerned that Ibn Sa‘ûd himself had been left out of any discussion concerning the future government in the region. He went as far as to state that “the immediate establishment of a western-style Islamic republic in the Hijaz is impossible,” though his objection was less about the republican idea than it was about the more immediate need in the region for security and economic aid.36 ‘Alî Khân’s initial hesitation to support the Central Khilafat Committee’s proposal for a Hijazi republic would become vocal opposition by the following year.

  • 37 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 72-73 and KRAMER, 1986, 109.

21On January 7, 1926, while on a tour of the city of Mecca Ibn Sa‘ûd received a group of the city’s elite who enthusiastically offered their allegiance (bay‘a) to him as the King of the Hijaz. In full knowledge that this decision would be regarded as betrayal of his seeming commitment to deferring to the global community of Muslims to decide the region’s fate, he quickly announced that in the absence of a collective response to his earlier invitation to hold a conference in Mecca, he had decided to do what was in the best interests of the residents of the Hijaz. The Central Khilafat Committee responded with both surprise and anger. Shu‘aib Quraishî, who had been a member of the final delegation, claimed that the formation of the monarchy directly contradicted the testimony of the many Hijazis they had interviewed in late 1925, most of whom, he argued, desired self-rule. He even claimed that the public declaration of allegiance on the part of Mecca’s elite was not spontaneous but the result of specific orders sent by Ibn Sa‘ûd the day before.37 By March 1926, the Central Khilafat Committee authored a resolution in response that presented its official position. It demanded that Ibn Sa‘ûd honor his earlier commitment to convene an Islamic conference, which would determine the political future of the Hijaz in consultation with the residents of the region itself. Indeed, the committee argued that for the sake of the region’s future security and in the interests of the Islamic world (‘Âlam-i Islâmî) a new government must be established, and:

  • 38 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 77. Though the term “those who loose and bind” (ahl al-ḥall va-l-‘aqd) is n (...)

that whatever government might be set up, that it be so according to the general opinion of the Islamic world, and that in place of the oppressive government of kings and sultans, that it be established on the model of the Islamic Rightly Guided Caliphate (Khilâfat-i Râshida-yi Islâmiyya), in which instead of a particular family or ethnic group, the appointment or dismissal of a leader (amîr) would be dependent on an election by those who loose and bind (ahl al-ḥall va-l-‘aqd). The Khilafat Committee used the term “republic” at the opening of the previously mentioned resolution in order to make clear our meaning, because this term is closest in today’s vernacular.38

22In other words, the republic demanded by the committee and its allies was not a simple iteration of a liberal political order founded in liberty, equality, and fraternity (in spite of the seeming parallelism of concepts such as azâdî/freedom, musâvat/equality, and ikhvat/fraternity). Rather, it was a consultative political order founded in revelation and the historical practice of the Prophet and his companions, inclusion in which was mediated by one’s submission to God.

III. The Mecca Conference and the Republican Project

  • 39 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 214-216.
  • 40 For earlier accounts of the conference, see SCHULZE, 1990, p. 80-86 and KRAMER, 1986, p. 106-122. F (...)

23The proposed Islamic Conference was finally convened in Mecca in from June to July 1926. And Ibn Sa‘ûd’s inauguration of the Mecca conference presented an opportunity to enact the Meccan democracy to come that animated the imaginations of the Central Khilafat Committee. In the view of Mohamed and Shaukat ‘Ali, the future Hijazi republic, with Mecca as its capitol, would be governed by the people of the Hijaz and overseen by the global community of Muslims, who would have special powers to administer pious endowments, charitable donations, circulation of religious knowledge, and external defense.39 But what it also meant was the transformation of the Hijaz and the holy cities as ethical spaces both within the state system (the territorially rooted Hijazi republic) and beyond it (the fraternal relationship of Islam that transcended any state but whose earthly center (markaz arẓî) was Mecca. That is not to say there were no other visions of Mecca’s internationalist future. If the largely Arabocentric accounts of the conference have largely ignored the Khilafat Movement’s republican project, they have also neglected the agendas of other non-Arab participants in the meeting. As Roy Bar Sadeh has shown, the Soviet delegates, though supporting Ibn Sa‘ûd’s territorial claims, did so in part to showcase the Soviet Union’s commitment to its own “model” minority policy and the principle of self-determination.40

