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Antonin Jaussen, sciences sociales occidentales et patrimoine arabe

Géraldine Chatelard
Mohammed Tarawneh

Première partie. Antonin Jaussen : de l'exégèse biblique à l'ethnographie arabe

Missionary Rivalries in Ottoman Transjordan at the Turn of the 20th Century

Les rivalités missionnaires dans la Transjordanie ottomane au tournant du XXe siècle

Eugene Rogan


Avec l’avancée du pouvoir effectif des Ottomans sur la Transjordanie à partir des années 1860, les activités des missionnaires européens à l’égard de la minorité orthodoxe se développent de façon notable. Promettant églises et écoles en vue de faire des convertis, les agents protestants de la Church Missionary Society britannique et les prêtres catholiques du patriarcat latin de Jérusalem entrèrent en compétition. Tandis que les musulmans locaux utilisaient de bonne grâce les services sociaux mis en place par les missions, les orthodoxes convertis aux Églises occidentales se mirent à rechercher la protection des puissances européennes. Tant le patriarcat grec de Jérusalem que le gouvernement ottoman se virent contraints de répondre en nature, en ouvrant des écoles et en offrant des services sociaux. Antonin Jaussen arrive en Transjordanie alors que cette compétition bat son plein. Il est témoin, mais aussi participant, de cette rivalité missionnaire qui impulse d’importants changements sociaux, parfois positifs, parfois négatifs. Cette communication a pour principales sources les archives de la Church Missionary Society, du patriarcat latin de Jérusalem et les archives consulaires du ministère des Affaires étrangères français conservées à Nantes.

Texte intégral

1On a Sunday in February, 1902, the Roman Catholic priest of ‘Ajlun mounted his mare for the short ride to ‘Anjara, where he celebrated mass on alternate weeks. Don Garello was spotted by his parishioners as he crossed the crest of the mountain overlooking ‘Anjara, before plunging back into the forests which cover the hill country between the two villages. The members of the Latin congregation waited in church for their priest to arrive with mounting concern, as time passed and he failed to arrive. Finally the school master went to see if Don Garello had taken a fall in the forest. A few minutes beyond the village he found the priest’s body. Don Garello had been shot in the back - the bullet exited from the base of his neck - and shot a second time at close range in the heart. The death, according to the doctor who examined the corpse, was instantaneous. Don Garello’s horse found her way back to ‘Ajlun, still carrying the priest’s watch and money. The authorities ruled out theft as a motive for the killing.

  • 1 Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes (hereafter Nantes), Constantinople: Correspondance avec les Echel (...)

2The murder occurred on the ninth of February; on the tenth, word had reached the French consul in Damascus, who informed his ambassador in Istanbul by telegraph. The consul’s suspicions fell on the Greek Orthodox superior in ‘Ajlun. Four days before his murder Don Garello had written to Consul Savoye to complain of the hostility and threats of the local head of the Greek church “who, through his continuous intrigues, excited hatred against the Latins referred to here as French and exalted Russia”1. The Consul took the letter to the Ottoman governor in Damascus, Nazim Pasha, who agreed that the murder might well have been committed at the instigation of the Greek Orthodox priest. As a Roman Catholic, Don Garello was a French protege, and the Ottoman governor was concerned to satisfy Consul Savoye that his officials would move quickly to solve the crime before it provoked further European intervention. The Italian government was also pressing the Porte, and in fact dispatched an agent to oversee the investigations.

  • 2 Nantes, CCE, Damas, Barré de Lancry to Constans, 2 August 1902.

