The Last Jihad: How Language Trumped Religion in the Late Ottoman Empire

Anwar Ziyad Akrouk, University of Pennsylvania

This paper was part of the 2014-2015 Penn Humanities Forum on Color. Find out more at


I postulate that Arabism was able to prevail because the religious bonds that had kept the primarily Sunni Muslim Arabs in the Greater Syria region loyal to the Ottoman Sultan, or to use his religious title, Caliph, were slowly being overshadowed by their linguistic and cultural affinity with their fellow Arabs and Arabic-speaking citizens due to the actions of the CUP. I argue that Arabism was an inclusive nationalist movement based on language rather than ethnicity and thus had a diverse ethnic and religious makeup in its ranks. World War I (1914-1918) was the watershed moment for the Arabist movement; when the Arab population heard the Caliph’s call for a “Jihad” against the Triple Entente, the call was received with apathy, if not anger, due to Arab disdain for the CUP’s policies. The Arab Revolt of 1916 ended four centuries of Turkish rule over Arab areas. Since, strictly speaking, in Islamic Law only the Caliph can call a Jihad, WWI was the “last Jihad.”


Date Posted: 17 November 2016