The last generation of the Ottoman bureaucrats included certain individuals who became early examples of Arab nationalist statesmanship. While Shakib Arslan, also known as “Amir al-Bayan” (“Prince of Eloquence” in Arabic) thanks to his literary talent, is generally considered the “father of Arab nationalism,” Sati' al-Husri, or Mustafa Satı Bey as he was called by his Ottoman colleagues, deserves mentioning both as an Ottoman educational reformist and a founding Arab nationalist.
Arslan was a pan-Islamist as he was inspired by the opinions of Islamic scholars Jamaladdin Afghani and Muhammed Abduh and he also advocated Ottomanism as he thought that the unity of all Muslims could be achieved only in the case that the Ottoman state lived. After World War I, which ended the Ottoman era, Arslan was exiled by the French from his homeland because of his political ideas and activities. Therefore, his activism was limited to his being an unofficial representative of Syria and Palestine at the League of Nations.
On the other hand, al-Husri was no less active after World War I thanks to the job he did for Syria and Iraq when he was a bureaucrat of the empire. As an Ottoman, he tried to reform the educational system. As an Arab nationalist, he helped to establishment Arab states such as Syria and Iraq.
Whatever their destiny was, Arslan and al-Husri both worked tirelessly to strengthen the empire in order to prevent its overthrow by foreign states. And after the empire collapsed, they worked to improve the situation of their ancestral nation.
Sati' al-Husri was born in Yemen's Sanaa city on Aug. 5, 1880. His family was originally from Aleppo and his father was a judge at the court of appeal. Until age 13, he lived in different Ottoman cities including Sanaa, Adana, Tripoli and Konya. Thanks to his unique situation, being the son of an Ottoman judge of Arabic descent, he spoke fluent Turkish, Arabic and French.
Al-Husri was admitted at the Mekteb-i Mülkiye (School of Political Sciences) in 1893, graduating in 1900. He then began to work as a teacher at Janina High School, and a few years later, he was appointed as a sub-province governor in various towns in the Ottoman Balkans including Florina (now in Greece) and Radovish (now in North Macedonia).
During those years just before the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, he worked with members of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) but never joined the group himself. He was always against Turkish nationalism, which he saw as a stimulus of division among the multiple ethnicities of the Ottoman state.
School principal, educational reformist
Al-Husri helped the Young Turks with speeches and writings, which made him a good candidate for certain roles after the revolution. He was assigned as the principal of both the Academy for Elementary School Teachers, called Darülmuallimin, and the Academy for High School Teachers, called Darülmuallimin-i Aliye, which were showcases for the intended educational reform by the CUP.
In addition to his job as a schoolmaster, al-Husri was the editor-in-chief of two significant educational journals, namely Tedrisat-ı Ibtidaiyye Mecmuası and Muallim, for which he wrote articles stating his opinions about education and its reform. He also underlined moral aspects like determination and hard work.
As an educational manager and reformist, al-Husri visited European and domestic institutions. He taught at both the Mekteb-i Mülkiye and Darülhilafe Madrasah, and he opened a special school for nurses.
Sati' al-Husri was not a politician, but as a responsible Ottoman bureaucrat, he did write articles and columns about political events including the negative impact the Balkan Wars had on the Ottoman system. These writings were later collected and published in several volumes. He resigned from the schools in 1912 because of a dispute with the then-minister of education. In the following year, he was reassigned as the principal of the Darüşşafaka School, which provided educational opportunities to orphans.
Al-Husri established Yeni Mektep, an experimental kindergarten and elementary school. The new institution was ideologically created by Tevfik Fikret, the famous liberal poet who wrote a progressive poetry book called “Şermin” for kindergarteners. The school became Feyziye Mektebi and still operates today. Al-Husri also established the Darülmürebbiyat, which trains female kindergarten teachers.
Conversion to Arab nationalism
As World War I tore the empire into parts, Arab-Ottoman intellectuals like al-Husri were forced to decide whether to stay in Ottoman territory squeezed by occupation forces or depart for Arabic lands that were also under new leadership. Al-Husri declared that his intention was to submit his experience and knowledge to the new rulers of the Arab territories. According to Niyazi Berkes, the renowned sociologist of Turkish modernism, al-Husri’s departure had something to do with his dispute with Ziya Gökalp, the ideologue of Turkish nationalism. Although al-Husri later told Berkes that his departure had nothing to do with politics, Berkes suggested that his attitude against Gökalp was hostile and disdaining decades later.
Whatever the real cause for his departure, al-Husri decided against being an Ottoman educational bureaucrat and instead became a part of the Arab awakening. First, he went to Syria and worked as an educational manager and then as the minister of education during the reign of Faisal I, the king of the independent Arab state. He had to leave for Italy, however, after Syria and Palestine were invaded by the French. He returned to Iraq after Faisal I was declared king of Iraq and worked to establish an Arab nationalist educational system.
It is interesting that the military officials raised in the educational programs established by al-Husri later overthrew King Faisal I, who enabled the system. It made little difference as the British mandate could not be broken, and English troops once again raided Iraq, defeating the republican military. As a result, al-Husri and the teachers close to him were thrown out of the state. He visited Aleppo and Beirut, where he studied the works of Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun. He published his famous book on him in 1943.
Al-Husri returned to Syria that year and worked as the Undersecretary of Education. He continued working to create an independent Arab nationalist syllabus for schools that in the end was rejected. So once again, in 1947, he left the country and went to Cairo to teach pedagogy. There, he became a cultural adviser to the Arab League.
Sati' al Husri retired in 1957 and spent his time in various cities including Baghdad, Beirut and Cairo. He died on Dec. 24, 1968, in Baghdad. His grave is at the Azamiyya Cemetry next to Imam Azam Abu Hanifa Mosque.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.