24The prospect of the conference’s success, however, was already overshadowed by a number of events that had occurred after the last Khilafat delegation. First, Ibn Sa‘ûd’s assumption of the title of “King of the Hijaz,” indicated his rejection of his earlier concession to leave the status of the region to be decided by the Islamic community. Second, in May of that year, the mausoleums of the Baqî‘ and Mu‘alla cemeteries (in which companions and family of the Prophet were interred and which were objects of visitation and devotion for millions) were razed to the ground, against considerable opposition across the broader Muslim world. The first event indicated Ibn Sa‘ûd’s adoption of territorial sovereignty over the holy cities, which Mohamed Ali explicitly rejected. The second indicated that, by destroying the cemeteries, Ibn Sa‘ûd had effectively declared the devotional practices of many Muslims as beyond the bond of fraternity/ikhvat that was at the foundation of Mohamed Ali’s view of the future community. In short, Ibn Sa‘ûd’s state threatened the very sort of cosmopolitan project that activists like Mohamed Ali had envisioned.

  • 41 On the origins of the Ahl-i Ḥadîth, see METCALF, 2013, p. 268-296.
  • 42 From a letter to Shakîb Arslân, dated June 19, 1926, in ARSLÂN, 2006, p. 351.
  • 43 See, GHAZNAVÎ, 1928a; GHAZNAVÎ, 1928b; and AMRITSARÎ, 1925.

25As for the conference itself, according to the report written by the Central Khilafat Committee delegation the grand meeting, in which 67 delegates from 15 different countries, regions, and organizations were present, was largely a failure. The Khilafat delegation’s efforts to introduce the question of the Hijaz’s future government and the reconstruction of the cemeteries of the holy cities were met with opposition, especially from the delegates from Najd and India’s Ahl-i Ḥadîth movement, a reformist movement in the Punjab that rejected the authority of the four legal schools in favor of rigorous conformance to the sunna of the Prophet.41 The Khilafat delegation and their allies in the Indian Jam‘iyyat-i ‘Ulamâ found little support among their fellow delegates. Most of the delegates, they believed with good reason, were allies of Ibn Sa‘ûd. Foremost among these was Rashîd Riḍâ, the Syrian reformer and activist, who described Mohamed and Shaukat Ali as a “disaster” (maṣîba), noting that if not for them “the conference would have proceeded along the ideal path desired by the majority of Muslims.”42 One of his primary objections was to their insistence on the establishment of a republic in the Hijaz “as the Turks did,” alluding to Mustafa Kemal’s abolition of the caliphate as a precursor to the foundation of the secular Turkish Republic. The delegates from the Ahl-i Ḥadîth were similarly unsympathetic. Thanâullah Amritsarî (d. 1948) had defended Ibn Sa‘ûd’s destruction of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina in the movement’s newspaper and in independent tracts. Another delegate, Isma‘îl Ghaznavî had championed the monarch’s reforms in the Hijaz, publishing Urdu language pamphlets for his Muslim readers in India.43

  • 44 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 116-117.

26But the delegation met with even less support from Ibn Sa‘ûd himself. In three private meetings, they were able to address Ibn Sa‘ûd directly and present their concerns about the region’s future. The first meeting was held on May 27, 1926 and included members of the Khilafat delegation and the Jam‘iyyat-i ‘Ulamâ. Although it began with the careful exchange of pleasantries, according to the committee’s account, Shaukat Ali took the opportunity to remind Ibn Sa‘ûd of the necessity of protecting the Hijaz from foreign intervention, noting that the region belonged to all Muslims, not to any individual monarch. He responded testily that his government had two foundations: the Quran and sunna of the Prophet and firm opposition to any foreign interference. Mohamed Ali, assuming that the king was implying that the Khilafat delegation was itself a form of “foreign interference,” proclaimed: “There are two things you have to understand. First, we are not polytheists (mushrikûn). We have faith in both the Quran and the sunna. Second, the Hijaz belongs to all Muslims, so we are not foreigners here (ham yahân ajnabî nahîn).”44 At this point, Sayyid Sulaimân Nadvî found it necessary to interject that all Muslims are bound by the Quran and sunna, even if their interpretations of what that meant differed. It was important, he contended, for Muslims to strive toward unity rather than emphasize difference.

