C H A P T E R    F O U R

BEDIUZZAMAN AND THE  THIRTY-FIRST OF MARCH INCIDENT
 
 

Introduction

After nine months of CUP rule, increasing discontent found expression in the famous ‘Thirty-First of March Incident’.1 Many aspects of this revolt, which started with certain sections of the Army in Istanbul mutinying and continued for eleven days, have still not been brought to light, but what is certain is that contrary to the claims of the CUP and their heirs, it was not a ‘reactionary’ movement. For, as Bediuzzaman noted after it: “Certain people who make politics the tool of irreligion accuse others of political reaction and exploiting religion for the sake of politics in order to conceal their own wrongdoing.”2 And as a well-known historian pointed out, the CUP labelled all their opponents ‘reactionary’ (mürteji), and the word ‘reaction’ (irtija’) became synonymous with ‘opposition’.3 And so in some respects it continues to be used in the same manner to this day in Turkey.

Bediuzzaman played no part in the revolt, on the contrary as far as he could he used his influence and reputation in persuading the rebelling soldiers to obey their officers and return to barracks, and to no mean degree was successful in this. Nevertheless, when order was restored on the arrival of the ‘Operation Army’ from Salonica, Bediuzzaman was arrested along with many hundreds of others and sent before one of the military courts. The reason for this was his involvement with the Ittihad-i Muhammadî Cemiyeti or Society For Muslim Unity, which was accused of inciting the revolt. In any event, not only was he acquitted, and in one hearing, but a ruling of non-responsibility was also given.4 His defence speech, which was also instrumental in forty to fifty other prisoners being released, was published in 1911 entitled The Testimonial of Two Schools of Misfortune or The Court Martial.
 
 

The Society For Muslim Unity

The Society For Muslim Unity had been founded on 5 February, 1909,5 though the full versions of its manifesto and code of rules did not appear in the Volkan newspaper until 16 March, 1909.6 The ceremony to mark its founding took the form of a Mevlid7 and was held at the later date of 3 April, to coincide with the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s birthday (12 Rebiülevvel 1327). Bediuzzaman played a prominent role in the Mevlid, which was held in Aya Sophia, giving a sermon that lasted two hours. But before describing it, let us learn from Bediuzzaman’s address to the Court Martial his reasons for joining the Society, and how he viewed it.

“I heard,” said Bediuzzaman, “that a society had been formed called the Society For Muslim Unity (Ittihad-i Muhammadî). I was frightened to the utmost degree that certain people would act in error under this blessed name. Then I heard that some sound people like Süheyl Pasha and Shaykh Sadik had joined so as to make their actions more purely worship and follow the Exalted Sunna of the Prophet. They had transferred from that political society [CUP] and cut their relations with it, and they were not going to interfere in politics. But again I was afraid, I said: ‘This name is the right of everyone, it cannot be appropriated or restricted.’ As for me, just as I belonged in some respect to seven societies because I saw that their aims were the same, so too I joined this blessed name. However, I define the Society For Muslim Unity I belong to as follows:

“It is a circle bound with a luminous chain stretching from east to west, and from north to south. Those within it number more than three hundred million at this time. The point of unity of this Society and what binds it is Divine Unity. It oath and its promise is belief in God. Its members are all believers, belonging from the time of God’s covenant with man. Its register is the Preserved Tablet. The Society’s means of communication are all Islamic books. Its daily newspapers, all religious newspapers whose aim is ‘upholding the Word of God’. Its clubs and councils are the mosques, religious schools, and Sufi tekkes. Its centre is the two sacred cities [Mecca and Medina]. Its head, the Glory of the World [the Prophet Muhammad]. Its way is the struggle of the each person with his own soul; that is, to assume the morality of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), to give new vigour to his practices, and to cultivate love for others and, if it is not harmful, offer them advice. The regulations of this Society are the Practices of the Prophet, and its code of laws, the injunctions and prohibitions of the Shari’a. Its swords are clear proofs, for the civilized are to be conquered through persuasion, not compulsion. Investigating the truth is with love, while enmity is for savagery and bigotry. Its aim and purpose is ‘Upholding the Word of God’. And ninety-nine per cent of the Shari’a is concerned with morality, worship, the Hereafter, and virtue. One per cent is concerned with politics; let our rulers think of that.”

