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Hussein bin Ali, King of Hejaz

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Hussein bin Ali
ٱلْحُسَيْن بِن عَلِي
King of the Arabs
Sharifian Caliph
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
King Hussein in 1917
King of Hejaz
Reign10 June 1916 – 3 October 1924
PredecessorOffice established
SuccessorAli bin Hussein
Sharif and Emir of Mecca
Reign1 November 1908 – 3 October 1924
PredecessorAbdallah bin Muhammad
SuccessorAli bin Hussein
Reign3 March 1924 – 19 December 1925/4 June 1931
PredecessorAbdulmejid II
SuccessorOffice abolished
Born1 May 1854
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Died (aged 77)
Amman, Transjordan
  • Sharifa Abdiyah bint Abdullah
  • Madiha
  • Sharifa Khadija bint Abdullah
  • Adila Khanum
HouseBanu Qatadah
DynastyHashemite dynasty
FatherAli bin Muhammad
MotherSalah Bani-Shahar
ReligionSunni Islam[1]
Military career
AllegianceKingdom of Hejaz
Service/branchSharifian Army

Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi (Arabic: ٱلْحُسَيْن بِن عَلِي ٱلْهَاشِمِي, romanizedal-Ḥusayn bin 'Alī al-Hāshimī; 1 May 1854 – 4 June 1931) was an Arab leader from the Banu Qatadah branch of the Banu Hashim clan who was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca from 1908 and, after proclaiming the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire,[2] King of the Hejaz, even if he refused this title,[3] from 1916 to 1924. He proclaimed himself Caliph[4][5][6] after the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 and stayed in power until 1925 when Hejaz was invaded by the Saudis.[7] His Caliphate was opposed by the British and French Empires,[8][9][10] the Zionists[11] and the Wahhabis alike.[12] However, he received support from a large part of the Muslim population of that time[13][14][15][16] and from Mehmed VI.[17] He is usually considered as the father of modern pan-Arabism.[18][19]

In 1908, in the aftermath of the Young Turk Revolution, Hussein was appointed Sharif of Mecca by the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II. In 1916, with the promise of British support for Arab independence, he proclaimed the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, accusing the Committee of Union and Progress of violating tenets of Islam and limiting the power of the sultan-caliph.[20] While his armies, led by his sons, were engaged in fighting the Ottoman and German troops in the Middle East, Hussein supported the Armenians during the Armenian genocide and saved up to 4,000 of them. In the aftermath of World War I, Hussein refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, in protest of the Balfour Declaration, a document supporting the Jewish settlers in Palestine, and the establishment of British and French mandates in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. His sons Faisal and Abdullah were made rulers of Iraq and Transjordan respectively in 1921.

He later refused to sign the Anglo-Hashemite Treaty and thus was left alone, the British decided progressively to stop supporting him and start helping Ibn Saud, who promptly launched an invasion of the Kingdom of Hejaz. In October 1924, facing defeat by Ibn Saud, he abdicated and was succeeded as king by his eldest son Ali. After Hejaz was subsequently completely invaded by the Ibn Saud-Wahhabi armies of the Ikhwan, on 23 December 1925, Hussein surrendered to the Saudis, bringing the Kingdom of Hejaz, the Sharifate of Mecca and the Sharifian Caliphate to an end.[a][21]

Hussein went into exile to Cyprus, where the British kept him prisoner until his health deteriorated so much that they allowed him to go back to Amman, next to his son Abdullah I of Jordan.[22] He died in Amman in 1931 and was buried as a Caliph in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.[23]


Ascendance and early life[edit]


Hussein bin Ali bin Muhammad bin Abd al-Mu'in bin Awn was born in Constantinople in 1853 or 1854. He was the eldest son of Sharif Ali bin Muhammad, who is the second son of Muhammad bin Abd al-Mu'in, the former Sharif of Mecca. As a member of the Hashemite dynasty, he was a descendant of Muhammad in the 37th generation[24] through his grandson Hasan bin Ali. His mother, Salah Bani-Shahar, the wife of Ali, would have been a Circassian.[25]

He belonged to the Dhawu Awn clan of the Abadilah, a branch of the Banu Qatadah tribe. The Banu Qatadah had ruled the Sharifate of Mecca since the accession of their ancestor Qatadah ibn Idris in 1201 and were the last of the four branches of Hashemite sharifs who, together, had governed Mecca since the 11th century.

