Turkey – In The Land Of The Turk

I was unable to crowd into the last article all of our experiences in the land of the Turk, so I devoted it to Constantinople, leaving to this paper the discussion of the sultan, his religion and his govern-ment. Abdul Hamud Kahn II., is the present sultan of Turkey. He is sixty-three years old and has occupied the throne for nearly thirty years. His family has been supreme in Constantinople for twenty-four generations—ever since the taking of the city by the Mohammedans. He is not only an absolute monarch throughout the domain of Turkey, but he is the spiritual head of the Moslem Church. His power is really due more to his religious position than to his sovereignty. He is credited with doing more for the spread of education than his predecessors, but he can hardly be called an enthusiastic patron of learning. He endeavors to maintain cordial relations with European powers and is on especially good terms with Emperor. William. When he wants to show himself friendly to a nation he appoints some representative of that nation to a place in the army, navy or other department of the public service at (a high salary, and he gives (decorations to such foreigners as he desires to honor.

Every Friday about midday he goes to the mosque near the palace to pray and the (occasion is one of great interest to those who are fortunate enough to obtain admission to the grounds, as his journey from the palace to the church is a brilliant pageant. Tickets of admission must be secured through the diplomatic representatives, and we are under obligations to the American legation for an opportunity to be present.

As early as eleven o’clock, bands, companies of infantry, troops of cavalry and bodies of police could be seen marching toward the mosque. From the right, over a hill, came the cavalry mounted on white horses and carrying pennants of scarlet upon their spears ; from another direction marched the custodians of the sacred banner, a flag of black silk with texts from the Koran embroidered upon it in silver, then others and still others came. Before time for the sultan to appear several thousand soldiers had assembled and been assigned to their respective stations by officers in attractive uniforms. Drawn up several lines deep, they guarded every entrance to the sacred precincts.

It was ^a gorgeous spectacle, for the Turk is a fine looking soldier. This may account for the tenderness with which the sultan is handled by the “powers.” And there is sufficient variety in the uniforms to lend picturesqueness to the scene. The invited guests occupied a large front room and an adjoining garden, from which they had a clear view of the broad street, freshly sprinkled with sand, and of the mosque about a block away. When all things were in readiness the ‘castle gates swung open and the ladies of the court, closely veiled and accompanied by the children, proceeded to the mosque in closed carriages drawn by beautiful Arabian horses. As usual in Oriental countries, the members of the household were attended by black eunuchs.

At the appointed hour ,a black robed figure ‘appeared upon the minaret and an echo-like call to prayer floated down the street. This was the signal for which the spectators had waited and all eyes turned at once to the palace gate through which, in double line, marched the high officials, preceded by a band and followed by the sultan’s bodyguard and the sultan himself in a carriage with his minister of war. The officers saluted, the soldiers cheered, the visitors raised their hats, and the sultan bowed and smiled.

Hamud II. is mild in appearance ,and his black beard is but slightly streaked with grey. He does not look strong and his figure seems diminutive when contrasted with that of his minister of war. His imperial majesty, as he is styled, remained in the mosque for nearly half an hour. When he at last came out he entered a phaeton with his eldest son and, taking the lines himself, drove back to the palace behind one of the handsomest teams in Europe. The horses are a very dark, almost black, dappled chestnut sorrel, with silver mane and tail. They are perfectly matched, weigh thirteen ‘or fourteen hundred pounds and the shining coats give evidence of constant care.

We obtained permission to visit the sultan’s stables and saw a few, not all, of his more than a thousand horses. The finest, of course, are the Arabian stallions, of which he has quite a number, the best of the breed. In one room we saw a hundred or more saddles and bridles, many of them richly ornamented. In the collection are two Texas saddles presented by Minister Terrell when he represented our govern-ment in ‘Constantinople.

Before passing from the Selamlik, as the procession is called, it may not be out of place to remind the reader that the ceremonies were interrupted less than a year ago by the explosion ,of a bomb close to the line of march. Near the mosque is a large gate which the pro’ cession passes. Outside of this gate a guard is stationed, but carriages are allowed to line up back of the guard. On that occasion a new carriage made its appearance and secured a place as near the gate as was permitted. This carriage, having been expressly built for the purpose, had a large bomb concealed under the driver’s seat.

The man in charge of the enterprise represented to the driver that he wanted to take a photograph of the procession just as the sultan passed, and instructed him to press the button at the proper time. He did so and a number ,of those near the sultan were killed, but the sultan himself escaped without injury. Greater precaution is taken now than before, but the head of the church still makes his weekly pilgrimage to the mosque, thus maintaining unbroken a record covering nearly three decades.

I hope I shall be pardoned for giving so much space to so military and spectacular a performance, but it is ‘a scene that can be witnessed nowhere else and is the last reminder of the pomp and show that formerly characterized. all the empires of the east. It may seem a little incongruous that so many swords and muskets should be brought into requisition at a religious function, but it must be remembered that Mohammedanism recognizes the sword as a legitimate agency in the spread of its creed.

