Led by the Hashemites, the modern Arab Awakening sought liberation and sovereignty from more than four centuries of alienation and dispossession under Ottoman rule. The firing of the first bullet, on 10 June 1916, marked the start of the Great Arab Revolt, ushering in a noble and arduous march towards the establishment of an independent Arab nation.
By the early 20th century, the Arab Awakening movement was inseparable from the Arab consciousness, which was deepening and expanding with the increasing activity of the free Arabs, who organised themselves into independence-seeking organisations and societies. At the centre of these various movements was Prince Faisal I, who served as a critical link between them and his father, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, who had been exiled to Istanbul in 1893 for his beliefs and activism, before returning to Mecca in 1908 to become its Emir. Sharif Hussein was sought as the leader of Arab renaissance and revolution because he embodied both religious and historical legitimacy as well as because he believed in the Arabs’ right to freedom, unity and independence.
Dynasty, Historical and Religious Legitimacy and Achievements
The Hashemites’ role towards independence is further evident in their pioneering political and social leadership. Qusai bin Kilab is recognised as a historical figure, who brought glory to the Hashemites of Quraysh for his honourable role in administering the Hajj, taking care of pilgrims and serving them water. The Hashemites founded the first public forum ‘Dar Al Nadwa’ for meetings and consultations; and they used to hold meetings of Majlis al Malaa, which included Quraysh’s most seasoned and knowledgeable leaders to discuss public issues. The Hashemites also divided Mecca into quarters, which was their entry into the state system they had come to define with the aim of regulating people’s affairs on the basis of justice and equality. They also created Hilf Al Fudul, an alliance led by the sons of Abd Manaf, to ensure the security and stability of the pre-Islamic Hajj delegations, prevent harm from befalling people and see to it that justice is served.
The alliance maintained its valuable stature in Mecca’s community as a model of social and humanitarian work. Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, witnessed the formation of the Hilf in his youth, saying: “I was present in the house of Abdullah bin Judaan when an alliance was formed; and… if I were invited by it in Islam, I would answer it.” He also said that the members of the alliance created it to “give credit where it is due” and to ensure that no oppressor succeeds in subjugating his victims.
History witnessed these humanitarian values that continue to be the hallmarks of the Hashemite’s journey to this day. These values embody their deep understanding of the most precious value of responsible freedom, alongside the importance of an independent community and sovereign state. These are all values affirmed by Islam, time and time again.
The Hashemites continued their leading role among the dynasties of Quraysh, representing the moral, intellectual and political elite of Mecca and Medina. They earned the respect of the pilgrims to Mecca and the trade journeys of winter to Yemen and summer to the Levant that they spearheaded, enabling the people of Hijaz, Egypt, Yemen and the Levant to recognise the stature of the Hashemites and their historical and religious significance.
Hashem, grandfather of Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was widely respected by the people of Mecca. The etymology of the name Hashem reflects the highest degrees of generosity and social philanthropy. The name Hashem is derived from communal eating ceremonies, where Hashem crushed dry bread and offered it with meat to the hungry. As the poet said:
He is the man who crushed dried
Bread for his people,
With the men of Mecca seeking it in
From this generosity, he was given the name Hashem — derived from the Arabic verb meaning ‘to crush’ — with which he became known. Hashem travelled around several areas and passed away in Gaza. In honour of this history, Gazans built a mosque over his grave, which bears his name to this day and continues to receive worshippers.
The Hashemites at the Dawn of Islam
Mecca was the first — and most important — of capitals and has been, since the beginning of Islam, at the forefront of Arab cities and Muslim communities, thanks to its strategic significance and its administrative organisation, in addition to its bustling cultural and commercial scenes. In Mecca, poets would engage in competition, with the most venerated poems hung on the walls of the Kaaba.
Without any doubt, Mecca is the capital of classical Arabic language, for it first witnessed the miracle of the Holy Quran, which was revealed and will be preserved by God.
We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (Al Hijr, Verse 9).