Bediuzzaman then continued: “Our aim now is to urge everyone towards the ka’ba of achievement and perfections on the way of progress with an eagerness and desire of the conscience through making that luminous chain vibrate. Because at this time the greatest cause of upholding the Word of God is through material progress.

“Thus, I am a member of this Society. I am one of those working for this Society’s manifestation. I do not belong to the parties and groups which cause dissension.”8

Bediuzzaman, then, was firstly concerned to prevent a society bearing the name of the Prophet (PBUH) being appropriated by any group, and, being exploited for political ends, becoming a source of dissension and disunity. Rather, the Society For Muslim Unity embraced all believers and formed a barrier to the serious differences which had developed between the various societies and political parties in the months of CUP rule – differences so bitter that it was to this that Bediuzzaman ascribed what he called ‘the great disaster’, that is, the 31st of March Incident.9

In a newspaper article Bediuzzaman wrote: “Our Society’s way is love towards love, and enmity towards enmity. That is, to assist love among Muslims, and defeat the forces of enmity.”10 In fact, he described the Ittihad-i Muhammadî as Ittihad-i Islam, or Islamic Unity, that is, “the unity that exists either potentially or in fact among all believers.”11 The unity and brotherhood of Muslims were “like hidden veins of gold in half the globe”, and the Society in Turkey was “a new flame which had appeared in one corner of it and gave the good news of that mighty reality being wholly revealed.” This Society had emerged from the potential to the actual and now sought to awaken other believers and urge them towards the way of progress through the drive of the conscience. Muslims had not realized that vast potential. Through neglect, the luminous chain of unity which had bound the centres of Islam together had become inert, it had not been benefited from. Now it had to be brought to life and made to vibrate.12

The foundation of unity and progress and of the strengthening and liberation of the Islamic world was moral renewal, and Bediuzzaman saw the Society as spearheading a more widespread movement for ‘moral rearmament’ through putting new energy into observing the Shari’a and following the Practices of the Prophet. He stated: “The reason for our worldly decline was failure to observe our religion. Also, we are more in need of moral improvement than government reform...”13

In these articles Bediuzzaman is explaining in greater detail the aims of the Society For Muslim Unity as they appeared in the Society’s Manifesto and Code of Rules. In addition, the Manifesto pointed out that at that time societies and parties of every shade and variety had been organized in different parts of the world, and stated that just as it was not injurious for a Muslim not to belong to the Society, so also belonging to it did not form an obstacle to belonging to other societies, whether religious or political. Societies were necessary, because “the desired fruits can never be plucked from Constitutionalism without parties and societies.” The Society recognized (“does not even look askance at”) the fact that under the Constitution all citizens, that is non-Muslims as well as Muslims, were equal before the law. Furthermore, the Manifesto was at pains to point out that all its activities, and the activities it aimed to promote among Muslims, were to be within the law.14

The Mevlid in Aya Sophia

That a Mevlid was being organized by the Society in Aya Sophia to coincide with the Prophet’s birthday was announced in the Volkan on 18 Mart, 1325/31 March, 1909. It stated that the Society “had entered a new era of tranquillity and progress having successfully surmounted all the attacks to which it had been subject, and the crises arising from those attacks.” The Mevlid was to be “a gift to Muhammad (PBUH)’s pure and unstained spirit.”15

The news of the Mevlid evoked a tremendous response among the population of Istanbul, and something in the region of one hundred thousand people gathered on the specified day. Never before had there been such a throng in the area surrounding Aya Sophia. However, despite the numbers, no untoward incidents occurred either before or after the Mevlid, and the whole occasion was most orderly; “a display of Islamic brotherhood and decorum.” Dervish Vahdeti described Bediuzzaman’s arrival and address as follows:

“Round about ten o’clock Bediuzzaman Said Kurdi Hazretleri arrived at the head of the Society for Students of the Religious Sciences. We greeted him at the outer doors, where we were meeting all who arrived.... The turbans on the students’ heads were white like light and enspiriting like flowers. But more than anything, it was the religious education they had received which gave the students an exceptional quality.