I have been tempted to refer to the tenets of Mohammedanism before, for we began to meet the followers of the prophet as soon as we entered Asia, but it seemed more appropriate to consider the subject in connection with the high personage who combines the authority of a temporal ruler with the dignity of Caliph.

The Koran is the book ,of the law and the Moslem is not permitted to doubt its plenary inspiration. After Mahomet announced that he had been selected as ^a messenger of the Lord and commissioned to preach he began giving out what he declared to be revelations. They read as commands to him to “speak” and to “say.” His central idea was the unity of God and his special mission the overthrow of idolatry. He emphasized the resurrection of the body and the Koran is full of promises to the faithful and ,as full of threats against the infidel. In the Koran God is quoted as promising: “For those who are devout are prepared with their Lord gardens through which rivers flow ; therein shall they continue forever; and they shall enjoy wives free from -impurity and the favor of God.” For the infidel, which includes all who do not accept the prophet, the following punishment is threatened: “Verily, those who disbelieve our signs, we will surely cast to be broiled in hell fire; so often as their skin shall be well burned, we will give them other skins in exchange, that they may taste the sharper punishment ; for God is mighty and wise.”

Through the Koran he not only credited God with the creation and with a care for all the wants of man, but he also declared that God deceived and misled some while He guided others aright. In one revelation he makes God say: “They who accuse our signs of false-hood, are deaf and dumb, walking in darkness ; God will lead into error whom He pleaseth, and whom He pleaseth He will put in the right way.”

He accepted the Old Testament and counted Christ among the prophets. In one of the revelations, he declares that he is commanded to say : “We believe in God and that which hath been sent down unto us, and that which bath been sent down unto Abraham, and Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob, and -the tribes, and that which was delivered unto Moses, and Jesus, and that which was delivered unto the prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them and to God we are resigned.” In the beginning of his ministry, his revelations were friendly to the Jews, whom he at first attempted to , con-ciliate, but when they rejected him, he gave out other revelations which treated the Jews with great severity. He started out to rely upon reason and an appeal to conscience, and by persuasion he formed the nucleus of his church, but as he grew stronger his revelations became more warlike in tone and at last he committed the Almighty to relent-less warfare against the infidel. Here is the language which he imputes to God : “0 Prophet, wage war against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be severe unto them, for their dwelling shall be hell; an unhappy journey shall it be thither!” At another time, he told his followers that they would be asked whether it was proper to war in the sacred month and he instructed them to answer : “The temptation to idolatry is more grievous than to kill in the sacred months.”

On many questions the advice which he gave through the Koran was all that could be desired. He urged justice in dealings between man and man and strict administration of trusts, care for the orphan and widow and charity toward the poor. He condemned the use of intoxicating liquor and gambling, saying: “They will ask thee concerning wine and lots; answer, in both there is great sin, and also some things of use unto men; but their sinfulness is greater than their use.” As to alms-giving the measure was to be, “what ye have to spare.”

While plurality of wives was allowed—and Mahomet exercised the privilege to the limit, furnishing a new revelation when necessary to justify a new marriage—the virtue of the women is scrupulously guarded by the Moslem code. The women are not allowed to mingle with men, and this is one of the weaknesses of Mohammedanism. In Mohammedan society the influence of women counts for little and as a result the followers of Islam are sluggards in intellectual pursuits. In the Philippines the Mohammedans form the lowest stratum of the population; in Java they are just awakening to the necessity for education ; in India they are behind the Hindu and still farther behind the Parsee; in Egypt they bring up the rear as they do also in Syria and Palestine. Only where they ,have come into contact with ‘Christian civilization have they been stimulated to the discussion of schools and questions of government.

It must be admitted, however, that some of the customs of Europe and America have tended to prejudice the followers of Mahomet against western civilization. One who was in attendance at a banquet given during the recent Morocco conference told me of the astonishment of some of the Mohammedan representatives at what they saw. When the ladies appeared in evening dress they, remembering the veiled ladies of their own land, asked: “Do your women always dress this way?” When wine was brought on, they asked : “Do all of your -people drink wine?” And when, after dinner, dancing began, they asked: “Do the women dance with their own husbands only?” The answers to some of these inquiries seemed to astonish them.

While Mohammedanism, as established by its founder, still holds the allegiance of ‘many scores of millions, influencing them for good in many respects and for evil in some; while these orthodox followers of the prophet kneel at stated hours each ‘day and pray toward Mecca, all of them, who have not done so, hoping to make the pilgrimage commanded of them—while these are keeping the letter of the Koran there is a reform at work which may yet leaven the whole lump.