Power struggles and birth[edit]

In 1827, Muhammad bin Abd al-Mu'in was appointed as the Sharif, becoming the first Sharif of the Dhawu Awn branch and ending the centuries-long dominance of the Dhawu Zayd.[26] He reigned until 1851, when he was replaced by Sharif Abd al-Muttalib ibn Ghalib of the Dhawu Zayd. After being deposed, he sent his family and sons to reside in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople.It was there that Hussein was born to Muhammad's son, Ali, in 1853–1854.

Muhammad was reinstated to power in 1856, and Hussein, then two or three years old, accompanied his father and grandfather to Mecca.[25] Muhammad quickly died in 1858 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sharif Abdullah Pasha, Hussein's uncle. He returned to Mecca after his father's death, at a young age, when his uncle Sharif Abdullah called them back, with his mother in 1861-1862.[24]

Youth and education[edit]

Hussein was raised at home, unlike other Hashemite youth who were typically sent outside the city to grow up among Bedouin nomads. Apparently a diligent young man, he mastered the principles of the Arabic language and was also educated in Islamic law and doctrine. Among his teachers was Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud at-Turkizi ash-Shinqiti, with whom he studied the seven Mu'allaqat. With Sheikh Ahmad Zayni Dahlan, he studied the Quran, completing its memorization before the age of 20.[25][27][28]

During Abdullah's reign, Hussein became familiar with the politics and intrigue surrounding the Sharifian court. He also participated in numerous expeditions to the Najd and the eastern regions of Hejaz to meet the Arab tribes, over whom the Sharifate of Mecca then exerted a loose form of control. He learned the customs of the Bedouins, including the skills necessary to withstand the harsh desert environment. During his travels, he also gained a thorough knowledge of the desert's flora and fauna and composed poems in humayni verse, a type of vernacular poetry (malhun) of the Bedouins. He also practiced horseback riding and hunting.[25]

Exile to Constantinople[edit]

In 1875, he married Abdullah's daughter, Abdiyah, his cousin. In 1877, Abdullah died, and Hussein, along with his cousin Ali ibn Abdullah, received the rank of Pasha. After a series of political assassinations among his uncles vying for the position of Sharif, he gained attention for his independence of thought and was sent back to Constantinople by the reigning uncle at that time in 1892-1893.[29] He remained there for 15 years, until 1908, mainly focusing on raising his children, learning the politics of the Sublime Porte—where he aligned with the conservative faction—and hoping to return home.[29]

Mahmal of Hussein bin Ali – 1890s

As Emir[edit]

Following the removal of his predecessor in October and the sudden death of his successor shortly thereafter, Hussein was appointed grand sharif by official decree of the sultan Abdul Hamid II in November 1908.[30][31] However, the situation was peculiar for Hussein, who arrived in Mecca in the midst of the Young Turk Revolution, which brought the Young Turks (CUP) to power.[31] Upon his arrival, he met CUP representatives who greeted him as the "Constitutional Sharif," intending to gauge his response to such a designation. He replied: "Verily these are the lands of Allah in which nothing will ever stand except the Shariah of Allah [...] The constitution of the lands of Allah is the Shariah of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet."[31][32]

Religious stances[edit]

Hussein bin Ali (date unknown)

His main teacher was Ahmad Zayni Dahlan,with whom he became a hafiz.[33][34] He had a Shafi'i and Hanafi education,[35][36][37] but also allied with the Malikis and opposed the Wahhabis,[12] at a time when adherence to a madhhab was more fluid.[36]

Pan-Arabism and relationship with the Ottomans[edit]

The flag of the Arab Revolt was the flag of Hussein bin Ali. The flag consists of three horizontal stripes (black, white, and green) and a red triangle on the hoist side. Each color has a symbolic meaning : black represents the Abbasid dynasty or the Rashidun caliphs, white represents the Umayyad dynasty, and green represents Islam (or possibly, but it's not certain, the Fatimid dynasty). The red triangle represents the Hashemite dynasty, to which Hussein bin Ali belonged. The flag became a symbol of Arab nationalism and unity and is still used today in various forms in the flags of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Palestine, Somaliland, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and Libya.

Although there is no formal evidence suggesting that Hussein bin Ali was inclined towards Arab nationalism before 1916, the rise of Turkish nationalism towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the Young Turks Revolution of 1908, strongly displeased the Hashemites and Bedouins.[38] Additionally, the increasing centralization of the Ottoman Empire, the progressive prohibition of Arabic in teaching, Turkification policies, and the settlement of Turkish colonists in Arab areas worried and frightened Arabs throughout the empire.[39][40]