“Since it was requested of him, ‘Our Hazret’, that is, the Wonder of the World of Islam [Bediuzzaman], mounted the pulpit with that famous Kurdish dress and heroic manner of his and like always with a dagger at his waist, and standing, delivered an eloquent address...”16

Bediuzzaman began the address with the words: “The truth has risen naked from the grave of the heart. Let those for whom it is prohibited not gaze on it.” And mentioning all the important political, social, and religious subjects of the time, he continued for two hours. In the words of one of those present: “The sermon Bediuzzaman delivered standing in the pulpit was a masterpiece.”17

Dervish Vahdetî

Bediuzzaman was one of the twenty-six members of the Governing Board of the Istanbul Central Committee of the Society for Muslim Unity.18 It functioned from the offices of the Volkan newspaper, the owner of which was Hafiz Dervish Vahdetî, and it was Dervish Vahdetî who had first founded the Society.

Dervish Vahdetî continues to this day to be something of an unknown quantity. While according to the ‘official’ histories, he has been portrayed as a radical ‘reactionary’ opposed to Constitutionalism, and even as a subversive and British agent, from recent research these accusations appear to be false. He now appears more as a victim of circumstance who was made the symbol of the Revolt and paid the consequences.19 For from the first issue of the Volkan, which appeared on 28 Teshrin-i Sani 1324/11 December 1908, Vahdetî used it to answer the attacks on the Shari’a and Islamic traditions and morality made by the newspapers supporting the CUP. As Vahdetî himself put it, the Volkan was “very small but active”, “moderation” was its “way”, “however, when truth and right are attacked, it is not possible for the Volkan not to erupt.”20 Nevertheless, it supported the Constitution and the rule of law, and its aim was to promote the interests of Muslims, and to further the cause of Islam and the Qur'an in the face of the daily increasing despotism and unlawfulness of the CUP and their supporters.

The apprehension expressed by Bediuzzaman on hearing that “certain people” had founded a society called the Society For Muslim Unity mentioned above refers to his anxiety that a society bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) should become involved in politics or be limited to one group, rather than referring to Dervish Vahdetî. Nevertheless, however much he shared the views expressed by the newspaper, it is probably fair to say that he wished Dervish Vahdetî to adhere to the moderation which was its way. For Bediuzzaman was severely critical of the divisive role of the press in that period and on several occasions published articles pointing out how the newspapers should conduct themselves. At the end of two long articles of the fifteen of his that appeared in the Volkan, Bediuzzaman wrote a brief reminder to Vahdetî advising him of his responsibility to act moderately as Islam requires:

“My Brother, Dervish Vahdetî Bey!

“Writers should be mannerly. And their manners should be moulded by the manners of Islam. Let the sense of religion in the conscience order the Press Regulations, for this Islamic revolution has shown that what rules in all consciences is Islamic zeal, the light of lights. Also, it has been understood that the Society For Muslim Unity includes all the people of Islam. There is no one outside it.”21

Articles written by Bediuzzaman appeared in most of the leading newspapers of the day, including Tanin, Ikdam, Serbesti, Mizan, Misbah, and the Shark ve Kürdistan Gazetesi, not only in the Volkan. He defended the same ideas in all of them.22 Since, along the Mizan and other papers, the Volkan had taken up an open position against the CUP, it was itself, and the Society For Muslim Unity, for which it spoke, the objects of much criticism. In his articles, therefore, in the most moderate and reasonable tone, Bediuzzaman particularly sought to allay fears about the Society, explaining it in the terms described above. Three of his later articles, appearing between 31 March 1909 and 15 April, specifically answered criticisms, misgivings, and questions concerning it. The final two installments of the third, ‘Dispelling Doubts in the Light of the Truth’, appeared after the 31st March Incident had broken out, and this article was given as a further reason for his being arrested and sent before the Court Martial. As for Dervish Vahdetî, he was accused and found guilty of inciting the rebellion, and was hanged along with twelve others on 19 July 1909.23 Indeed, the Committee of Union and Progress well and truly took their revenge: the total numbers executed were two hundred and thirty-seven.24

Background to the Revolt

The CUP considered the 31st of March Incident to be a ‘reactionary’ movement and held Sultan Abdulhamid responsible for it. But on the contrary, all the evidence points to the reverse being true, that the CUP at least had a finger in it.25 It is beyond the scope of this book to examine the Incident in detail, but since both it and Bediuzzaman’s role in it, have been consistently misrepresented, we shall attempt to give a clearer perspective by including the following brief outline of its main causes and the course of events.