27But Mohamed Ali’s insistence that he was neither foreigner (ajnabî) nor polytheist (mushrik) also suggested the basic limits inherent in the kind of cosmopolitan hospitality he had envisioned. First and foremost, his understanding of refuge as a formative practice of cosmopolitanism was mediated by one’s submission to God and, therefore, also conditional rather than universal. Second, and as he learned very quickly, Ibn Sa‘ûd and his supporters among the ‘ulama did not necessarily share his understanding of who rightfully belonged to the community and who did not, as his acceptance of the monarchial form and the destruction of mausoleums in Mecca and Medina had demonstrated. In the second meeting, held two days later, Shaukat Ali declared pointedly that the current age was one which demanded Islamic unity and agreement, not religious division. Pointing to the devotional sites in the holy cities, he reminded the king that the status of the region was to be decided by the community of Muslims and not by a handful of jurists from Najd. Ibn Sa‘ûd demurred that his people were fanatic (muta‘aṣṣib) and liable to turn against him had he not razed the cemeteries. Moreover, he argued that the destruction of the mausoleums was supported by the Quran and the sunna, therefore, he had asked his own chief jurist to supervise their demolition. When Sayyid Sulaimân Nadvî challenged his decision on legal grounds, Ibn Sa‘ûd noted dismissively that he was not a jurist, and the meeting ended.

  • 45 Ibid. p. 214.

28The third meeting with Ibn Sa‘ûd was only convened some days later and with great reluctance. The Khilafat delegation once again broached the subject of the future Hijazi government. Clearly losing patience with the Ali brothers’ insistence, the Sa‘udi king responded “I’m ready to abandon the Hijaz and leave on condition that Shaukat Ali and Mohamed Ali bring their armies and take responsibility for it.”45 A final meeting took place in July, but it was clear that Ibn Sa‘ûd would not be convinced, and the members departed in disappointment. Reflecting on his period in the Hijaz, Mohamed Ali recalled the extent to which Ibn Sa‘ûd’s government prohibited any discussion of the political future of the Hijaz, let alone the prospect of forming a republican government. Concerning the future of the holy cities, it was still the position of the Central Khilafat Committee, he wrote resolutely, that “no type of kingdom (bâdshâhat) should be established, the government should never be dependent on any particular family, the government should not be connected to inheritance; the government should be republican and consultative and its members should come from those who live in the Hijaz.” He went on to suggest that the sovereign sphere of this future republic would be divided between the region and the global Islamic community. The Hijazi government would enjoy complete independence internally so long as it preserved the region from foreign intervention. However, the propagation of Islam and the administration of the sharî‘a would be placed under the supervision of delegates of the entire community according to the principle of religious freedom within the four schools of Islamic law in the sunni tradition.

29As Mohamed Ali later remarked in an article in the newspaper Hamdard, of which he was the editor, Ismail Gasprinski, the Tatar reformer, had earlier proposed forming a “League of Islamic Nations,” which unfortunately never came to pass in his lifetime. But as his plan for the post-Hashemite Hijaz suggested, Mohamed Ali’s vision for the region entailed a new Islamic world order with the holy cities at its center, in which all Muslims would have rights and responsibilities (even if he left these unnamed). Muhammad Iqbal later echoed these thoughts in his “Mecca and Geneva,” published as part of the 1936 collection, Ẓarb-i Kalîm:

In this age, the mingling of different nations has become the norm

But the union of humanity remains concealed from view

The goal of Western wisdom is the division of nations

The goal of Islam is the nation of Adam

Mecca has sent this message to Geneva’s soil

  • 46 IQBAL, 2003, p. 437.

That the League of Nations might become the League of Adam46

  • 47 ALI, 1940a, p. 1:239.
  • 48 ALI, 1940c, p. 1:537.
  • 49 PETTIT, 2002, p. 9-10.

30The Islamic conference was meant, Mohamed Ali noted, not only to rid the region of the innovation of monarchy (mulûkiyyat kî bid‘at) but also to present the world a vision of “fraternity, equality, and consultation” (ikhvat aur musâvat aur shûra).47 If his remarks on Islam’s future global republic seem more than a bit vague, his later attempts to explain his notion of what this republic might be were even more so. In the two years following his return from Mecca, Mohamed Ali authored a series of articles in Hamdard that sought to expand his understanding of freedom in Islam and the rejection of despotic power with reference both to Indian politics and Ibn Sa‘ûd. Yet, his understanding of republicanism was largely negative: it was that mode of government that recognized that “sovereignty belongs to God alone” without specifying what this form of government might entail beyond the consultative model of the early caliphate.48 That is, it was a vision of republicanism based on “freedom as non-domination,” insofar as Islam reasserted God as the sole sovereign over the universe and liberated humanity from the rule of other humans.49 But Mohamed Ali’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty was also meant to highlight the freedom (azâdî) of humanity, by which he meant the absolute freedom of moral action without compulsion.

