On This Day – November 14, 1914, in Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, the religious leader Sheikh-ul-Islam declares an Islamic holy war on behalf of the Ottoman government, urging his Muslim followers to take up arms against Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro in World War I.
By the time the Great War broke out in the summer of 1914, the Ottoman Empire was faltering, having lost much of its once considerable territory in Europe with its defeat in the First Balkan War two years earlier. Seeking to ally themselves with one of the great European powers to help safeguard them against future loss, the ambitious Ottoman leaders–members of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), known collectively as the Young Turks–responded favorably to overtures made by Germany in August 1914. Though Germany and Turkey secretly concluded a military alliance on August 2, the Turks did not officially take part in World War I until several months later. On October 29, the Ottoman navy–including two German ships, Goebenand Breslau, which famously eluded the British navy in the first week of the war to reach Constantinople–attacked Russian ports in the Black Sea, marking the beginning of Turkey’s participation in the war.
The sheikh’s declaration of a holy war, made two weeks later, urged Muslims all over the world–including in the Allied countries–to rise up and defend the Ottoman Empire, as a protector of Islam, against its enemies. “Of those who go to the Jihad for the sake of happiness and salvation of the believers in God’s victory,” the declaration read, “the lot of those who remain alive is felicity, while the rank of those who depart to the next world is martyrdom. In accordance with God’s beautiful promise, those who sacrifice their lives to give life to the truth will have honor in this world, and their latter end is paradise.”