Friday, May 02, 2008

The Hejaz Railroad: A symbol of Muslim Unity

At the turn of the 20th century the Ottoman Caliphate was in a severely weakened state. Nicknamed the “sick man of Europe” much of the Caliphate’s lands were under control of colonial powers Britain and France. Growing discontentment in the Arabs lands was surfacing as the concept of Arab nationalism, first introduced by the western powers, took a strong hold among some of the influentials. This nationalism eventually led to the British backed Arab revolt in 1916 that saw the Arab lands declare independence from the Ottoman Caliphate.

Faced with growing disunity and discontentment with the Ottoman Caliphate, the Caliph Sultan Abdul-Hamid II devised an ambitious plan to awaken the feelings of Islamic unity among the Ummah and strengthen the Caliphate’s authority over the Arab provinces. This plan was the building of a railroad from Damascus all the way to Medina for use by the pilgrims travelling for hajj that become known as the Hejaz Railroad. The project was started in 1900 and finally reached Medina in 1908 when the railroad officially opened.

Before the railroad the journey between Damascus and Medina usually took two months by camel caravan and was full of hardships. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, that moves each year, the hajj changes from season to season. Sometimes it meant travelling through the winter, enduring freezing temperatures or torrential rains. At the height of summer, it meant crossing scorching hot deserts. Towns and settlements were sparse and there were hostile tribes along the way.

With the introduction of the railroad the journey time for pilgrims was cut from two months to four days. The arduous journey of travelling by camel through the desert was replaced with a few days travelling in comfort on the train. The cost of the journey was reduced from £40 to just £3.50 for a train ticket.

On 1 September 1908 the Hejaz railroad officially opened, and by the year 1912 it was transporting 30,000 pilgrims a year. As word spread that travelling for hajj was now quicker and easier more Muslims were able to perform the hajj. The pilgrims using the railway soared to 300,000 in 1914.

The Hejaz railroad linked the Caliphate’s capital in Istanbul to the Arab provinces by extending the existing rail link between Istanbul and Damascus. The Caliphate used the railroad to quickly deploy military units to the Arab provinces when needed and so strengthened the authority of the Caliphate in these areas.

Sultan Abdul-Hameed also introduced a sophisticated fax system with fax lines established between Yemen, Hejaz, Greater Syria, Iraq and Turkey. These fax lines like the railroad were heavily used by the pilgrims and paid for themselves in just a few years.

Muslims performing the hajj saw that the Caliphate was trying to practically unify the Ummah and aid them in their worship of Allah (swt) through these initiatives. This led to a growing unity and appreciation for the Ottoman Caliphate among the Ummah. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Abdul-Hameed he was deposed from office in 1908 in a coup by the Young Turks. The conspiracies by the colonialists against the Caliphate accelerated and after the First World War the Caliphate was defeated and finally destroyed a few years later in 1924.

The Hejaz end of the railroad was sabotaged during the Arab revolt led by Lawrence of Arabia and Sharif Hussein of Mecca severing its link with Damascus and Istanbul. With the destruction of the Caliphate in 1924 and the carving up of the Arab lands under Sykes-Picot the possibility of such a unity project emerging ever again disappeared. All that remains today are some of the stations and locomotives as a reminder of this bygone era.

Although the Hejaz railroad is now discarded to the pages of history it shows just what can be achieved with the authority and power of the Caliphate.

Islam is not a religion like Christianity or Judaism that only has laws governing the personal beliefs, worships and morals. Islam is a deen (ideology) that contains sharia rules governing all aspects of life and society. The sharia not only contains solutions to problems but details the practical method (tareeqa) of implementing these solutions on society. This method is the Caliphate that practically implements the Islamic belief of La ilaha ilAllah onto life’s affairs.

The Caliphate will not just be Islamic in name or on paper. Rather it will practically show the Muslims and the world the superiority of the sharia and how it resolves life’s problems.

When the Ummah sees the oil wealth removed from the personal bank accounts of the Kings and Sultans to the Bait ul-Mal (state treasury) as a public property for the benefit of the entire Ummah, they will see the practical manifestation of the hadith:

The Prophet (saw) said: “People share in three things: Water, Pasture lands, and Fire.” [Ahmed] Fire here refers to fire based fuels such as oil.

When the Muslims of Darfur and Somalia see the vast natural resources in the Middle East and Central Asia used for alleviating their poverty and building much needed infrastructure, they will see practically the concept mentioned by the Prophet (saw) when he (saw) said in his last sermon:

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

When the Muslims under occupation in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan see the army of the Caliphate marching to protect them and expel the occupiers they will see the practical implementation of the verse of Qur’an:

“Fight them until there is no more persecution, and all worship is devoted to Allah alone.” [TMQ 8:39]

The Muslim Ummah are sick and tired of the empty promises and inaction of their so-called Muslim governments. These governments who give lip service to Islam or pretend to have secret “Islamic” agendas in order for the Ummah to support them, yet in practise they do nothing for the interests of Islam. Thousands are killed in the occupied lands of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir without any Muslim regime lifting a finger to help. Even worse they actively support the occupation through opening up their airspace, lands and borders for the occupiers.

Compare this to the Abbasid Caliph Haroon Al-Rashid’s response to Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus refusal to abide by its treaty obligations with the Caliphate.

Haroon Al Rashid sent a letter to Constantinople saying: "From Haroon Al Rashid, Caliph of the Faithful to Nicephorus, the Roman dog: I have read your letter. You will not hear, you will see my reply." The Caliph then sent a huge army to the Byzantine Empire and forced Nicephorus to abide by the treaty.

The absence of a Caliphate to protect, implement and propagate Islam is at the root of all the Muslim Ummah’s problems today. Only with its re-establishment can we begin to resolve these problems and make Allah’s (swt) word the highest on the earth once again.

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