  • 50 ALI, 1940b, p. 1:481.
  • 51 ALI, 1940c, p. 1:544.

31He illustrated this extended critique of monarchy by explicating the stories of the prophets Mûsa, Dawûd, and Sulaymân. The story of Pharaoh’s intransigence revealed the danger of any human claiming a share in God’s power. Ali noted that the story of Pharaoh punishing his own sorcerers for their faith in Moses was typical of all forms of oppression. Pharaoh’s outrage that they had not sought his permission to believe in Moses, Ali suggested wryly, was mirrored in the behavior of Ibn Sa‘ûd when his chief jurist in Mecca (ra’îs al-quḍâ), ‘Abdullah b. Balîhad, demanded that the Khilafat delegation seek the monarch’s permission before they set out to Medina to visit the graveyards of the Ahl al-Bayt, which to his mind was part of the common patrimony of all Muslims.50 The reigns of Dawûd and Sulaymân, however, presented a different problem: did their kingships offer legal precedent for the normative institution of monarchy in general? Ali argued that they did not, precisely because they were in effect not ordinary monarchs but executors of God’s will. His critics, he noted, never hesitated to support Ibn Sa‘ûd’s adoption of monarchy with reference to the Quranic verse: “And (remember) when Moses said to his people: ‘Oh my people! Remember God’s favor to you, how he placed among you prophets, made you kings, and gave you what he gave not to any other peoples” (5:20). This was no proclamation in support of absolute monarchy (bâdshâh muṭlaq), he contended, but the speech of a messenger trying to free his people from servitude. Nor was the reference to kings (mulûk) meant to support monarchy; rather it was a universal call for freedom and self-rule which Mohamed Ali compared to Gandhi’s concept of swaraj.51 Indeed most references to authority (ḥukm) or kingship (mulk) were largely metaphorical rather than literal, except in the cases of Dawûd and Sulaymân. Even so, in their capacities as monarchs, they represented God’s sovereignty not that of mankind. And for Mohamed Ali, Ibn Sa‘ûd had chosen not the path of Dawûd and Sulaymân, but “the path of Caesar and Khosrow.”

  • 52 NADVÎ, 1926, p. 7-8.

32In the months that followed, Mohamed Ali’s voice was joined by others in support of Islamic republicanism. Sayyid Sulaimân Nadvî, who had visited the Hijaz both as a member of the Khilafat delegations and later as a member of the Islamic conference in Mecca, published an article in Hamdard under the title “The Islamic Republic” (Islâmî Jumhûrîat) in late 1926.52 The article was an attempt to explain the normative institutions of the Islamic republican idea as they had been established in the early years of the Islamic community. According to Nadvî, the head of state in the Islamic republic (whether president, caliph, or imam) should be elected according to the general will of the people (qaum kî ra’y). Sovereign power should be exercised only in consultation with the community’s notables. And this head of state would be given no preference above the people he governed. Many of these characteristics, the author suggested, were already found in the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. They all came from different clans and were outspoken against the hereditary rule of their own kinsmen. Even slaves could become the head of the community, the author noted, pointing to the Caliph ‘Umar’s statement that “were Salim, the slave of Abû Hudhayfa, still alive, I would elect him caliph.” But most important was the general rule of election (intikhâb) according to will of the community, which the author noted was typical of the Rashidûn caliphs. The second characteristic of the republic was consultation (mushavarat), which was also supported by the Qur’an and the practice of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Meeting in the Prophet’s mosque on Friday, the community would gather after prayer to decide issues of importance among themselves. The most important quality of the Islamic Republic, however, was the absence of favoritism toward any member of the community and the absolute equality of believers. There was no clearer statement of this principle, Nadvî believed, than Abû Bakr’s declaration: “I have assumed authority over you, but am not better than you.”

  • 53 JAIRÂJPÛRÎ, 1926, p. 7. On Jairâjpûrî and the Ahl-i Quran movement, see QASMI, 2011, p. 187-195.
  • 54 ‘ABD AL-ḤAYY, 1926, p. 7.