In 1908, the Hejaz Railway was completed, allowing the Turks to strengthen their control over the Hejaz and provide a rapid response capability to reinforce their garrisons in Mecca and Medina. It was built under constant threat of Arab raids, such as those from the Harb tribe, which demonstrated their hostility towards the project.[41][42] Furthermore, in April 1915, the Ottoman government began a policy of extermination of the minorities in the Ottoman Empire through various genocides. This frightened the Arabs,[19][43][44][45] who were the largest minority in the Empire, and was openly criticized by Hussein bin Ali.[46][47]

These oppositions with the Turks became so violent that they overshadowed those that existed in Arab society and Bedouin society; and many rival tribes to the Hashemites rallied behind their leadership.[40][48]

An independentist and anti-colonial Arab movement developed, mainly in Ottoman Syria, where Arab intellectuals and newspapers called for the restoration of the caliphate in the hands of a Quraysh, and especially for the acquisition of Arab independence from the Ottoman Empire.[49][50] The relationship between Hussein and the Committee of Union and Progress worsened even more after the discovery and foiling of a plot by Enver Pasha to assassinate Hussein.[51][52]

All of these points led to a violent rupture between Arab elites and the Ottoman political class,[53] and are reflected in Hussein's later proclamation of independence, where he presented his struggle as a religious and anti-colonial one.[39][5][54]

Twenty days after the start of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, Hussein bin Ali's son, Faisal, met with the leaders of the revolutionary organization Al-Fatat in Damascus. They assured him of their support in case of revolt and recognized Hussein as the representative of the Arab nation.[5][55][56][57]

When Hussein took up the pan-Arab claims in 1916, after his proclamation of independence, he became the leading figure behind whom the pan-Arabs rallied, and is therefore frequently regarded as the father of pan-Arabism.[18][58][59]

During World War I, Hussein initially remained allied with the Ottomans but began secret negotiations with the British on the advice of his son, Abdullah, who had served in the Ottoman parliament up to 1914 and was convinced that it was necessary to separate from the increasingly nationalistic Ottoman administration.[53]

Relationship with the British[edit]

Proclamation of independence of Hussein, 27 June 1916. In it, Hussein only used religious reasons, and not nationalist ones,[60] to explain why he was revolting.[61]

Following deliberations at Ta'if between Hussein and his sons in June 1915, during which Faisal counselled caution, Ali argued against rebellion and Abdullah advocated action[62] and encouraged his father to enter into correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon; over the period 14 July 1915 to 10 March 1916, a total of ten letters, five from each side, were exchanged between Sir Henry McMahon and Sherif Hussein. McMahon was in contact with British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey throughout, and Grey was to authorise and be ultimately responsible for the correspondence.

The British Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, appealed to him for assistance in the conflict on the side of the Triple Entente. Starting in 1915, as indicated by an exchange of letters with Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in the Sultanate of Egypt, Hussein seized the opportunity and demanded recognition of an Arab nation that included the Hejaz and other adjacent territories as well as approval for the proclamation of an Arab Caliphate of Islam.[53] High Commissioner McMahon accepted and assured him that his assistance would be rewarded by an Arab empire encompassing the entire span between Egypt and Persia, with the exception of British possessions and interests in Kuwait, Aden, and the Syrian coast.[63] However, at that time, the British scarcely thought about the promises made; their primary concern was winning the war and dismantling the Ottoman Empire.[64][65] The fate of the Arab populations and the division of territory were left for a future date.[64]

Hussein with dignitaries

Arab Revolt[edit]

He decided to join the Allied camp immediately, because of information[66] that he would soon be deposed as Sharif of Mecca by the Ottoman government in favor of Sharif Ali Haidar, leader of the rival Zaʻid family.[67] The much-publicized executions of the Arab nationalist leaders in Damascus led Hussein to fear for his life if he were deposed in favour of Ali Haidar.[67]

Illustration from Le Petit Journal depicting the sons of Hussein bin Ali as they liberate Mecca, 16 July 1916

The revolt proper began on 10 June 1916, when Hussein proclaimed the independence of the Kingdom of Hejaz and ordered his supporters to attack the Ottoman garrison in Mecca.[68] In the Battle of Mecca, there ensued over a month of bloody street fighting between the out-numbered, but far better armed Ottoman troops and Hussein's tribesmen.[69] Indiscriminate Ottoman artillery fire, set fire to the veil covering the Kaaba and turned out to be a potent propaganda weapon for the Hashemites, who portrayed the Ottomans as desecrating Islam's most holy site.[69][70] Also on 10 June, another of Hussein's sons, the Emir Abdullah, attacked Ta'if, which after an initial repulse settled down into a siege.[69] With the British-Egyptian artillery support, Abdullah took Ta'if on 22 September 1916.[69]

