Fahreddin Pasha, The Defender of Medina

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Fakhri Pasha or Fahreddin Pasha or Umar Fakhr ud-Din Pasha (1868–1948) was the commander of Ottoman army and governor of Medina from 1916 to 1919. He was nicknamed “the Lion of the Desert” and “Tiger of the Desert” by the British for his patriotism in Medina.

In 1914, before the Ottoman Army was mobilized, Staff Colonel Fahreddin Bey was appointed the commander of the XII Corps stationed in Mosul. He was promoted to the rank of Mirliva on 12 November 1914 and appointed to the Deputy Commander of the Fourth Army stationed in Aleppo.

During World War I, Fahreddin Pasha on 23 May 1916 moved toward Medina in Hejaz to defend it and he was appointed the commander of the Hejaz Expeditionary Force on 17 July 1916.

Fahreddin Pasha was besieged by Sharif forces but tenaciously he defended the holy city. Fahreddin Pasha not only had to defend Medina but also protect the single-track narrow gauge Hejaz Railway from sabotage attacks by T. E. Lawrence and his Sharif forces, on which his entire logistics depended. Ottoman garrisons of the isolated small train stations withstood the continuous night attacks and secured the tracks against increasing number of sabotages (around 130 major attacks in 1917 and hundreds in 1918 including exploding more than 300 bombs on April 30, 1918).

With the resignation of the Ottoman Empire from the war with the Armistice of Mudros between Ottoman Empire and Entente on 30 October 1918, it was expected that Fahreddin would also surrender. But he refused to do so and simply refused to accept the armistice.

One Friday in the spring of 1918, after prayers in Masjid al-Nabawi (also known as the Prophet’s Mosque), Pasha ascended the steps of the pulpit, stopped halfway, and turned his face to the Prophet’s tomb and said loud and clear:

“Prophet of God! I will never abandon you!”

He then addressed the men:

“Soldiers! I appeal to you in the name of the Prophet, my witness. I command you to defend him and his city to the last cartridge and the last breath, irrespective of the strength of the enemy. May Allah help us, and may the spirit of Muhammad be with us.

“Officers of the heroic Ottoman army! O little Muhammads, come forward and promise me, before our Lord and the Prophet, to honor your faith with the supreme sacrifice of your lives.”‘

Fahreddin Pasha had said that he had a vision in a dream that Prophet Muhammad had ordered him not to submit. In August 1918, he received a call to surrender from Sharif Husain of Mecca. Fahreddin Pasha replied him in these words:

“Fakhr-ud-Din, General, Defender of the Most Sacred City of Medina. Servant of the Prophet.

“In the name of Allah, the Omnipotent. To him who broke the power of Islam, caused bloodshed among Muslims, jeopardized the caliphate of the Commander of the Faithful, and exposed it to the domination of the British.

“On Thursday night the fourteenth of Dhu’l-Hijja, I was walking, tired and worn out, thinking of the protection and defense of Medina, when I found myself among unknown men working in a small square. Then I saw standing before me a man with a sublime countenance. He was the Prophet, may Allah’s blessing be upon him! His left arm rested on his hip under his robe, and he said to me in a protective manner, ‘Follow me.’ I followed him two or three paces and woke up. I immediately proceeded to his sacred mosque and prostrated myself in prayer and thanks [near his tomb].

“I am now under the protection of the Prophet, my Supreme Commander. I am busying myself with strengthening the defenses, building roads and squares in Medina. Trouble me not with useless offers.”

He refused to hand over his sword even upon the receipt of a direct order from the Ottoman minister of war. The Ottoman government was upset upon his behavior and the Sultan Mehmed VI dismissed him from his post. He refused to do so and kept the flag of Ottoman Sultan high in Medina until 72 days after the end of the war. After the Armistice of Moudros the closest Ottoman unit was 1300 km (808 miles) away from Medina.

Fahreddin was arrested by his own men and brought to Abdullah on 9 January 1919 at Bir Darwish. Abdullah entered Medina shortly after the surrender, followed by Ali who entered the city on 2 February 1919.

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Source: Ottoman History Picture Archives