3Consul Savoye sent his dragoman to ‘Ajlun two days after the murder, accompanied by the regional governor of the Hawran. When they arrived in ‘Ajlun, they found all of the district’s officials already at work. The authorities pursued a number of suspects, though it was impossible to gain the cooperation of locals in a society which retaliated against both informers and their families. The prime suspect was a man named ‘Uqla al-Sa’a who was reported to bear a grudge against Don Garello for not helping him win the consent of a woman he wanted to marry. The French consul referred to ‘Uqla as a “brigand”, and claimed that the vague testimonies of local villagers converged on him. It was rumoured that ‘Uqla had fled with one of his sons to Jerusalem, and in fact he was arrested soon thereafter on the west bank of the Jordan. Consul Savoye still harboured suspicions about the role of the Greek Orthodox superior as “the instigator of the crime, which could scarcely be explained otherwise”. Yet five months later the Hawran court condemned the priest’s murderer to death, and sentenced one of his accomplices to three years imprisonment2.

  • 3 Nantes, CCE, Damas, Savoye to Constans, 25 February 1902.

4The case was closed, but the tensions which lay behind the crime were far from resolved. They were consequences of the European missionary presence in Transjordan, which provided the setting for Antonin Jaussen’s ethnographic research in the Karak region (Jaussen, 1908). Starting in the 1860s, French and Italian Catholics of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and English Protestants of the Church Missionary Society began to establish missions in the villages to the east of the Jordan. Seizing on the region’s relative isolation from urban centres of religious orthodoxy, they sought converts among the local Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities. To attract the interest of local people, missionaries provided such neglected social services as education and medicine. The school master who found Don Garello’s body, and the doctor who pronounced him dead, could both be considered legacies of the missionary presence. The missionaries operated under the protection of the British and French governments, as provided for by the Capitulations. European governments saw in missionary activities one more means - in addition to trade, loans, military missions and diplomacy- to extend their influence in the region. In the aftermath of Don Garello’s murder, French Consul Savoye wrote to the ambassador in Istanbul to say that it was in their government’s interest to support the Catholic missionaries, who extended the French language and presence in a region “in which our competitors show an active interest”3. The speed with which Ottoman officials responded to the priest’s murder, in making arrests and reaching convictions, was no doubt intended to forestall a more active European response.

5Locally, the most destructive legacy of the missionaries was the heightened sectarian tension provoked by their activities. The tensions between the Latin and Orthodox churches was part of a new division of society which pitted these churches against the Protestants, and provoked the animosity of local Muslims and of Ottoman officialdom alike. Sects became interest groups with great power backing. Conversions were political decisions which involved no mean amount of bargaining by the communities involved. It was not dogma so much as the promise of political intervention, provision of social services, or the hope of material gain, which drove whole villages to embrace a new faith. The sects then developed into new centres for new politics of community and representation. Thus, elections to local councils and to the Ottoman courts became highly contentious and divisive. Also, the churches introduced new leaders to the community, with all of the attendant consequences of displaced authority.

6It is against such a background of rapid social change that so unthinkable a crime as the assassination of a “spiritual head” may best be explained. Yet to understand how things came to such a pass, it is necessary to begin with a description of religious life in Transjordan before the arrival of European missionaries.


7Religious life in the towns and villages of Ottoman Transjordan departed from the orthodoxy of Syrian cities in important ways in the first half of the nineteenth Century. The Muslims, virtually all Sunni, represented a majority of roughly 75 % according to Western travellers, and the remaining 25 % were Christians of the Greek Orthodox church. While religion was a defining pole of identity, there were few institutions to reinforce adherence. There were remarkably few mosques in use. As late as the 1880s, the old Western Mosque in Irbid was roofless and filled with rubble, used by the villagers as a place to dry their cracked wheat (Tall, ms: 132). Ancient mosques were still in use in ‘Ajlun and al-Salt; before the destruction of the citadel of al-Salt by the Egyptians in 1834 a second small mosque within its walls was “frequented by [al-Salt’s] Mohammedan inhabitants” (Buckingham, 1825:42). There was no working mosque in al-Karak until the Ottoman government constructed one in 1896, though numerous visitors remarked on the town’s ruined ancient mosque over the century. Cannon Tristram noted that the interior of the mosque was used as a cemetery in 1872 (Tristram, 1873: 93).