Ageyl bodyguards of Faisal

After this, and for most of the war, Hussein's sons directed the fighting ; most notably Faisal, future Faisal I of Iraq, and Abdullah, future Abdullah I of Jordan.[51] Hussein mostly stayed in Mecca to direct the operations, while his sons were fighting.[51] The Arab revolt laid siege to Medina but wasn't able to take it for a year, thus impeding the operations.[51] During this battle, the Ottomans killed and deported the civilian Arabic population of Medina into the Syrian desert, an event hidden by the pretense of doing "Seferberlik", or mobilization.[71][72] On 30 October 1916, Emir Abdullah called a meeting of majlis where he read a letter in which "Husayn ibn Ali was recognized as sovereign of the Arab nation. Then all those present arose and proclaimed him Malik al-Arab, King of the Arabs."[73] During the whole duration of the war, Hussein's troops stayed underequipped and lacking artillery – which the Allies didn't want to give, seing that front as utopical and not as important as the fight was in the Western front, among others.[67] This lack of artillery and high mobility ; since most of the troops were mounted Bedouins, pushed them to use guerilla tactics in the desert ; for example by severing Ottoman supplies with the bombings of specific sections of the Hejaz railway.[67]

After the fall of Medina, the Arab troops were able to secure Aqaba quickly and this allowed them to project themselves farther;[67] they still ambushed Ottoman troops, such as during the battle of Wadi Musa, helping themselves with their superior knowledge of the Arabian and Syrian deserts.[67][74] This conflict was marked by widespread ethnic cleansing directed at non-Turkish populations in the areas affected. The troops of Hussein also committed war crimes, deciding to execute Turkish troops responsible of the Tafas massacre against Arabian civilians, instead of taking them prisoners.[75]

A flag bearer mounted on a camel leading the triumphal entry into Aqaba.

After the fall of Aqaba, the Arab forces, supplemented with British auxiliaries and with the design of joining forces with the British main armies, which were trying to break out of Egypt and Palestine, managed to join them.[67] During the Battle of Megiddo, in September 1918, Hussein's troops led by his son Faisal, joined the British forces and managed to utterly destroy the 4th, 7th and 8th Ottoman armies, and push into retreat the Yildirim Army Group, comprising the German Asian Corps and led at the time by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, thus leaving the Palestinian and Arabian front without defence, and finally breaking inside the Ottoman Empire.[67][76] The battle happened at the same time as the Vardar offensive in the Balkans, which managed to overrun Bulgarian defences, thus opening the Balkans and ultimately Austria-Hungary.[77] Since the war was seemingly won, and the Ottoman defences were crumbling, Faisal projected himself towards Damascus, which he took the 1st of October 1918.[67] After this, he engaged in the pursuit to Haritan, pursuing the remnants of the Yildirim Army Group and ultimately taking Aleppo on the 25 of October 1918, thus ending the war on that front.[67]

King of Hejaz[edit]

The US State Department quotes an aide-mémoire dated 24 October 1917 given by the Arab Bureau to the American Diplomatic Agency in Cairo confirming that "...Britain, France and Russia agreed to recognize the Sherif as lawful independent ruler of the Hejaz and to use the title of "King of the Hejaz" when addressing him, and a note to this effect was handed to him on December 10, 1916".[78]

Hussein in Amman, Transjordan, before he left for Aqaba, 1921

When Hussein declared himself King of the Hejaz, he also declared himself King of the Arab lands (malik bilad-al-Arab).[65] This only aggravated his conflict with Abdulaziz ibn Saud, which was already present because of their differences in religious beliefs and with whom he had fought before the First World War, siding with fellow anti-Saudis, the Ottomans in 1910.


Hussein initiated a series of reforms, including measures to avoid offending Muslims from French or British colonies who undertook the Hajj. He also addressed the issue of stray dogs, attempted to ensure the security of the Hajj routes, and sought to combat the prevalent slave markets in the Hejaz region.[79]

He undertook the last major restoration of the Masjid al-Haram in 1920[80] and a restoration of the mosques of Palestine and more specifically of al-Aqsa mosque, for which he funded 26,672 liras.[81][82]

Drawing by Khalil Gibran, 1916

Armenian genocide[edit]

Starting from 1917, Hussein made decisions to protect the Armenian refugees and those residing in his lands from the Armenian genocide.[83] First, he condemned the genocide publicly as early as 1916, stating "We specifically bring to the world's condemnation the atrocities committed against the Greeks and Armenians, atrocities that our holy law can only disapprove of."[84] In this regard, he promulgated in 1917, in a decree: "In the name of Most Merciful Allah and our prophet Muhammad, we are addressing our Arab brothers (...) to take Armenian refugees in their families, to share with them their belongings – camels, food, shelter, blankets – and share everything that you have in excess, and everything that you can give to people."[83]