As has already been noted, when the high hopes and expectations engendered by the proclamation of the Constitution were not realized, there was widespread disappointment and dissatisfaction, particularly among Muslims who themselves received few benefits but saw the minorities using the new freedom to pursue their own interests at the expense of the Empire. Disenchantment with the CUP increased daily as their true colours became more and more evident.

Remaining in the background, the CUP were not an official political party, nor were they responsible to anyone. They were in power, but indirectly. Furthermore, in contrast with Abdulhamid, they were inexperienced, and their refusal to admit to this contributed directly to the immediate loss of territory and the speedy demise of the Empire. Censorship was abolished. The CUP began a relentless attack on the Sultan in the press. Claiming constitutionalism as their own, they tried to force their views on the people. But the more they showed their true colours, the more mistrusted and unpopular they became. And the fiercer became the battle between the parties and societies. The press became the field of battle. In response, the CUP resorted to covert and illegal methods in order to establish themselves more firmly, increasingly using force to eliminate opponents.

This intimidation and political violence created an atmosphere of terror, and all the while those prompting it remained in the background. On 15 December 1908, one of the Sultan’s men, Ismail Mahir Pasha, was murdered. He was followed by others, including prominent journalists, one of which was Hasan Fehmi Bey. He was the editor of the Serbesti, one of the loudest voices of opposition to the CUP. His assassination on 6 April 1909 resulted in widespread, unanswered, calls for justice. It was a return to despotism in a form worse than previously.26

At the same time, the CUP started a drive to weed out government officials and replace them with their own supporters, whether experienced or not. There were substantial numbers involved. The same policy was followed in the Army. The officers were of two kinds, those risen from the ranks on their merit and experience, and those trained in the new military academies. The CUP started to replace the former with the latter, who were mostly CUP supporters. The numbers expelled from all sections of the Army reached close on eight thousand.27 Many of the new officers were inexperienced, and the CUP supporters from among them mocked the religion of Islam and tried to prevent the ordinary soldiers carrying out their religious duties. Thus, dissatisfaction within the Army grew to serious proportions, while the expelled officials and officers formed a significant body ready to rebel against the Government.

Also, there was a general feeling of affront and distrust among the people due to the CUP’s lax attitude towards religion. Freedom had speeded up the import of Western culture, manners, and morality, and had led to a decline in moral standards.

And finally was the extreme partisanship of the different parties and societies. The excessive and bitter ‘war’ between the newspapers representing the CUP and their opponents continually exacerbated the situation. Dervish Vahdetî cannot be altogether exonerated from this.
 
 

The Revolt

The revolt broke out among one of the Light Infantry battalions which only a few weeks previously had been brought to Istanbul from Salonica as the ‘Defenders of Freedom’. It started in the middle of the night of 12-13 April. Locking their officers in their rooms, the soldiers took control of the barracks, then poured out into the streets. There, as they made their way to Aya Sophia and the Parliament Building, the throng increased in magnitude as they were joined by other soldiers, medrese students, and members of the public. The shout was for the Shari’a. It was daytime by the time they reached Aya Sophia. They surrounded the Parliament and presented their demands. These included the dismissal of the Grand Vizier, the War Minister, and Commander of the Imperial Guards, the removal of Ahmad Riza who had acted as Speaker of the Parliament since the Proclamation of the Constitution, the application in full of the Shari’a, the reinstatement of their expelled officers, and a guarantee that the soldiers who had taken part in the rebellion would not be punished.

In the meantime, the rebels had murdered one of the Deputies on the mistaken supposition it was the leading CUP journalist Hüseyin Jahid, together with the Justice Minister supposing him to be the Grand Vizier.

The Government resigned, and the Sultan appointed a new Grand Vizier and Minister of War. The rebellion continued; there was looting and some bloodshed. The offices of the CUP and their main press organs were sacked. Rather than attempting to quell the disturbance – it was not supported by anyone of authority either military or civil – the CUP chose to send for forces from Salonica.