8Similarly, there were few churches in operation. Burckhardt found the church of St George in al-Karak in good repair in 1812, and noted that there were two priests who presided over the church in al-Salt (Burckhardt, 1822: 381, 350), where Buckingham attended the Sunday service four years later. According to his account, some 100 people crowded a tiny room which he estimated measured only 15 by 30 feet, with the altar screened from the congregation oriented towards the east. The church was lit by oil lamps made from ostrich eggs and glass suspended from the 15-foot ceilings and decorated with three icons, a large wooden cross and two carved birds atop the screen. Crutches were distributed for the comfort of the congregants who stood through the long service in Arabic punctuated by regular doses of incense and singing. Great reverence was shown to both priest and scripture. In lieu of a lectern the celebrant rested his book of lessons on the bent necks of the men at the front of the church, who kissed the hems of the priest’s garments at the end of the service (Buckingham, 1825: 30-32). Judging by Buckingham’s description, the church of al-Salt was one of the most active religious communities to the east of the Jordan.

9This is not to suggest that religious life was confined to mosques and churches. Rather, the paucity of houses of worship emphasised religious observation at home and in common spaces such as saints’ shrines (Ar. wali). Muslims and Christians joined in veneration of certain local saints, such as al-Khidr, or St. George and Nabi Usha’, the prophet Hosea, whose shrine overlooks the town of al-Salt and the Jordan Valley.

10The casual intermixing of Muslims and Christians in public space resulted in a convergence in religious practice between the two faiths. Buckingham was surprised when the Greek priest ended an evening discussion in a private home in al-Salt with a spontaneous group prayer, in which the priest turned his back to the group who lined up behind him and led them in a prayer much like an imam in a mosque (Buckingham, 1825: 47). He also noted that local Christians abstained from pork and alcohol -this despite the region’s numerous vineyards (Buckingham, 1825: 51-52). Burckhardt claimed that the Muslims of al-Karak baptised their sons in the church of St George, there being “neither Mollah nor fanatic Kadhy to prevent this practice” (Burckhardt, 1822: 386-87). Elsewhere, Christian men were encountered who had followed Muslim practice and taken a second wife (Moretain, ms: 487; Medebielle, 1961: 27).

  • 4 Papers of the Church Missionary Society, University of Birmingham Library (hereafter CMS) CM/O 41/ (...)

11This blurring of distinctions resulted in a level of tolerance unique to the Syrian provinces. Visitors who came to Transjordan via Damascus or Jerusalem remarked on the absence of restrictions commonly applied in the major towns. Christians wore the same clothes and colours as Muslims, enjoyed equal rights before local judges, used the same manner of greeting and of speech, rode the same mounts and felt no compunction at cursing or striking a Muslim when disputes came to blows (Buckingham, 1825: 28, 51-52; Burckhardt, 1822: 322-23, 386-87). This was as true at the advent of Ottoman rule as in the earlier decades of the century. The Protestant missionary F.A. Klein remarked on a tour of Transjordan in 1868: “The Moslims... are living on very friendly terms with the Christians and there is not the same hostile, fanatical and proud feeling to be met with here that makes the Mohamedans in many districts of Western Palestine hate Christians and keep aloof from them”4.

12Western missionaries, who had developed an extensive network in Mount Lebanon, the Syrian coastal plain, and the Palestinian highlands, came to view Transjordan as a particularly fertile field for their activities. They had never encountered such a tolerant society. Given the syncretic nature of religious observance, they saw the potential to gain adherents not just from local Christians, but to convert significant numbers of Muslims as well. The relative neglect of social services by the Ottoman authorities and Greek Orthodox church alike provided the missionary societies with a means to reach out to local communities by methods perfected elsewhere among the Syrian missions: education and health care. Moreover, people of all persuasions were receptive to the missionaries - though at this distance one is tempted to say receptive out of curiosity rather than a sense of spiritual attraction. The rural people of Transjordan seemed grateful to any visitor whose arrival broke the monotony of everyday life. Those who came with Bible stories, offers of free education and medicine were thus particularly welcome.


