I recently came across an extremely significant Islamic document that severely criticizes Turks for using religion as a cover to killing Armenian Christians.
This rarely seen document is a fatwa, or religious decree, issued in May 1909 by Grand Sheikh Salim al-Bishri of Egypt, condemning Turkish Muslims for massacring 30,000 Armenians in Adana, a major city in the Ottoman Empire.
Sheikh al-Bishri of al-Azhar Mosque, the leader of the Muslim world’s preeminent center of Islamic studies in Cairo, issued this fatwa to counter the decree issued in April 1909 by a Turkish mufti (religious leader) that urged Turks to kill Armenians because “they were against Muslims and God.”
Upon seeing a passing reference to the Egyptian fatwa on the internet, I contacted Prof. Mohammed Rifaat al-Emam, an expert on Armenian history, whom I had met during a recent visit to Cairo. Dr. al-Emam kindly sent me the original Arabic text of this important religious document, excerpts of which are presented below in English translation for the first time:
“We have seen in local newspapers agonizing news and vile reports about Muslims of some Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman Empire attacking Christians and killing them brutally. We could not believe these reports and hoped that they were false, because Islam forbids aggression, oppression, bloodshed, and harming human beings—Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.
“Oh Muslims living in that region and elsewhere, beware of actions prohibited by Allah in His Sharia [Islamic law] and spare the blood that Allah prohibited to spill and do not transgress on anyone since Allah does not like aggressors…
“Your duty towards those who are allied with you, who entrusted their safety to you and who reside among you and next to you from Ahlul Dhimma [Jewish and Christian minorities protected under Islam], as imposed by Allah, is to uplift them as you would uplift yourselves, prevent them from what you prevent yourselves and your kinsfolk, make your strength their strength, make pride and prosperity out of your strength, and protect their monasteries and churches the way you protect your mosques and temples.
“Whoever abuses their women, draws the sword on them, and oppresses them contradicts Muslims’ pledge to Allah, which is the obligation of Muslims.
“Be informed that if what the public is hearing is true, then you have angered your Allah and did not satisfy your Prophet and the Sharia. You kept your Muslim brothers away from their religion, whose rejection became hideous by this heinous act, violating what is forbidden, and you let loose tongues of people ignorant of your religion to pronounce hideous words against all Muslims.
“Then, hear some of what your Prophet said about conditions similar to what you are in today. He said: ‘He who kills an allied person [person joined with Islam by an agreement in order to give help and support] will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, and if he smells it, that would be at a distance of 40 years.’ He also said: ‘A person who rejects a dhimmi [a person from Jewish and Christian minorities] will be whipped with flagella of fire on Judgment Day.’”
This document makes it amply clear that the Armenian massacres of 1909 and the subsequent genocide of 1915 were not the result of religious conflict between Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians. The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar rightly condemned the Turks for the mass murder of Armenians, which was committed for racist Pan-Turkic—not Pan-Islamic—reasons, along with the intent of capturing Armenian lands and properties. The various fatwa issued by Turkish muftis were intended to provoke fanatical Turkish mobs to attack and massacre innocent Armenians.
Sheikh al-Bishri’s 1909 fatwa was further reinforced by the decree issued in 1917 by al-Husayn Ibn Ali, the sharif of Mecca, ordering all Muslims to defend Armenians and “provide everything they might need…because they are the Protected People of the Muslims about whom the Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Whoever takes from them even a rope, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment.’”
In 2009, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated that “Muslims don’t commit genocide,” he was only partly right. He should have said, “Good Muslims don’t commit genocide.” The leaders of the Young Turk Party who masterminded the Armenian Genocide in 1915 were not faithful Muslims, judging by the teachings of the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam. They were simply criminals who used Islam as a convenient cover to carry out mass murder. The compassionate fatwa of the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar still rings true today as the Muslim world celebrates the end of Ramadhan.