News of the uprising provoked a strong reaction in Salonica, which was still the centre of the CUP. Spreading the news that Freedom itself was threatened, the CUP had no difficulty in forming a force of volunteers consisting largely of bands of Serbs, Bulgars, Greeks, Macedonians, and Albanians. Regular units were in a small minority in this ‘Operation Army’. They were armed, and entrained for Istanbul. The force gathered at Yesilköy several kilometers outside the city, where Mahmud Shevket Pasha took command of it. On 24 April, they took possession of the city, and the following day proclaimed martial law. On the 27th, Sultan Abdulhamid was deposed. It was Tal'at Bey who with great insistence managed to obtain the fatwa authorizing the dethronement from two religious notables – having failed to extract it from the Shaykhü’l-Islam,28 just as it was due to Tal'at Bey’s influence that having moved to Yesilköy in order to declare their support for the Operation Army, members of the Parliament and Upper House had taken the secret decision to depose the Sultan, though they published a declaration saying their purpose was to save him.29

It is worth mentioning briefly that the 31st of March Incident should also be seen in the broader perspective of the Great Powers and their rivalry and ambitions concerning the Ottoman Empire. Particularly as far as the British were concerned, Abdulhamid and his Caliphate policy and successful diplomatic maneuvering formed one of the greatest barriers to their designs on the area, including the establishment of a Jewish state. Also, among the CUP were Masons and those representing interests opposed to the Empire, although the great majority of their supporters in the Parliament were patriotic and well disposed towards Islam, if uncertain as to what its role should be. When answering questions on this subject put to him by the tribes in eastern Anatolia the following year, Bediuzzaman said:

“...I observed a situation similar to this in the 31st of March Incident. For Islam’s constitutionalism-cherishing and patriotic devotees were suggesting ways of applying certain details in order to adapt to the Shari’a the divine bounty of constitutionalism, which they knew to be the very essence of life, and direct those involved in government towards the Qibla in the prayer of justice, to uphold the sacred Shari’a with the strength of constitutionalism, and perpetuate constitutionalism with the strength of the Shari’a, and to impute all the former evils to opposition to the Shari’a. Then supposing, God forbid, the Shari’a to be conducive to despotism, those who could not distinguish right from left started saying: ‘We want the Shari’a!’ like parrots and in that situation the real purpose could not be understood. In any case, the plans had been laid. So then a number of villains who had donned masks of false patriotism attacked the sacred name [the Shari’a]...”30

That is to say, Bediuzzaman is saying that plans had been laid to incite just such a revolt. And when the 31st of March Incident broke out, it was exploited to the full in order to attack the Shari’a, and reduce the power of Islam within the State. Indeed, the historian Cemal Kutay described the military courts set up afterwards as “a cleansing operation”, and their purpose, not to carry out justice, but “to eliminate a mentality and a system.”31
 
 

Bediuzzaman Calls For Order

We learn of Bediuzzaman’s own movements during the revolt and how he did all he could to reestablish order within the Army from his defence speech to the court martial. He told the court:

“I watched the fearful activity on the day of the 31st of March for two or three minutes from the distance. I heard numerous demands... I understood the matter was bad; obedience was spoilt, advice would have been ineffective. Otherwise like always I would have attempted to quench the fire. But the people were many, my fellow-countrymen heedless and naive, and I would have been conspicuous because of my undeserved fame. I left after three minutes, and went to Bakirköy so that those who knew me would not join it. And I advised those who just happened to be there not to take part. If I had been involved to even the tiniest degree, my clothes would have shown me up, my unwanted fame would have pointed me out to everyone. I would have appeared very significant in the matter. Indeed, even if alone as far as Ayastefanos [Yesilköy], I would have put in an appearance confronting the Operation Army. I would have died manfully. Then my involvement would have been plain; it would not have been necessary to prove it.

“On the second day I asked about obedience in the Army, which is the source of our life. They said: ‘The officers have put on soldiers’ uniforms and discipline is not spoilt too much.’ Again I asked how many officers had been shot. They deceived me and said: ‘Only four. And they were tyrants. Also, procedure and punishment will be according to the Shari’a.’

“Also, I looked at the newspapers. They too described the uprising as though it was lawful. And in one way I was pleased, because my most sacred aim is for the Shari’a’s rulings to be applied and enacted in full. But I felt infinitely hopeless and saddened because harm had come to discipline in the Army. So I addressed the soldiers through all the newspapers saying:

“‘O Soldiers! If your officers are wronging themselves through some transgressions, you are in one respect wronging thirty million Ottomans and three hundred million Muslims and infringing their rights through this insubordination. For the honour, happiness, and banner of Divine Unity of all Islam and all Ottomans is at this time in some respect dependent on your obedience.