In Mecca, under the shadow of paganism and the increasing power, control and wealth of Quraysh, Islam was born as an international religious and philosophical message that called for tolerance, love and human justice. From Mecca, the news came that God Almighty had chosen one of mankind to convert people from worshipping worshippers, into worshipping their Lord, based on monotheism embodied in the phrase of “La Ilah illa Allah wahdahou la shareeka lah” (There is no God but God; And he has not partners).
Islam began with the first tribe, the Hashemites, as God ordered His Messenger to start with them:
And admonish thy nearest kinsmen (Ash Shuaraa, Verse 214).
The Hashemites had to face the challenges that arose in the first stages of the call for Islam and sacrifice the first martyrs. In the battle of Uhud, there was Hamzah, chief of the martyrs; and in Mutah in the year 8 Hijri, Jaafar Al Tayyar fell martyr. Then there was Qadisiya, in the year 15 Hijri, when the characteristics of the new nation began to take shape on foundations of righteousness, cooperation, openness and compassion, in line with what God has said:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) (Al Hujurat, Verse 13).
The Hashemites, the nobles of Mecca and Aal al Bayt, are the descendants of Arabs’ ancestor Adnan. No dynasty in history has maintained its continuation in a manner similar to Aal al Bayt, whose members have had a long-lasting impact throughout history due to their religious stature and their services to and administration of the sanctuaries of Mecca as protectors and custodians. This dynasty has attracted glory in all its forms, starting even before the trade journeys and before the Holy Message was sent to Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him. It started with the Hashemites’ historical stature among Arab tribes, as leaders possessing great wisdom. They have risen above seeking prestigious positions and have only accepted leadership in the service of the Muslim nation; and they were the first to give their lives for the righteous call for Islam.
Aal al Bayt members continued in their duty to carry on with the awakening of the nation on the basis of equality, justice and freedom of religion. Although they have risen above political and bigoted rivalries, they have faced various challenges and the vagaries of the times. Nevertheless, they have never strayed from righteousness, believing in the nation’s rights and holding onto the dignity of the community and the individual. Their approach has been through tolerance and bringing people together, following in the footsteps of Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
The Hashemites have been martyrs, scientists and leaders of the nation of Islam. They continued to be respected and revered by the Abbasid and Fatimid caliphs as well as the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman sultans. They ruled Mecca for 724 years (598-1344 Hijri, corresponding to 1201-1925 AD).
The year 1516 AD was a turning point in the history of the Mashreq, when the armies of Ottoman Sultan Selim I entered the Levant and Egypt, after routing the Mamluks in the Battle of Marj Dabiq. The victory ushered in Ottoman control and influence over these two strategic Arab regions: the Hijaz, in terms of religion and Yemen, in terms of economy. By then, the Ashraf of Mecca had pledged to themselves that they, despite all political upheavals and in their capacity as the custodians of Islamic holy sites, endorse Sultan Selim I. Therefore, they were the first to express their support for and blessings of Selim I as an Ottoman sultan over Arab regions, with Mohammad Abu Nami II ibn Barakat, the Sharif of Mecca (1525-1584 AD), announcing his support.
Throughout the Ottoman reign (1516-1916), Hijaz was ruled and administered by the Hashemites, until they recognised that the Turks were deviating from the principles of Islam, pushing heavily instead towards an extremist Turanistic, Turkish movement. The Hashemites were also deeply concerned over the state’s arbitrary measures against its subjects; hanging advocates of Arab independence in Damascus and Beirut (widely known as free Arabs), in addition to torturing and terrorising people, wearing them down with taxes and taking unilateral decisions on entering World War I.
With the killing, deportation and closing in on free Arabs becoming the norm — in addition to economic restrictions, heavy taxes, mandatory army service and the rise of the racist Turanistic movement that called for the Turkification of all subjects in terms of language and culture — Arabs began a movement to call for sovereignty and independence. Intellectual, economic and military leaders from the Levant, Iraq and other Arab regions looked to Sharif Hussein bin Ali as a leader, being one of the first who called for independence and sovereignty. He heeded the call of free Arabs, who met in Damascus with Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein in 1915 and drafted the Damascus Charter, which listed Arab demands for independence and a sovereign state. Sharif Hussein bin Ali adopted the charter for the sake of Arab liberty and renaissance. Then came the launch of the Great Arab Revolt, on 10 June 1916, as a revolution that put an end to four centuries of regression, backwardness and weakness of the Arab nation and an awakening of the Arab spirit, identity and sovereignty.