13The European missionary societies dated their origins in Transjordan to the eve of the establishment of government offices in al-Salt in August, 1867. These early missionaries were well received by the townspeople and Ottoman authorities alike. Over-zealous missionaries were quick to squander this initial goodwill.

  • 5 CMS G3 P/O 1886 n° 54, 19 February 1886 (Jamal).
  • 6 CMS C M/O 9/6, petition from 58 Protestant familes of al-Salt to the CMS, 17 March 1873.
  • 7 CMS C M/O 36/3B, n.d., Khalil al-Jamal’s autobiographical notes.

14The Protestant presence in al-Salt was divided between two agencies. The Anglo-Prussian Episcopal See in Jerusalem (founded 1841) dispatched Bahnam Hasuna, a native of Mosul, to open a mission in al-Salt in 1866 (Tibawi, 1961: 93-108). Hasuna had been trained by American missionaries in Iraq and worked among the Muslims of Baghdad for the London Jews Society before being posted to Transjordan5. The townspeople initially received him with suspicion, but grew increasingly loyal to their missionary6. This raised complications when the Church Missionary Society began to explore the possibility of opening a station in al-Salt. The CMS was founded in 1798 for the propagation of Anglican beliefs worldwide. Its Palestine mission was established in Jerusalem in 1851. The CMS laid the groundwork for a Transjordan mission between 1868 and 1873, and dispatched a native agent to open the mission. The presence of two Protestant agents, representing the Bishop and the CMS, confused the local community and provoked a major rift which dragged on until 1878, when the two missions were united under a dynamic, ordained native agent, Khalil al-Jamal. Born in Nazareth in 1840, to Greek Catholic parents, al-Jamal had received all of his education with the Protestants7. He thus spoke the languages of the local people and the CMS, and was sufficiently worldly to know how to compete with the rival Latin missionaries.

15The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (founded 1847) had established an extensive network in Palestine before extending its efforts across the Jordan. Like the Protestants, the Latins date the opening of their mission to 1866, when the priest in Nablus, Don de Actis, made his first converts in al-Salt. Don de Actis was well-connected to the Ottoman regional governor in Nablus, through whom he obtained imperial sanction for the opening of a Catholic mission in al-Salt in 1868 (Medebielle, n.d.: 10-11). In 1869 he was replaced by Jean Moretain, the prototypical warrior-missionary. Don Moretain was 53 when he arrived in al-Salt, having already founded missions in Bayt Jala and Bayt Sahur. The French priest was also a qualified architect; he dedicated his term of service to building a Catholic community and a church in al-Salt.

16Choosing a site in the centre of town, Moretain brought trained builders to al-Salt from Palestine, hired numerous local Christians, blasted paths from the local quarry to his building site, and kept his work very much in the public’s eye. His aim was nothing less than “the conversion of this town and of all the surrounding country” (Moretain, ms: 466-70). In May, 1870, he raised an enormous cross over the building site and prepared a lavish celebration for the feast of Corpus Christi. The workers laid an alley of greenery from the missionary’s house to the building and formed a procession laden with religious objects: a colorful silk banner with the image of the crucifixion on one side and the Virgin on its reverse, a processional cross, and an enormous monstrance. The schoolmaster led four children in red soutanes, followed by the workers and members of the Latin community singing hymns while a church bell was rung from the missionary’s house. The combination of sounds and symbols was designed to confront Muslim sensibilities. It was, for Moretain, “a triumph of the Catholic religion in the midst of schismatic Greeks and Muslims in the deserts of Arabia. One thing which I don’t doubt is that the Muslims were strongly displeased by this beautiful ceremony, and that their fanaticism was aroused...” (Moretain, ms: 476-78).


