When it comes to the Armenian Genocide, there is no shortage of documents and sources written in multiple languages ranging from Ottoman Turkish, Russian, French, German, English, Armenian and Greek, that shed light on this historical fact. Despite the fact that most of the most atrocious massacres during the genocide took place in Arabic-speaking Syria, the Arabic sources have been largely ignored in discussions of the genocide. As early as the Hamidian massacres (1894–1896) and the Adana massacre (1909), Arabs—Muslim, Christian and Jewish—were concerned with the increasingly repressive direction that the Ottoman Empire was heading towards. In 1909, the Shaykh of al-Azhar Salīm al-Bishrī (d. 1916) even issued an edict condemning the violence against Armenian Christians in Adana as racially-motivated and in violation of the principles of Islam (for my translation of this document, see: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/condemnation-of-the-adana-massacre-1909-by-shaykh-al-azhar-salim-al-bishri-d-1916/) . In this post, I want to highlight another document of major importance for understanding the Armenian genocide from the perspective of Arabic sources: Fā’iz al-Ghusein’s “Martyred Armenia”. (For an excellent overview on the importance of Arabic sources for the history of the Armenian genocide, see: http://www.ancme.net/studies/407).
In April 1909, there was a major wave of massacres in the Cilician city of Adana (modern-day southern Turkey), in which over 20,000 Armenians were murdered and thousands of homes destroyed. Although these attacks on Armenian communities in Anatolia had intensified nearly a decade earlier during the Hamidian massacres between 1894 and 1896, in which between 90,000 and 300,000 Armenians, civilians and nationalist dissidents alike, were killed by Ottoman forces and mobs, the massacres of 1909 would foreshadow the even more heinous genocidal massacres of 1915–1918.
In response to the massacres, the Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar (the leading religious institution of Sunni Muslims in the world) Salim al-Bishri (who held the position from 1909 to 1916) issued a strongly-worded condemnation of the perpetrators of the massacre and all those religious authorities in the Ottoman Empire who had incited or endorsed the massacre (for more on Shaykh Salim al-Bishri, read Indira Falk Gesink, Islamic Reform and Conservatism: al-Azhar and the Evolution of Modern Sunni Islam , pp. 199-230). I have provided a rough translation of the text below for the benefit of anyone wishing to understand these massacres from a perspective not usually considered. As the situation for Christians and other minorities in the Middle East becomes increasingly dire, it is important now more than ever to reflect upon these horrific events that occurred a century ago in the region.
We have come across, through the local newspapers, saddening news and despicable reports about Muslims in some of the Anatolian provinces of the Ottoman realms. These include reports that they have transgressed against the Christians by attacking and brutally murdering them. We were shocked by such reports and hoped that they would prove to be false because Islam, as a general principle, absolutely forbids acts of unjustified aggression and forbids oppression, bloodshed and harming others, irrespective of whether they be Muslim, Christian or Jewish.
O Muslims living in those lands and elsewhere, be aware of transgressing the bounds established by God Almighty in his Shariah (Divine Law), and spare the blood that God has deemed impermissible to spill and do not transgress against anyone for verily God despises those who transgress. [As the Qur’an says]: “God does not forbid you from befriending those who do not fight you because of religion, and do not evict you from your homes. You may befriend/act kindly towards them and be equitable /just towards them. God loves the equitable” [Q. 60:8].
O Muslims, be faithful to your religion and beware of perpetrating acts forbidden by God in His Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet , and beware of disobeying God, which incites His anger and indignation. Verily, God has imposed on you responsibilities and ordained that you are obligated to grant certain rights to those to whom you are contractually bound and those who have entrusted their safety to you and those who live amongst you from among the Jews and the Christians (ahl al-dhimma). These include that you act righteously towards them as they have acted righteously towards you, protect them from what you protect yourselves and your kin from, to strengthen them with your strength and power, and to protect their homes, monasteries, and churches in the same manner that you protect your mosques and places of worship. And, by God, whoever transgresses against their womenfolk, murders them and oppresses them has truly violated the covenant established by God Almighty and violated their divinely-ordained obligations.
O Muslims, do not allow racism to overcome you nor permit racial loyalties to become the sole influence upon your souls, for these are emotions and concepts from the Age of Ignorance that Islam has sought to eradicate. Indeed, you have the best exemplar in the conduct of the Prophet of God and his noble Companions. If you had not been swayed by the speeches of the ignorant and allowed them to overcome you and permitting your base tendencies to dominate you, then the tolerance, magnanimity and leniency of Islam would have guided you, making you peaceful and kept you away from the path of oppressively shedding the blood of others.
You should know that if the reports about your conduct have any basis in truth then you have truly angered your Lord, and have not satisfied your Prophet nor conformed to the Shariah. Your Muslim brethren have been compelled to turn against you for the sake of their religion, which absolutely deplores these heinous acts (if they are confirmed), which have violated all that is sacred and forbidden. Moreover, you have permitted the tongues of individuals ignorant of your faith to pronounce deplorable words against all Muslims.
So, heed the following words of your Prophet which pertains to your condition. Verily, the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) stated: “Whoever murders an individual with whom the Muslims are bound by covenant shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, even though its fragrance reaches a distance of 40 years.” He also said: “Anyone who defames a protected person (dhimmi) shall be lashed on the Day of Resurrection with whips of fire.”
May God bless the individual who heeds this advice. May God grant success to all the Muslims to enact the precepts of their noble religion. May God guide them to the straight path. There is no might nor power except in God.
Selim al-Bishri, Shaykh of al-Azhar
(Credit to http://ara-ashjian.blogspot.com/2012/08/al-azhar-grand-sheikhs-fatwa-condemning.html for uploading this document online)