William Dalrymple writes: On 3 March 1924, the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul was surrounded by Republican Turkish troops. Inside, the last Ottoman caliph, Abdülmecid II, was reading the essays of Montaigne. Late that night, the prefect of police came to tell him that Ataturk’s new assembly in Ankara had just voted to abolish the caliphate and that he was to leave the country at dawn.
Photographs of the last caliph show an elderly, intellectual figure in a fez, kaftan and pince-nez, absorbed in the books of his library. Here he composed classical music and read the complete works of Victor Hugo, while cultivating his gardens and painting portraits of his family. But the following morning, he and his family were escorted into exile in Europe aboard the Orient Express, eventually settling in Nice. He was never allowed to return.
A few years later, the last caliph was spotted by the correspondent of Time magazine. “He may be seen strolling with a mien of great dignity along the beach near Nice,” the reporter wrote, “attired in swimming trunks only, carrying a large parasol.”
His daughter married into the family of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and whatever the dreams of the Islamic world, there has been little interest among Abdülmecid’s family to revive the office that Ataturk took from them.
In the absence of a descendant to fill the vacancy, the position of caliph was claimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during midday prayers just over a week ago in Mosul. [Continue reading…]