In April 1918, as part of his conquest of the Syrian territories in which the Armenian genocide took place, he issued a decree to protect Armenians from persecution and allow them to settle in peace, in which he ordered :[85][86][87][88]

"What is requested of you is to protect and to take good care of everyone from the Jacobite Armenian community living in your territories and frontiers and among your tribes; to help them in all of their affairs and defend them as you would defend yourselves, your properties and children, and provide everything they might need whether they are settled or moving from place to place, because they are the Protected People of the Muslims (Ahl Dimmat al-Muslimin) – about whom the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah grant him His blessings and peace) said: "Whosoever takes from them even a rope, I will be his adversary on the day of Judgment."[89] This is among the most important things we require of you to do and expect you to accomplish, in view of your noble character and determination."

The Armenian National Institute considers it to be the oldest declaration by a head of state to recognize the Armenian genocide.[90] Alongside this, he gave citizenship to his Armenian subjects.[91] According to survivors of the Armenian genocide, such as Levon Yotnakhparian, Hussein personally received him and was shocked by the news of what was happening.[92] He also supported Armenian survivors and provided men and protection for expeditions in the Syrian desert aimed at rescuing Armenian deportees.[93][94] According to testimonies, this method is said to have saved up to 4,000 people from the genocide, in collaboration with Hussein al-Attrache, a Druze chieftain who then disguised the refugees as Druzes.[93][94] His son, Faisal, provided free transportation to all Armenian refugees for their trip towards the British refugee camp in Damascus and free use of the Hejaz railway ; even if that meant impeding on the war effort.[95]

Following World War I[edit]

In the aftermath of the war, the Arabs found themselves freed from centuries of Ottoman rule. Hussein's son Faisal was made King of Syria, but this kingdom proved short-lived, as the Middle East came under mandate rule of France and the United Kingdom. The British Government subsequently made Faisal and his brother Abdullah kings of Iraq and Transjordan, respectively.

The issue of Palestine and deterioration in British relationship[edit]

Starting at the end of the war, Hussein found himself in severe conflict with Britain's views on the subject of Palestine.[11][96] In January and February 1918, Hussein received the Hogarth Message and Bassett Letter in response to his requests for an explanation of the Balfour Declaration and Sykes-Picot Agreement respectively.[97] Despite their explanations, he stated that Palestine should be included within the borders of the newly founded Arab Kingdom[98] and should refuse Zionist settlers, even if he was ready to accept Jewish people in Palestine,[96][98] notably those who already lived there and were not coming from foreign countries.[11] However, even after an assurance by McMahon, Hussein did not receive the lands promised by their British allies.[99] McMahon claimed that the proposed lands to be taken in by the new Arab State were not purely Arab. In actuality, McMahon refused to hand over the new lands as the areas in question had already been claimed by the new British ally, France.[100][101]

Having received a British subsidy totalling £6.5m between 1916 and April 1919, in May 1919, the subsidy was reduced to £100K monthly (from £200K), dropped to £75K from October, £50K in November, £25K in December until February 1920 after which no more payments were made.

The British were not disposed to fulfill their promises to Hussein, as Colonel Wilson stated in secret correspondence :[3]

"At one time, our Arabic copies of Sir H. MacMahon's letters to the Grand Sherif could not be found; if they are still unavailable it may be somewhat awkward when King Hussein produces the originals. (...) Failing a satisfactory solution King Hussein will have some grounds for considering that Great Britain has broken her pledged word."[3]

In 1919, King Hussein refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. In August 1920, five days after the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres, Curzon asked Cairo to procure Hussein's signature to both treaties and agreed to make a payment of £30,000 conditional on signature. Hussein declined and in 1921, stated that he could not be expected to "affix his name to a document assigning Palestine to the Zionists and Syria to foreigners."[8] He refused again to accept the Balfour Declaration in 1923, and stated : "I look at the people of Palestine as I look at my own family, without distinction between Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or nationalist."[11]

In January 1924, Hussein received in Amman a Zionist delegation led by rabbi Yaakov Meir and a British colonel.[11] Despite having welcomed them with respect, he would not change his position. As his stance was seen by the United Kingdom as extremist, the British and the Zionist media engaged in press campaigns against Hussein, where his positions were misrepresented.[11] They also engaged heavily against his Caliphate, calling it illegitimate.[11] After him becoming Caliph, he continued on this path, stating: "I consider Zionism unjust towards Muslims, Christians and Orthodox Jews, and as a protector of justice, I will resist this unjust Zionism."[11] This contributed to aggravate his relationship with the Zionists towards a breaking point.[11]


