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97. Shaikh Ahmed al-Muhammad - page 402

He was originally from Salamia, Syria where he was born most probably in 1835. He was the second Mukhi for Salamia Jamatkhana in Syria, appointed by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah in 1895. He had acquired deep religious education during his stay in India. The Imam ordered him to introduce some ceremonies in Syria. He had to face hurdles and hitches from his rivals, notably Himadi Umar, the head of the Momin Shahis, who secretly misguided the Ottoman authorities to arrest the Ismailis.
Mukhi Shaikh Ahmad and 12 leading Ismailis were arrested in 1901 in Salamia. Their houses were sealed and the records of correspondence with the Imam were seized. They were detained in Hamma, and were shifted to the prison of Damascus a few weeks later. After the preliminary hearings in 1901-2, they were put in trial before the Court of Appeal in 1903. They were charged with murder, attempted murder, use of violence in collecting religious dues to be sent to the Imam. They however withstood firmly in their commitments that they owned religious allegiance to the Imam, and denied the spiritual power of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid. They denied all these charges, pointing out that the accusations that they had committed crimes of violence had been brought by their enemies, were based on hearsay and on the unsubstantiated evidence of hostile witnesses, and were, in fact, falsehoods. They also insisted that they were law-abiding subjects of His Majesty, Sultan Abdul Hamid and reiterated that the power of their Imam were exclusively religions and he had no earthy ambitious. The same line of argument was pursued during the numerous sessions of the Appeals court. They accused and their counsel continued to protest their innocence, but the court would not listen to their pleading and convicted them for a treasonable procedure. The British Consul W.S. Richards, reporting on the trial in 1903, commented that the real guilt of the accused was in their denial of the Sultan's claim to the Imamate or caliphate, which of course, was not a crime recognized by the Penal Code.

In the late summer of 1903, Mukhi Shaikh Ahmad was sentenced to death. The decision of the court was forwarded to the Court of Cassation in Istanbul in 1904 for final confirmation. In May, 1905, the Damascus Court reconsidered the case and issued a new verdict, repudiating all the accused to life imprisonment in a fortress.

On May 19, 1905, Mukhi Shaikh Ahmad routed an urgent telegram to the Court of Cassation, wherein he boldly wrote of his faith on Ismailism, stating that the verdict was unfair and unjust. He also denied that his companions intended any harm to the state and concluded with the words, 'My weapons are divine knowledge and good works, and my task is the rejection of untruth and of false belief.' The Court of Cassation made no response to his appeal. He and his two companions however died shortly afterwards in prison. Soon after his death at the end of 1905, the Imam appointed his brother, Shaikh Nasr al-Muhammad as the next third Mukhi for Salamia Jamatkhana, who was also arrested with other 30 Ismailis in 1907 and was released on July 24, 1908, following the Constitutional Revolution in Turkey, proclaiming an amnesty. Mukhi Shaikh Nasr was however summoned in Istanbul to face a hearing, where he boldly defended himself. The court took a lenient attitude and he was exiled to Bursa in Turkey and was allowed to return to Syria after only six months.

It must be known that the Imam has summed up the above tragedy in 'The Memoirs of Aga Khan' (London, 1954, pp. 186-7) that, 'Under the Ottoman Empire, in the reign of Abdul Hamid, there was a considerable degree of persecution. Like several other minorities in his empire, they (Ismailis) suffered hardship, and many of their leaders endured imprisonment in the latter years of his despotic rule. With the Young Turk revolution, however, the period of persecution ended.'

Shaikh Ahmed al-Muhammad

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