Burcin Cakir

Not so Veiled? Proclamation of Jihad and its influence on Muslim Womanhood during World War I

When the Ottomans finally entered the war on 29 October 1914 with the pressure from Germany, Ottomans decided to play their religion card which they were “saving for the hard times.” Ottoman state proclaimed Jihad on 11 November. Complying with historical religious procedures, the head of the Muslim ulema and highest religious authority in the empire, Sheyk-ul-Islam Hayri Efendi declared holy war, jihad (cihad-i ekber) by issuing a religious decree (fetva-yı şerife). The proclamation of jihad was announced to populations through public demonstrations in all around the empire. The one that took place in Istanbul was held at the Fatih mosque on 14 November 1914.It is evident by photos and memoirs that in 1914, women as well as men participated in these public meetings. It was beyond discussion or doubt that Ottoman women had to make a contribution to the war in one way or another. Principally, Ottoman Muslim women were called upon to contribute to the war effort and they were experienced in this since 1850s when the Ottoman Empire was fighting with Russian and later with Balkan provinces. The role of Muslim women was underlined in this respect. The jihad pamphlets stated that when they were needed to help the fighting men, Muslim women were supposed to participate in the jihad effort by sewing uniforms, knitting and cooking for soldiers. Such jobs were defined within the scope religious duties of women that “open the gates of heaven, a road to true Muslim identity.”

Very few women on the Middle Eastern home front managed to remain isolated from the First World War. Yet their suffering on the home front and their contribution to the war effort was generally downplayed in the national memory and their wartime experiences were excluded from the official historiography. While valorising the dedication, bravery, and altruism of soldiers, contemporary observers and later historians relegated Muslim women’s experiences of war to the margins of the official histories. My paper, in contrast, emphasizes the importance of studying wartime gender relations to expand and complicate our understanding of the Muslim women’s experience of the First World War.

Likewise, especially Muslim mothers earn and maintain such a revered role through their perpetuation of a culture of martyrdom. During the course of WWI, Middle Eastern women were constantly urged to play a passionate role as the reproducers of future fighters as they carry the cultural narrative that serves to perpetuate the call for Jihad. A Middle Eastern examination would offer a very different perspective of Muslim womanhood during this global conflict. By examining narratives by and on Muslim women and their experiences of WWI in relation to religious and cultural expressions, this paper will make it possible to integrate gendered subjectivities into a deepened understanding of WWI as a truly global event.