The Hashemites and Building the Modern State
The Great Arab Revolt started the march towards freedom and a true awakening began anew. After a resounding defeat in the Caucasus campaign on 15 January 1915, the Ottoman state asked Sharif Hussein bin Ali to announce jihad in the name of Sultan Mehmed V Reşâd and to prepare volunteer Arab troops to send them to Syria. They also asked him to cooperate with Wali Wahib Bek in mobilising, recruiting, arming and training Arabs to join the frontlines.
Sharif Hussein the Emir of Mecca responded in a telegram he sent to the Grand Vizier saying:
We will heed the demands of the high state if it meets the demands of Arabs, which are:
Pardoning all Arab prisoners of conscience.
Granting decentralised administration to Syria and Iraq.
Recognising the prerogative of the Ashraf in Mecca as a hereditary right.
Thus began the political crisis that hastened the proclamation of the Revolt. Meanwhile, Britain was keen on establishing a coalition with the Arabs in Syria and Hijaz. In a letter to the Hashemite Sharif Hussein bin Ali in April 1915, British High Commissioner Sir Henry McMahon expressed Britain’s readiness to help Arabs gain independence. Several letters followed in what has come to be known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. Sharif Hussein agreed to enter into negotiations on the basis of the liberation and unity of Arabs as well as the proclamation of independence.
Sharif Hussein bin Ali was an Arab choice, with the free Arabs, who yearned for independence in the Levant, Iraq and other regions, looking up to him and seeing an embodiment of religious stature, political acumen and moral weight for all Muslims.
Britain agreed to Sharif Hussein’s demands that stressed the importance of recognising Palestine and coastal parts of Greater Syria as a purely Arab lands, countering any British claims that sought to exclude them from the borders of the future Arab state. Meanwhile, Djemal Pasha was issuing arbitrary execution sentences that were implemented in Beirut and Damascus on 6 May 1916. In addition, many Arab nationalist figures were jailed. At the dawn of that bloody day, Prince Faisal, in Damascus, uttered his famous cry: “Oh Arabs, death is sweet!” And with that, the Great Arab Revolt’s quest to liberate the land and the people began. The Arab armies — the Northern Army led by Prince Faisal, the Eastern Army led by Prince Abdullah and the Southern Army led by Prince Ali — fought on three fronts: Hijaz front in Mecca, Medina Munawara, Taif, Jeddah and along the Red Sea coast; the Jordan front in Aqaba, Tafileh, Maan, Azraq, Shobak, Wadi Musa, Hassa and others; and the northern front of Syria starting with Daraa, onto Damascus and arriving at Homs, Aleppo and the northernmost point of Muslimiyeh.
With the end of World War I came the London Conference in 1918, followed by the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where Prince Faisal represented the Arabs. But unexpected political developments and colonial ambitions came to the fore, pushing Arabs to fight a new kind of war to defend their independence and establish sovereign states.
Afterwards came the movement of Prince Abdullah bin Al Hussein from Hijaz to Maan and onto Amman, so that the banner of the Revolt, Arabism and independence continues to flutter, symbolising the principles of renaissance and statehood. Prince Abdullah — along with some leaders of the Arab independence movement, including Rashid Tlai, Ghaleb Shaalan and Awni Abdulhadi — held talks with the British officials on 29 March 1921, following some correspondence.
Prince Abdullah went through difficult negotiations, against the backdrop of previous decisions and secret agreements between France and Britain to carve up Arab lands, a British mandate endorsed by the League of Nations and the Balfour Declaration.
With political acumen and deep foresight, Prince Abdullah managed to secure Britain’s recognition of the establishment of a state in Transjordan, amending the mandate to include identifying Transjordan as Arab land. This enabled Prince Abdullah and a group of national Arab leaders to embark on building the Jordanian state and its institutions, which eventually led to its independence as the government of Transjordan, developing later into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.