“‘And you want the Shari’a, but through your disobedience you are opposing the Shari’a.’

“I flattered their action and courage, because the newspapers – those lying interpreters of public opinion – showed us their action as lawful. To a degree I made my advice effective by showing appreciation. And to a degree I quelled the rebellion. Otherwise it would not have been put down so easily.”

“On the Friday, together with other ‘ulama I went in among the soldiers who were around the War Ministry. I induced eight battalions to submit and obey orders. My exhortations showed their effect later.”

Bediuzzaman then quoted his speech to them, which began similarly to the few sentences from his newspaper address to the rebelling soldiers quoted above, and pointed out that they were threatening Islamic unity and brotherhood through their insubordination. He continued:

“‘You should know that the Army corps resembles a huge and well-ordered factory. If one machine rebels, it throws the whole factory into turmoil. Private soldiers should not meddle in politics. The Janisseries testify to that. You say you want the Shari’a, but you are opposing the Shari’a, and besmirching it. It is established by the Shari’a, and the Qur'an, and Hadith, and wisdom and experience that it is obligatory to obey trustworthy, religious, and just rulers. Your rulers are your instructors and officers.’” Bediuzzaman then went on to say that they should obey the officers who had come from the new military academies even if their conduct was in part unlawful. Just as if a doctor or engineer committed wrongdoing it did not necessarily harm their professional activities, the same was true for these officers. The banner of Divine Unity was in the hand of the soldiers’ courage, and the strength of that hand lay in obedience and order. A thousand regular, obedient soldiers were equal to a hundred thousand irregular troops. He concluded the speech:

“I proclaim to you the Glory of the World’s decree that obedience is obligatory. Do not rebel against your officers! Long live the Army! Long live the Islamic Constitution!”32

The Court Martial

If further illustration is needed of Bediuzzaman’s unwavering fidelity to the cause he knew to be the only path of salvation for both the Ottomans and the Islamic world, and his extraordinary boldness and courage in furthering it, his defence speech to the court martial provides it. It is a restatement of his ideas, and at the same time forms a stinging condemnation both of the CUP and the new despotism they were creating in the name of constitutionalism, and of the military courts that had been set up in the name of justice following the 31st of March Incident. Bediuzzaman had been held in prison before being sent before the court martial, which he described as a place of torture; it was this together with his experience of the mental hospital which prompted him to deliver this attack on the CUP’s betrayal of constitutionalism and gave the name to the speech when it appeared in book form. The basic lesson he had learnt from these ‘Two Schools of Misfortune’ was “compassion for the weak and an intense detestation of tyranny.”33

The military courts were fairly awesome affairs with the Pashas and officers who were acting as judges haughty and autocratic and holding absolute power of life and death over those brought before them. Formalities were of the most summary nature, and the sentences and executions carried out immediately. The day Bediuzzaman was brought before the court in Bayezid, the corpses of fifteen of its victims could be seen hanging in the square beyond the windows.

At the beginning of the hearing, Bediuzzaman was asked a number of questions put to all the accused. One of these, asked by Hurshid Pasha, the President of the Court, was: “Did you want the Shari’a? Those wanting the Shari’a are hanged like those out there.” Bediuzzaman replied:

“If I had a thousand lives, I would be ready to sacrifice all of them for one truth of the Shari’a, for the Shari’a is the source of prosperity and happiness, pure justice, and virtue. But not like those who revolted want it.”

Then he was asked: “Are you a member of the Society For Muslim Unity?” To which he replied:

“With pride. I am one of its most insignificant members. But in the way that I define it. Show me someone apart from those without religion who is not a member.”