33 Nadvî’s article was followed not long after by a column by Muḥammad Aslam Jairâjpûrî (d. 1955), one of the most prominent scholars of the Ahl-i Qur’an school of interpretation and a friend of Mohamed Ali.53 Jairâjpûrî, like Nadvî, singled out consultation as the basis for republican government (riâsat jumhûrî), remarking that the only difference between the caliphate and democratic government in the West was the condition that the caliph be selected from the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet Muhammad. Consultation was not confined to the Prophet and his companions; in times of need, the community drew on the opinions of every “free person” (shakhṣ azâd). At the basis of this understanding of consultation was the basic premise that all Muslims, indeed all of humanity, were equal. An article published weeks later, excerpted from the writings of Khwâja ‘Abd al-Ḥayy, reiterated the arguments that preceded it, rooting the republican idea in the concept of consultation as demonstrated by the practice of the Prophet’s companions.54

  • 55 Eg. UMM AL-QURÂ, 1926b, 1-2.
  • 56 RIḌÂ, 1994, p. 5:2112.
  • 57 Ibid., p. 5:2118.

34Ibn Sa‘ûd’s supporters responded to Mohamed Ali’s criticisms forcefully in the pages of the press. The Saudi state paper Umm al-Qurâ reprinted articles from the Indian Ahl-i Ḥadîth, criticizing Mohamed Ali, his brother, and the Khilafat delegation for sowing opposition to what they believed was Ibn Sa‘ûd’s just rule. Rashîd Riḍâ did the same in his journal al-Manâr.55 Arguing that Ibn Sa‘ûd had never desired to rule the Hijaz, Riḍâ noted that his intention had always been to hold the region in trust until its inhabitants nominated a deputy from among them who would answerable to the global Islamic community. In failing to answer his initial call to convene a conference on the future of the holy cities, Riḍâ argued, Mohamed Ali and the rest of the community had lost their right to decide the matter. Furthermore, he continued, Ibn Sa‘ûd had only accepted the title of “King of the Hijaz” out of deference to the desire of the people of the region, who wanted neither European rule nor the rule of Muslims under European rule, alluding to Indian Muslims. As for the title of “king,” Riḍâ argued that it was chosen precisely because it had standing in the language of the European state system. The title in and of itself did not indicate tyranny and oppression (al-istibdâd wa-l-ẓulm), but was used for the kingships of both Dawûd and Sulaymân in the Quran (5:20), invoking the same verse that Mohamed Ali had contended was referring to divine sovereignty, not human sovereignty.56 He continued, asserting that if the Ali brothers were truly interested in restoring the caliphate of the Rashidûn, it was only Ibn Sa‘ûd who was capable of doing so. For Riḍâ, the new ruler of the Hijaz had enacted “the most perfect rule which had established absolute justice without proximity to favoritism to any person due to his faith, lineage, strength, wealth, poverty, kinship, enmity, or friendship.”57

  • 58 See, for example, UMM AL-QURÂ, 1926a, p. 1.
  • 59 This is an argument made in greater depth in WILLIS, 2017, p. 346-370.

35Indeed, the ethical commitment to Islamic fraternity (ikhvat) as a basis for the political revealed its own limitations and even more its potential to generate a radically exclusivist regime of exception. It is important to recall that Ibn Sa‘ûd’s general summons to the Mecca Conference was couched in the call to brotherhood and “uniting the word of Muslims.”58 His claim to rule according to the Quran and sunna gave fraternity the force of law, through its insistence on conformance to the normative model of the Prophet and the early community (al-salaf al-ṣâliḥ)—this occurred primarily through the rejection of sectarian and juridical difference and the repression of what were considered innovations in belief and practice (bid‘a), the destruction of the cemeteries being the most obvious example.59 In spite of their differences both Mohamed Ali and Ibn Sa‘ûd agreed on fraternity as the basic idiom of ethical and political unity.


36To return to Mohamed Ali’s burial in 1931, it is worth remembering that Shaukat Ali had originally intended to have him interred in Delhi rather than Mecca or Medina. Even though he claimed the holy cities as his home by the genealogical right of fraternity, it was still the soil of Hindustan to which he was intimately bound. And while he was buried in 1931, one could argue that the Meccan republic was officially buried a year later in 1932, with the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its adoption of territoriality as a tool of sovereign power. It is worth asking, however, if the republican idea did not suffer an earlier death through its intimate association with the language of fraternity/ikhvat, especially as it was pressed to inform the political through the force of law. We can easily argue that it in fact worked against the idea of Mecca as the spiritual refuge that was promised by people like Mohamed Ali and Abûl Kalâm Azâd.