After the Caliphate was abolished by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Hussein was proclaimed as Caliph. The accounts on the official date and proceedings vary, some place the beginning of the Caliphate on 3 March 1924, when Hussein would have declared himself Caliph at his son Abdullah's winter camp in Shunah, Transjordan.[102] Other accounts, such as a Reuters dispatch, instead set the date as March 7, 1924, and describe Hussein bin Ali being elected as a caliph by Muslims from "Mesopotamia, Transjordan, and Hejaz."[103] A third counting of the official date takes place when he received the homage of the majority of the Arab population in Amman as the caliph, on March 11, 1924.[104] Finally, a fourth version places the date on Friday, March 14, 1924, when Hussein is evidently enthroned as caliph in Baghdad during the Friday prayer.[103] In any case, all sources agree on a date in March 1924, shortly after the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.[102][103][104] Separately, he made statements in support of the Ottoman dynasty, which had been ruined and exiled from Turkey. In this regard, he declared:[105]

Mahmal of Hussein bin Ali in Mecca, 1916–1918

The services rendered by the Ottoman family to Islam and Muslims are undeniable; their heroism cannot be belittled. The recent decision regarding the family [exile] has pierced the hearts and saddened the spirits of Muslims. Therefore, we see it as an obligation of Islamic brotherhood to meet the needs of the family and prevent them from experiencing financial difficulties. Those who wish to participate in this great endeavor should express their intentions to our representatives in Mecca.

Testimony of Vatan, quoted by The Times, on the approval given to Hussein's caliphate by Vehideddin, a nickname of Mehmed VI

In the same perspective, he financially supported the members of the exiled Ottoman dynasty to prevent them from being ruined. Despite his complicated financial and economic situation, he provided them with 2400 liras.[105] The claim to the title was recognized by a large part of the Hejazi, Levantine[13] and more generally Arabic Muslim population.[104] He also received the support of Mehmed VI, on March 18, 1924, one of the last Ottoman Caliphs and the last Ottoman Sultan, according to The Times and Vatan, that reported that he supported him as the new Caliph.[17]

The French viewed this proclamation as "the worst possible solution," in the words of Hubert Lyautey, who also defended that the Ottoman Caliphate was better for French interests than the Sharifian Caliphate.[106] They believed that having a new influential caliph could risk reviving pan-Islamism, causing instability in French Muslim colonies in the event of a conflict, and potentially giving the Red Sea to the British.[106] As a result, the French did not support it at all, preferring to wait and see how events unfolded. Meanwhile, they had the Sultan of Morocco ready to assume the caliph title if necessary, offering the French a caliph who was more aligned with their interests, albeit less significant.[106]

To reinforce his proclamation and establish legal foundations for his caliphate, Hussein convened an Islamic Congress at Mecca in 1924,[107] it comprised both Sunni and Shia Muslims and was thus arguably one of the most inclusive Islamic Congresses in history.[108] The Congress held twelve sessions before being indefinitely adjourned due to the advance of Saudi forces.[107]

His Caliphate only lasted for a few months, though,[109] because he was invaded and defeated quickly by Abdulaziz ibn Saud.[110][111]

Defeat against Saudis and abdication[edit]

Although the British had supported Hussein from the start of the Arab Revolt and the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, they not only chose not to help him to repel the Saudi conquest of Hejaz, but even provided weapons to Ibn Saud,[110] which eventually took Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah. The British offered several times to assist him and to stop supporting the Saudis, in exchange for his recognition of the Balfour Declaration, which he refused each time.[112] According to the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, the British not only supported Ibn Saud against Hussein bin Ali but they also supported him subsequently against the Ikhwan.[113] Hussein attempted to make appeals to the League of Nations, Muslim powers, and Western powers; however, they did not intervene and merely monitored the events.[114] The British were highly negative towards him since he assumed the caliphal title and refused to support him.[114]

He chose to abdicate.[114] After his abdication, another of his sons, Ali, briefly assumed the throne of the Hejaz, but then he too had to flee from the encroachment of the Saudi forces. Another of Hussein's sons, Faisal, was briefly King of Syria and later King of Iraq, while Abdullah was Emir of Transjordan. While he was in exile, he still used the title of caliph[115] until his death.[116]


Hussein bin Ali posing with his retinue and his horses during his exile in Cyprus