Bediuzzaman told the court:

“Pashas and officers! By way of introduction I say: the manly and brave do not stoop to crime. And if they are accused of it, they do not fear the punishment. If I am executed unjustly, I shall gain the reward of two martyrs. And if I remain in prison, prison is probably the most comfortable place of a tyrannical government whose freedom consists thus only of the word. To die oppressed is better than to live as oppressor.”34

The main part of Bediuzzaman’s long defence took the form of describing the eleven and a half “crimes” for which he had been imprisoned. These were his main activities in the nine months of Freedom, and were all in the cause of Islam and the Constitution. They have mostly been described above, including his reasons for joining the Society For Muslim Unity and how he viewed it, and his movements during the revolt. Bediuzzaman then said: “...I have done one good thing in place of all these bad deeds. I shall tell you:

“I opposed this branch of despotism here, which has destroyed everyone’s enthusiasm and extinguished their joy, awakened feelings of hatred and partisanship, and given rise to the formation of racialist societies, whose name is constitutionalism and meaning is despotism, and who has besmirched the name of unity and progress... Since I am pledged to true constitutionalism based on the Shari’a, whatever form despotism takes, even if it clothes itself in constitutionalism and calls itself that, I shall strike it wherever I encounter it. I think the enemies of constitutionalism are those who make the enemies of mutual consultation many through showing constitutionalism to be tyrannical, ugly, and contrary to the Shari’a.”

“O you who command! I had a good name and I would have served the nation of Islam with it; you have destroyed it. I had an undeserved fame and I used to make my words of advice to the people effective with it; I am pleased to say you have razed it. Now I have a frail life of which I am weary. May I be damned if I begrudge the gallows it. May I not be a man if I do not go laughing to my death... You put me to the touchstone. I wonder how many of those you call the pure party would emerge sound if you put them to the touchstone. If constitutionalism consists of one party’s despotism, and it acts contrary to the Shari’a, let all the world, men and jinn, bear witness that I am a reactionary...”35

Bediuzzaman also wanted to set the record straight concerning the 31st of March Incident, discipline in the Army, and the Shari’a and its role, which from the start had been misinterpreted and misrepresented by newspapers of both sides. The seven main reasons he put forward for the revolt were substantially the same as those given above. Then saying to the court:

“Pashas and officers! Now I want the punishment for my ‘crimes’, and the answers to my questions...”, Bediuzzaman put to them eleven and a half questions which pointed out that the majority of those involved were not blameworthy and suggested that injustices arising from CUP rule were the cause. These questions resulted in between forty and fifty prisoners being released.36

Towards the end of his address, Bediuzzaman told the court that he was absolutely insistent on everything he had written in all his newspaper articles. Whether he was summoned to a court in the Era of the Prophet, or to one three hundred years hence, his case, “dressed according to how the fashion of the time required”, would be exactly the same. “The truth does not change; the truth is the truth.”37

Bediuzzaman expected to be hanged by this court martial, which for its evidence had relied chiefly on informers and denouncers. Indeed, he had asked the court: “The detectives now are worse than the one’s before, how can their word be relied on? How can justice be built on what they say?”38 On learning that the court’s unanimous decision was for his acquittal, Bediuzzaman expressed no gratitude. He turned and left the court on being released, then walked from Bayezid to Sultan Ahmet at the head of the large crowd that had gathered, shouting: “Long live Hell for all tyrants! Long live Hell for all tyrants!”39

The 31st of March Incident was indeed as Bediuzzaman described it, “The Great Disaster”. Whatever the CUP’s role in it, it provided them with the opportunity they had been seeking. Firstly, they realized their long-held ambition to depose Sultan Abdulhamid. Immediately preceding the revolt, they had come out into the open and proclaimed themselves an official party. Then following it, they disbanded the opposition parties, a little later further reduced the powers of the Sultan, and gained tighter control over the State. The same year they introduced a number of measures which restricted freedom to a greater degree than under Abdulhamid. The Society for Muslim Unity was closed and disbanded; indeed, many of its leading members had met their end on the gallows of the military courts.

Bediuzzaman felt profound disillusion with Istanbul and its deceptively civilized exterior after what he had experienced in the short time he had been there. His gaze now returned to his native East. He wrote: “If civilization provides such a favourable ground for honour-destroying aggression and dissension-causing slander, cruel thoughts of revenge, satanic sophistry, and carelessness in matters of religion, let everyone witness that in place of this seat of malice known as the felicitous palace of civilization I prefer the wild nomad tents of the high mountains of Kurdistan, the place of absolute freedom... I thought that writers’ conduct should be worthy of literature. But I see some ill-mannered newspapers disseminating hatred. If that is how manners should be, and if public opinion is thus confused, bear witness that I have renounced such literature. I shall have no part in it. In place of the newspapers, I shall study the heavenly bodies and tableaux of the world in the high mountains of my native land....