  • 60 DERRIDA, 2005, p. 305. On the troubled associations of the political concept of fraternity, see CAP (...)

37As Derrida asked in his Politics of Friendship “what is the political impact and range of this chosen word, among other possible words?”60 He was rightly concerned that in its political form, the ethical relation of fraternity/ikhvat bore the burden of its own genealogical idiom. It reduced political relations to a form of androcentric kinship, of family, ethnicity, and blood ties rooted in a land, just as activists such as Mohamed Ali were rejecting these as a basis of community. That is, the penultimate object of the cosmopolitan gesture—the stranger or foreigner—could only be hosted through the sublimation of his difference, his very alterity. That is, in spite of its universalist aspirations, fraternity as a political form lent itself to drawing boundaries, beginning with that which separated Muslims and non-Muslims—the difference between the foreigner/polytheist and the native/Muslim. Under Ibn Sa‘ûd brotherhood was more strictly defined by a particular form of embodied belief and practice based on the doctrine of God’s oneness (tawḥîd). To transgress these limits meant to risk expulsion from this fraternity through the force of takfîr or being declared a non-Muslim.

  • 61 DERRIDA, 1999, p. 113.

38It would be insufficient, then, to argue as Mohamed Ali did that Ibn Sa‘ûd alone was responsible for the death of the Meccan republic. Rather, it was the inability of the republican idea, rooted in the concept of fraternity, to generate a form of cosmopolitan hospitality that was predicated on an assumed responsibility for the stranger, as Derrida has defined it on the basis of Levinas’ ethical work. There is some irony in the fact that Mohamed Ali was ultimately buried in Jerusalem, a city that Levinas believed embodied a divine promise immanent in the earthly city for “the hope of a science of society, and of a society, which are wholly human.”61 One could argue that the hope for both Jerusalem and Mecca, that they could emerge from the ashes of empire as centers of a new ethical world order, a democracy to come, was dashed in the fraught movement from ethics to politics, a politics that was ultimately nationalist in orientation.

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1 FALASṬÎN, 1931, p. 5. On the political context of Mohamed Ali’s burial, see AZARYYAHU and REITER, 2015, p. 31-56.

2 On Saudi state formation, see AL-ENAZY, 2010; AL-RASHEED, 2002; VASSILIEV, 2000; and KOSTINER, 1993; For the history of Kingdom of the Hijaz, see TEITELBAUM, 2001. It could be argued that the historiography of modern South Asia has seemingly marginalized the Khilafat Movement’s activities that were not exclusively related to the Indian nationalist movement. See, for example, the limited discussions of the movement’s efforts in the Hijaz in QURESHI, 1999, p. 397-399 and MINAULT, 1982, p. 206.

3 On the Khilafat Movement as a specifically “Pan-Islamic” organization, see LANDAU, 1994; SCHULZE, 1990; and KRAMER, 1986.

4 DEVJI, 2013, pg. 81.

5 IQBAL, 2013, p. 126.

6 See SLUGA, 2013, p. 45-78 and, for the Middle Eastern context, ARSAN, 2012.

7 AYDIN, 2017, p. 144.

8 Eg. JAGMOHAN, 2020; LOURO, 2018; ROBERTS, 2017; and STOLTE, 2012.

9 CRITCHLEY, 2004, p. 177.

10 See, MINAULT, 1982, p. 72-79.

11 See QURESHI, 1999, ch. 6 and MINAULT, 1982, p. 86.

12 Eg. ÂZÂD, 2006, p. 178 and NADVÎ, 1971, p.

13 MANELA, 2007.

14 See, for example Rashîd Riḍâ’s discussion of materialism’s effects on Western society in RIḌÂ, 1922/23, p. 6; and Mohamed Ali’s critique of nationalism in ALI, 1999, p. 154-155. Cf. ELSHAKRY, 2013, p. 233.

15 ĀZÂD, 1966, p. 11. Âzâd’s interwar support of Ibn Sa‘ûd’s conquest of the holy cities and his unwillingness to criticize the Saudi destruction of the many devotional sites located in them provides a stark example of the unsettling movement from ethics to politics, as Critchley describes it. See WILLIS, 2014, p. 574-581.