Abbas Effendi, now a political prisoner at Akka, in Palestine, is the head of the reform movement. He was born in Persia and is carrying on the work to which his father and grandfather devoted their lives. He discards force as a means of propagating truth, and while lie does not command monogamy, has set the example by having but one wife. While Abbas Effendi’s father preached moral suasion his followers were charged with revolutionary designs and the family was exiled. After remaining a time at Constantinople under the surveillance of the sultan, the reform leaders were removed to Akka, a seaport not far from Haifa. Here, surrounded by few followers, the son holds such communication ^as he can with the rest of the church in Persia, his doctrines having as yet taken but little root among the Turks and Arabs. It is believed in Akka that he receives financial aid from a number of wealthy Americans who have become interested in his work.

We called upon Abbas Effendi as we were leaving Palestine and found him an earnest old man with ‘a careworn but kindly face. His hair and beard are grey and he speaks with animation when his, favorite topic is under discussion. His doctrines are something like those of Tolstoy, but he does not carry the doctrine of non-resistance so far as does the Russian philosopher. How much he may be able to do in the way of eliminating the objectionable features of Mohammedanism no one can say, but it is a hopeful sign that there is among the followers of Mahomet an organized effort to raise the plane of discussion from brute force to an appeal to intelligence.

The government of the sultan is the worst on earth. It is more despotic than the Russian government ever was and adds corruption to despotism. The czar has convoked a duma, the dowager empress of China has sent her commissioners abroad with a view to establishing a constitution, and even the khedive of Egypt has a council, but the sultan still rules by his arbitrary will, taking life or granting favor according to his pleasure. He lives in constant fear of assassination and yet he does not seem to have learned that his town happiness, as well as justice to the people, demands that the government shall rest upon the will of the governed.

While in the sultan’s realm, we learned something of the cruelty practiced by his officials—let us hope without his knowledge—for while he is responsible for the conduct of his appointees he may not know all the evil done in his name. Not long ago a young student was arrested and imprisoned because a paper was found in his house which contained Gladstone’s statement that the sultan was an assassin. It was only a scrap of paper and had been given him because the other side contained an advertisement for to hair restorer and he, in taking the paper to his house, did not know of the offensive quotation. Another young man was kept in prison until he died because a book was found in his possession ‘containing a, picture of the sultan under which some one, unknown to him, had written the word dog. A third man was (arrested because in ordering an engine he sent a telegram containing the words : “Seventy revolutions.” In his original order he neglected to state the number of revolutions and sent the telegram in answer to an inquiry. A fourth man was imprisoned because he received a telegram inquiring about a burglary, the authorities mistaking the word “burglary” for the word “Bulgaria,” where the authorities were expecting an uprising. These instances—and we heard of many more–are given simply to show that the citizen of Turkey is in constant danger of imprisonment, however innocent he may be of any intention to violate the law.

But it is in the realm of the censor that the most amusing cases have occurred. The [officials are destroying a great many books just now in Turkey and are very careful about the introduction of new ones. Recently the wife of a justice of the peace, frightened by the confiscation of books in the houses of her neighbors, thought to avoid all possible danger by burning her husband’s library, but her hope was vain for her husband was arrested as ,a dangerous character on the-ground that he must have had a library. As he was holding ‘a judicial position the fact that he no longer had books was a sufficient ground for suspicion.

Religious publications are subjected to very strict censorship. Sunday school lessons have been cut out because they quoted from the Old Testament in regard to the killing of kings and the word “Christian” is often added before sinners in order to make the text exclude Mohammedans. A Sunday school lesson about Joash, the Boy King, was objected to because the authorities did not think it proper to suggest that a boy could be king. The above ,are actual cases, but they’ have given rise to jokes that go a little farther. For instance, they say that dynamos are not allowed in Turkey because the name sounds like dynamite and that chemistries have been excluded because the formula for water, “H20,” is suspected of meaning, “Hamud II is a cypher.”

I have had a little experience with a ,censor myself. At Beyrout, one of the Turkish ports, a copy of the Koran and a copy of the Life of Abbas Effendi were taken from me by the censor. I had no objection to his holding them during my stay in the country, but when he informed me that they would have to be sent to Constantinople I demurred, and with the aid of our representative, Consul General Bergholz, not only secured the books, but secured a promise that the right of American citizens to carry books would not in the future be interfered with at that port.

In conclusion, I desire to add that we ought to have ,an ambassador instead of a minister at Constantinople. According to the custom prevailing in the sultan’s realm, a minister is not on equal footing with ambassadors, and as other nations have ambassadors there American interests suffer. We have eighteen cases now awaiting adjustment. According to our law our appointment of an ambassador to any country depends upon that country’s willingness to send an ambassador to us. This is a false basis. Our action should not depend upon what other nations do, but upon our diplomatic needs, and we need an ambassador at Constantinople whether Turkey needs one at Washington ,or not. I understand that the question is already being considered in congress, and from observation I am satisfied that the time has come for the raising of our legation to the dignity of an embassy, that American interests and the rights of American citizens may have proper protection in Turkey, for nowhere is there greater need for the introduction of American ideas.