“Yes, I prefer the wild life to civilization which is thus mixed with despotism, depravity, and degradation. This civilization makes individuals impoverished, dissolute, and immoral, whereas true civilization serves mankind’s progress and development and the realization of man’s potential. In this regard, therefore, to want civilization is to want humanity...

“Long live Islamic Constitutionalism! Long live the shining Freedom which has learnt a thorough lesson from the instruction of the reality of the Shari’a!”40

FOOTNOTES

1. The revolt is named according to the Rumi calendar, then is use in the Ottoman Empire. 31 March 1325 corresponded to 13 April 1909 on the Gregorian calendar.

2. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 12.

3. Danismend, Ismail Hami, Izahli Osmanli Tarihi Kronolojisi, iv, Istanbul 1972, 364.

4. Kutay, Cemal, in Sahiner, N. Aydinlar Konusuyor, 345; Kutay, Bediüzzaman, 156, 446-7 fn.13.

5. Düzdag, M. Ertugrul (ed.), Volkan Gazetesi, (No. 36), Istanbul 1992, 168.

6. Ibid., (No. 75), 362-4; Albayrak, Sadik, 31 Mart Vak'asi, Gerici Bir Hareket Mi? Istanbul 1987, 166-175; Tunaya, T. Z., Türkiye’de Siyasal Partiler, i, 199-203.

7. A Mevlid is a recitation by special singers of the long poem depicting the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) written by Süleyman Çelebi, who died in Bursa 780H/1378.

8. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 17-19.

9. Ibid., 20.

10. Yasasin Sheriat-i Ahmedî, Volkan No. 77, 5 Mart 1325/18 March 1909, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 371; Hutbe-i Samiye, 76.

11. Reddü’l-Evham, Volkan Nos. 90-1, 18-19 Mart 1325/ 31 March-1 April 1909, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 380; Hutbe-i Samiye, 84.

12. Lemean-i Hakikat ve Izale-i Sübehat, Volkan Nos. 101, 102, 103,105, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 388.

13. op. cit., Asar-i Bedi’iye, 387.

14. Tunaya, T.Z. Türkiye’de Siyasal Partiler, i, 199-200, from Volkan No.75.

15. Albayrak, S. 31 Mart, 212-214, quoted from Volkan No. 90.

16. Albayrak, S. 31 Mart, 220, quoted from Volkan No. 95; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 116.

17. Ibid., 116-7, quoted from Hafiz Ali Sagman, Mevlid Nasil Okunur ve Mevlithanlar, Istanbul 1951.

18. Albayrak, S. 31 Mart, 174, from Volkan No. 75; also, Tunaya, Siyasal Partiler, i, 182.

19. See, Düzdag, M. E., Volkan, ix.

20. Ibid., Volkan No.1, 1; No.4, 20.

21. Lemean-i Hakikat ve Izale-i Shübehat, in Asar-i Bedi’iye, 394; Sahiner, N. Said Nursi, 118.

22. Ibid., 118.

23. Albayrak, S. 31 Mart, 118.

24. Kutay, Cemal, 31 Mart Ihtilalinde Abdülhamid, Istanbul 1977, 59.

25. Bahadiroglu, Y. Osmanli Padisahlari Ansiklopedisi, iii, 746.

26. Danismend, Izahli, iv, 371.

27. Albayrak, S. 31 Mart, 18.

28. Müftüoglu, M. Her Yönüyle Sultan Ikinci Abdülhamid, Istanbul 1985, 340-1, 350-1.

29. Bahadiroglu, Y. Osmanli Padisahlari Ansiklopedisi, iii, 747.

30. Münâzarat, 35-6.

31. Kutay, Cemal, in Sahiner, N. Aydinlar Konusuyor, 345.

32. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 21-5.

33. Ibid., 39.

34. Ibid., 11-12.

35. Ibid., 28-30.

36. Ibid., 35-7.

37. Ibid., 37-8.

38. Ibid., 12.

39. Tarihçe, 57.

40. Divan-i Harb-i Örfî, 39-40.
 

The Author of the Risale-i Nur Bediuzzaman Said Nursi by Sukran Vahide, Sozler Publication