16 From a letter to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI, May 28, 1920. In HASAN, ed., 1986, p. 3:79.

17 DERRIDA, 2001, p. 5 and DERRIDA, 2000, p. 25.

18 FOUCAULT, 1998, p. 178.

19 DARYABÂDÎ, 2005, p. 212.

20 ALI, 1940d, vol. 2 p. 337.

21 ALI, 1999, p. 155.

22 From an article published in Foreign Affairs in July 1920, under the title “Islam and the Khilafat.” Quoted in HASAN, 1986, p. 3:113.

23 ALI, 1882, p. iii.

24 ALI, 1902, p. 253.

25 ÂZÂD, 2008, p. 23.

26 KAWÂKIBÎ, 1902.

27 Eg. KAWÂKIBÎ, 2008, p. 198-200 and 204-208. On Kawakibi’s “Arabicization of Islam” see RAHME, 1999, p. 170-172. On the rejection of “racial distinction” (naslî imtiâzât) in Islam among Khilafat activists, see WILLIS, 2010, p. 724-725.

28 WELLS, 1916, p. 440. For greater explication of Wells’ influence on Mohamed Ali’s thought, see my current work-in-progress, Meccan Variations: Islam and Politics in Other Spaces.

29 ALI, 1999, p. 151.

30 ALI, 1999, p. 122.

31 WIZÂRAT AL-KHÂRIJIYYA, 1925, p. 6-7.

32 WIZÂRAT AL-KHÂRIJIYYA, 1925, p. 13-14 and NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 47-49.

33 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 59-60 and UMM AL-QURÂ, 1925, p. 1-2.

34 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 24-26.

35 Ibid. p. 69.

36 ZAIDÎ, 1986, p. 150.

37 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 72-73 and KRAMER, 1986, 109.

38 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 77. Though the term “those who loose and bind” (ahl al-ḥall va-l-‘aqd) is not parsed in the text, we can assume by the composition of the delegations to the 1926 Mecca conference that it was not restricted the ‘ulamâ as specialists in religious knowledge but a broadly educated elite. Though they were given the honorific titles of “maulana,” both Mohamed Ali and his brother, Shaukat, received largely secular educations and worked in civil administration and journalism.

39 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 214-216.

40 For earlier accounts of the conference, see SCHULZE, 1990, p. 80-86 and KRAMER, 1986, p. 106-122. For an analysis of Soviet policy toward the conference based on Russian sources, see BAR SADEH, 2022, p. 181-192.

41 On the origins of the Ahl-i Ḥadîth, see METCALF, 2013, p. 268-296.

42 From a letter to Shakîb Arslân, dated June 19, 1926, in ARSLÂN, 2006, p. 351.

43 See, GHAZNAVÎ, 1928a; GHAZNAVÎ, 1928b; and AMRITSARÎ, 1925.

44 NADVÎ, et al., 1944, p. 116-117.

45 Ibid. p. 214.

46 IQBAL, 2003, p. 437.

47 ALI, 1940a, p. 1:239.

48 ALI, 1940c, p. 1:537.

49 PETTIT, 2002, p. 9-10.

50 ALI, 1940b, p. 1:481.

51 ALI, 1940c, p. 1:544.

52 NADVÎ, 1926, p. 7-8.

53 JAIRÂJPÛRÎ, 1926, p. 7. On Jairâjpûrî and the Ahl-i Quran movement, see QASMI, 2011, p. 187-195.

54 ‘ABD AL-ḤAYY, 1926, p. 7.

55 Eg. UMM AL-QURÂ, 1926b, 1-2.

56 RIḌÂ, 1994, p. 5:2112.

57 Ibid., p. 5:2118.

58 See, for example, UMM AL-QURÂ, 1926a, p. 1.

59 This is an argument made in greater depth in WILLIS, 2017, p. 346-370.

60 DERRIDA, 2005, p. 305. On the troubled associations of the political concept of fraternity, see CAPUTO, 1999, p. 188 and CRITCHLEY, 2004, p. 173.

61 DERRIDA, 1999, p. 113.

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John M. Willis, « Burying Mohamed Ali Jauhar: The Life and Death of the Meccan Republic », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 17 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2023, consulté le 29 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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John M. Willis

Department of History, University of Colorado

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