King Hussein was then forced to flee to Amman, Transjordan, where his son Abdullah was Emir. During this period, King Hussein is described as having taken over control that his son wielded, and therefore was sent to live in Aqaba (which was recently transferred from Hijazi to Transjordanian sovereignty by the British).[117] Britain – responding to Ibn Saud's plea that the Sharif be expelled from Aqaba[118] – exiled him from Aqaba to British-controlled Cyprus.[119]

He lived in Nicosia from 1925,[120] with his sons coming to visit him at some times, even if his relationships with them were strained, except for Zeid who came to visit him the most. According to the British governor of Cyprus, Ronald Storrs, when he went to see Hussein, he found his son Zeid reading him the commentary of al-Bukhari on the Quran.[120] He rarely left his home, lived an austere lifestyle, and read the Quran, religious books, he also read Arabic newspapers in the mornings.[120] However, he still went to see horse-races and had brought Arabic horses in his exile that he treated "like his own family".[120] Hussein also did some interviews with the press during his exile.[120] He received some visitors, such as Sheikh Fuad al-Khatib, Muhammad Jamil Bayham, who wanted to write his biography, or the Jordanian poet Mustafa Wahbi Tal, among others.[120] Hussein was ruined, but the local Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot population considered him to be a very wealthy man and therefore tried to win his favors.[120] Meanwhile, he was entangled in legal matters regarding property income in Egypt, among other things.[120]

The funeral of Hussein in Jerusalem, 1931.

He tried to be friendly towards the various ethnic communities on the island but was particularly close to the Armenians of the island, seeing them as victims, like himself, of the Young Turks.[120] Hussein did not have any documented connection with the Turkish Cypriot community; though it is possible that one exists, there is no mention of him having visited a Turkish mosque in Nicosia.[120] He met with the Armenian Archbishop of Nicosia in 1926 and received a warm welcome,[120] after that, he donated drums and instruments to the Armenian community of the island, including the Armenian Philharmonic Melkonian School.[121][122][123]

Chief mourners at funeral of Hussein. His sons King Ali and Emir Abdullah among crowd
Funeral of Hussein, Jerusalem, the casket

He began to fall ill as early as 1928, but his favorite wife, Adila Khanum, passed away in 1929, which exacerbated his illness. She was buried at Hala Sultan Tekke, the largest Muslim shrine on the island.[120] His two sons, Ali and Abdallah, attended the funeral and started making preparations and requesting the British for his repatriation, believing that he didn't have much time left to live and that they needed to be by his side.[120]

Return and death[edit]

Funeral of Hussein, Jerusalem

As his health continued to deteriorate and as he was paralyzed by a stroke at age 79 in 1930,[117][124] the British became increasingly inclined to send him back to the Middle East. They feared that his death would not only stir resentment among Arabs towards the United Kingdom but also potentially strain their relationships with the Hashemite rulers, all of whom were allies in the Middle East.[120] The Saudis expressed their displeasure with rumors of Hussein's repatriation, especially after Hussein expressed his wish to be buried in Mecca, an event the Saudis feared would lead to "pro-Hashemite gatherings."[120] Eventually, the British decided to repatriate him to Amman, with Baghdad as another option they had considered.[120] Upon his arrival, he was greeted by a large crowd that cheered him and followed him to the Raghadan Palace.[120] There, while in Amman, he published a series of texts in al-Yarmouk, an Arabic newspaper, where he defended his actions and stated once again that he was against the British mandate of Palestine.[125]

He died on June 4, 1931. Hussein bin Ali was buried in Jerusalem in 1931, as he wasn't able to be buried in Mecca, as he wanted and as was the norm for Sharifs of Mecca until then, for Ibn Saud didn't want to allow him being buried there.[126] Local dignitaries and leaders wanted him to be buried in the al-Aqsa mosque compound.[82] This idea was kept and after a procession where 30,000 people took part,[127] he was buried in Jerusalem: inside the Arghūniyya, a building on the Haram esh-Sharif or "Temple Mount", in a walled enclosure decorated with white marble and carpets.[128][129] His son Faisal, with whom the relationship was the worse at that point, didn't attend his funerals, claiming he had "government business" to attend to.[120]

On the window above his tomb is written the following inscription: Arabic: هَذَا قَبْرُ أَمِيرِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ٱلْحُسَيْن بْنُ عَلِي, lit.'Haḏa qabru ʾamīri ʾal-mūˈminīna ʾal-Ḥusayn bnu ʿAlī' which translates "This is the tomb of the Commander of the Faithful, Hussein bin Ali".[23][127][130]

Marriage and children[edit]

The sons of Sharif Hussein, King of Hejaz: King Ali of Hejaz and King Feisal I of Iraq and King Abdullah I of Transjordan

Hussein, who had four wives, fathered five sons and three daughters with three of his wives:

