It's a tad surprising to see Indians cheering Turkey's decision to reconvert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. I also see claims that the Ottoman Sultan and not the Mughal emperor was the spiritual and religious leader of Indian Muslims. No, he wasn't. The Mughal emperor had that role.
Emperor Humayun had sent a diplomatic letter to Sultan Suleiman ‘the Magnificent’ in which he had recognised him as the Caliph of his lands but stressed that he was the Caliph of India and as great as Suleiman. Obviously, this was disliked by Sultan Suleiman. He never replied.
When Emperor Akbar assumed the throne, congratulatory messages came from the Uzbeks and Safavids but not from the Ottomans. Akbar later rubbed it in by assuming the title of Shahenshah, which was a formal announcement that we in India have nothing to do with the Ottoman Caliph.
That was followed by a period of assertion of authority on Akbar’s part by way of patronising the holy cities of Mecca and Medina through handsome grants, sponsorship of Haj caravans, construction of hospices, inns and dormitories for Indian pilgrims to stay, and so on.
The sharifs of Mecca and Medina utilised this opportunity to not rely on Ottoman support alone and function independently. The Ottomans were increasingly uncomfortable with the Mughals doing this. After Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat, things changed for the worse.
The Ottomans began to see Indian pilgrims, including those from the imperial family, with suspicion. Ottoman governors in Yemen and the Sharifs of Mecca and Medina were instructed not to let Indian pilgrims stay on in the holy cities after the Haj period.
The royal ladies who had spent 4 years in the holy cities were forced to return in 1580. On the way back, they were treated poorly by the Ottoman governor of Aden. This infuriated Emperor Akbar who stopped sponsoring the Haj caravans and stopped his patronage of the holy cities.
The Ottomans feared that the Mughals had allied themselves with the Portuguese and were preparing to attack Yemen. Ottoman attempts to open up diplomatic channels failed as Akbar was not in a mood. He also said no to a proposed Ottoman-Mughal-Uzbek alliance against Safavid Iran.
The material riches of the Mughal Empire were another worry. There were cases of Ottoman officers defecting to the Mughals, while new sultanates that came up in the Indian Ocean region and in Southeast Asia modelled themselves on the Mughals and not the Ottomans.
As Mughal power waned and the emperor’s independence was limited, a rising Indian power sought Ottoman recognition for the first time – Mysore under Tipu Sultan. But the Ottoman Sultan by then was beholden to the British, who pressured him to convince Tipu not to oppose them.
In 1857, the British once again made the Ottoman Sultan issue a proclamation addressed to Indian Muslims, urging them not to wage war against the British. The British actively tried to convince Indian Muslims that the Ottoman sultan was their religious and spiritual head.
In the later part of the 19th century, the khutba in some mosques in north India began to be read in the name of the Ottoman Sultan. But by then, Anglo-Turkish relations had soured massively.
This game was backfiring on the British as Muslims (not all) started seeing the British as enemies of the Caliph. But the resistance to the caliph came from the Aligarh Movement. Sir Syed questioned the Ottoman sultan’s claim of being the universal caliph.
He said that he was the caliph of his own domains and not of India. The Ottomans made very weak efforts to turn Indians against the British. That didn’t quite work because they were themselves losing their stature. The rest of the story is familiar.
So, I would say that there is no need to celebrate Erdogan as some new caliph or celebrate Ottoman sultans. If we really have to be proud of historical characters, then let us be proud of our own Mughal emperors. My humble point.
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