Traces of the Ottoman Empire in Mauritius

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The acquaintance of the Ottoman Empire with the African continent began with the conquest of Egypt in 1517. From this time to 1917, the Ottoman State appears to have established political, economic, social, and cultural relations within the continent.

In order to better understand the Ottoman-Southern African relationship, it is necessary to know when, how and for what reason the Ottomans ventured into Africa and how the Ottoman influence began spreading among the Muslim countries on the continent as far west as Morocco.

After the 1517 conquests, the Ottomans were especially interested in the region because of the Hajj. Having conquered the former Muslim defenders of the Hajj and as the successor of those states in Africa, the Ottomans were charged with protecting and providing safe passage to all undertaking the hajj.

According to the English historian, Dames, “at this time, if Sublime Porte could send a stronger navy to the Indian Ocean, Eastern Africa would enter the Ottoman sovereignty as northern Africa did”. As a result of the religious duties of the Caliphate which appear as Pan Islamism in the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Sultans sent scholars to the Islamic societies of the world such as Bukharin Sheik Suleiman to Russia, Sirvanizade Ahmet Hulusi to Afghanistan, Ferik Pasha to China, Emin Effendi to Zanzibar and in the same vein Abubakr Effendi to South Africa.

Ottoman influence therefore appeared in Madagascar, Comoro Island as well as in Mauritius. As is known, Mauritius is another colonial country which has been ruled by several western colonialist powers such as Portugal, Holland, France and Britain.

Ottoman relations with the country date back to the late 18th century when Muslim traders from the Indian subcontinent came to settle in Mauritius and developed trade with their mother country. The first purpose-built Mosque in Mauritius is the Camp des Lascars Mosque built in 1805. It is now officially known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The first purpose-built Mosque in Mauritius is the Camp des Lascars Mosque built in 1805.

Ottoman archival documents clarify some interesting historical accounts regarding the Ottoman – Mauritian relations in history. Ottoman – Mauritian relations began official correspondence on the base of religious affairs. When the Jummah Mosque in Port-Louis was built in the 1850s, local Muslims in Mauritius applied to the Ottoman Mauritius Consulate to get recognition as a Muslim community from the Sublime Porte. The imam of Jummah mosque, Sheik Nasiruddin ibn-i Ghazi Seydar, declared his loyalty to the Ottoman caliphate and thus gained acknowledgement in terms of the official religious leadership in the Ottoman state records. On 31st December 1879, Sheik Nasiruddin was accepted as an official imam by the head of the Islamic World, the Ottoman Caliphate Sultan Abdulaziz Khan. This recognition brought considerable credit on account of Mauritius Muslim society in the eyes of the Ottoman Empire. From that particular time, Sheik Nasiruddin always prayed for the Ottoman Caliphate at the Jummah mosque especially during the Friday prayer. According to a letter in Ottoman Archive, Imam Nasiruddin requested that Islamic costume be worn for special ceremonies on religious days. This is particularly evidenced to realize the Ottoman presence in Muslim society in Mauritian.

To His Majesty Abdul Hamid The Sultan of the Sublime Porte Has the honour to propose to you, very respectfully, the under-signed, Sheik Nossourasiddin, son of Gassig Labdor, Grand Priest Muhammedan, resident of the Island of Mauritius.

That your petition has been named, in the place of the Grand Priest of the Island of Mauritius by the entire Muslim Community on the 24th of March 1859. That his nomination has been sanctioned by your predecessor, His Majesty the Sultan Abdul Aziz, on the same evening, and has registered in the consulate register of the Sublime Porte on the 29th of August 1865.

That your petition takes the liberty to be submitted to you very respectfully, and that it is compulsory to all those who have to be part of these official meetings, that are held in the Government Hotel, to present themselves in uniform, as it a stated and prescribed by the Government in the Gazette attached.

That your petitioner does not have the required clothes that have to be worn by those with his title and his bloodline, he comes consequently requesting His Majesty to kindly order that he be given the required attire, so that he may use it on the day of the official meetings, he would be very grateful to you. He will pray for your long life.

Nasiruddin .G.S To his Excellency May it please Your Highness 9th June 1879

With time, Ottoman loyalty increased in the Muslim Community in Mauritius and as a result of this; the Muslims supported the Ottoman State during the Ottoman Russian War in 1877-78. Several official correspondences took place in the Ottoman Foreign Affairs between Sublime Port and Mauritian Muslims.

On the19th of July 1877, Mauritian Muslims collected 850 Ottoman liras and sent it to Ottoman embassy in London. Additionally some Muslim families in Port-Louis, under the leadership of C. Mehmet Ishak collected money and sent 125 Ottoman liras for the martyr families and fatherless children of the Ottoman State. According to another Ottoman archival document, in 1879 Ottoman Mauritius consulate’s salaries were increased. Thus the Muslim brotherhood and their financial supports continued up until First World War. In 1906, the Muslim community began to issue a religious newspaper, called “Islamisme”and advertised it with the Ottoman tughra (official state symbol).

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