  • Sharifa Abidiya bint Abdullah (died Constantinople, Ottoman Empire, 1888, buried there), eldest daughter of his paternal uncle, Amir Abdullah Kamil Pasha, Grand Sharif of Mecca;
  • Madiha, a Circassian;
  • Sharifa Khadija bint Abdullah (1866 – Amman, Transjordan, 4 July 1921), second daughter of Amir Abdullah Kamil Pasha, Grand Sharif of Mecca;
  • Adila Khanum (Constantinople, Ottoman Empire, 1879 – Larnaca, Cyprus, 12 July 1929, buried there at the Hala Sultan, Umm Haram, Tekke), daughter of Salah Bey and granddaughter of Mustafa Rashid Pasha, sometime Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire;

With his first wife Abidiya bint Abdullah, he had:

With his second wife Madiha, he had:

With his third wife Adila, he had:



Hussein wrote extensively, his most important papers were published in a book by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad.[125] Otherwise, he is known to have written a large series of articles in al-Qibla.[131][132]



Hussein bin Ali mosque in Aqaba

Several poets wrote about him, including Ahmed Shawqi, nicknamed the Prince of Poets,[133] who wrote a poem about his funerals[134] and Mustafa Wahbi Tal, one of the most prominents Jordanian poets,[135][136][137] who wrote a poem about him.[138]

Armenian genocide[edit]

His role in the support of Armenian refugees, especially during the Armenian genocide, led him to be cited in 2014 and 2020 by Armenian Presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Armen Sarkissian as an example of tolerance and friendship between people[139][140][141][142] also stressed by Jordanian Prince Hassan bin Talal.[143] Hussein is quoted in the book Crows of the Desert from Armenian survivor Levon Yotnakhparian, when he discusses the help Hussein provided to the survivors and to save victims.[93] This book subsequently gave birth to a movie of the same name.[144]

For his actions during the Armenian genocide, Hussein was awarded the title of "Righteous of the Armenian genocide" by Armenian researchers.[145] On Friday 24 April 2015, on the occasion of the centennial of the Armenian genocide, Lebanese Sheikh Maher Hammoud referenced Hussein ben Ali in his sermon condemning the genocide.[146]


Several mosques bear his name to the present day, such as the Hussein bin Ali mosque in Aqaba,[147] the Hussein bin Ali mosque in Ma'an[148] or the al-Husseini mosque in Amman.[149][150] A school is named after him in Ma'an.[151] His house in Aqaba began to be restored in 2023 at the initiative of the Jordanian government.[152][153]

In 2020, a documentary was made about him and his life by Al-Araby,[154] which was seen more than five million times on YouTube as of May 2023.[155]



(eponymous ancestor)
Abd al-Muttalib
Abu TalibAbdallah
(Islamic prophet)
(fourth caliph)
(fifth caliph)
Hasan Al-Mu'thanna
Musa Al-Djawn
Abd Al-Karim
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Abu Numayy I
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Barakat I
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Barakat II
(Sharif of Mecca)
Abu Numayy II
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Auon, Ra'i Al-Hadala
Abdul Mu'een
(Sharif of Mecca)
Monarch Hussein
(Sharif of Mecca King of Hejaz)
Monarch Ali
(King of Hejaz)
Monarch Abdullah I
(King of Jordan)
Monarch Faisal I
(King of Syria King of Iraq)
(pretender to Iraq)
'Abd Al-Ilah
(Regent of Iraq)
Monarch Talal
(King of Jordan)
Monarch Ghazi
(King of Iraq)
(pretender to Iraq)
Monarch Hussein
(King of Jordan)
Monarch Faisal II
(King of Iraq)
Monarch Abdullah II
(King of Jordan)
(Crown Prince of Jordan)

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The legitimacy of his Caliphate is disputed; however, the date of end can be assigned to his loss of the Harayman, in 1925 or to his death, in 1931. Both interpretations can be found in sources.


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

al-Ḥusayn ibn 'Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn 'Abd al-Mu'īn ibn 'Awn
Born: 1854 Died: 4 June 1931
Regnal titles
New creation
King of the Arab Lands
October 1916 – 3 October 1924
Recognized by the Allies only as King of Hejaz
Succeeded byas King of Hejaz
Preceded by
as Ottoman emir
Sharif and Emir of Mecca
June 1916 – 3 October 1924
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Sharif and Emir of Mecca
November 1908 – June 1916
Succeeded by
as independent emir
Succeeded by
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Caliph of the Muslims
11 March 1924 – 3 October 1924
Reason for succession failure:
Not widely recognized outside Middle-East
Haramayn invaded