17The Protestant and Latin installations in Salt were fraught with difficulties largely of the missionaries’ own making. Dangerous new tensions were aroused between religious groups and schisms provoked within communities. Furthermore, the missionaries were squandering the initial goodwill of the Ottoman authorities with blatant attempts to convert Muslims which would later cause them considerable difficulty. Unquestioning of the absolute truth of their convictions and the superiority of the civilisations from which they derived, the early missionaries moved with a destructive arrogance through the Transjordan frontier. And yet, after their difficult installations, the Latins and Protestants began to settle into their main stations in al-Salt and to expand their activities through satellite missions in the ‘Ajlun district and among the tribes and villages of the Balqa’.

18From their base in al-Salt, missionaries proselytized in the nearby Christian satellite villages of al-Fuhays, al-Rumaymin, and later Madaba. They also crossed the Zarqa’ River to reach the numerous Christian communities in the villages of Jabal ‘Ajlun. Where numbers permitted, permanent missions were established and catechists posted to teach and preach. As numbers were few, however, the Latins, Protestants, and Greek Orthodox vied ferociously for the adherence of villagers who knew little of the doctrinal differences which distinguished the Christian churches but recognized an opportunity for gain. The villagers were good at bargaining, playing one church’s offer against another. What they sought varied from village to village, though their claims converged on certain common interests:


19A recurring demand of villagers was for the dispatch of a priest. In addition to providing for spiritual needs, the posting of a priest to a village ensured contact with the church hierarchy in Jerusalem and was insurance against neglect. It also gave the Christian community a spiritual head (ra’is ruhani) who represented communal interests with local Muslims and Ottoman officialdom. A priest put a Christian community on the map.


  • 8 See also CMS, G3 P/O 1886 n° 52, Connor to Lang, 11 July 1886 in which he reports that in Dar‘A “t (...)

20The demand for education was universal and very genuine. Missionaries travelling in Transjordan were besieged by requests for teachers from bedouins, villagers and townspeople. Missionary schools were popular because they did not entail registration with Ottoman officialdom. Villagers distrusted Ottoman-run schools, fearing that once their children’s names were entered into the rolls they would subsequently be called up for military service (TALL, ms: p. 184)8. Consequently, Muslim and Christian parents alike preferred to send their children to missionary schools, where they received a multi-disciplinary education that was widely admired.

Material gain

  • 9 See, for example, Francis Bourazan’s exchange with a Salti: “...these three Sundays I have been to (...)
  • 10 See, for example, the Arabic petition sent by 17 men of the Latin church in Salt to the Patriarch (...)

21The assumption appears to have been that foreigners who came to Syria with sufficient resources to build churches and schools were not financially constrained. Consequently villagers made a number of demands for assistance to repay debts or to gain lands. While at first appearance self serving (and often so described by affronted missionaries), a logic may be discerned in these requests. To local people, attending Bible classes and church services required leisure time; if one’s loans could be repaid, one would have to toil less and so would enjoy the time to attend to spiritual matters9. Similarly, greater prosperity, through access to prime agricultural land, would free up more time for religious life; thus many communities’ request for assistance in obtaining farm lands10.

Great Power protection

  • 11 CMS G3 P/O 1880 n° 119, 31 August 1880.
  • 12 See, for example, CMS C M/O 36/6, Khalil al-Jamal’s letter to the CMS of 14 July 1880: “...I am lo (...)

22Muslims enjoyed a privileged position vis-à-vis their Christian compatriots before the Ottoman government. Orthodox Christians were under the protection of the Russian Empire. With the entry of the Protestants and Latins, however, Britain and France emerged as two new choices of great power patrons. CMS missionary Franklin Bellamy wrote of the members of the Protestant congregation in al-Salt: “They have... been incautiously candid enough [to admit] that their object in joining us was the hope of having some one who would fight their government battles...”11. As local Catholics and Protestants provided these Powers with a pretext to intervene in Ottoman affairs they openly encouraged the association12. If a local community did not receive satisfaction from its Great Power patron, it could enter into negotiations to convert to the faith of a more energetic Power.

  • 13 See, for example, CMS G3 P/P vol 3, n° 83, 19 March 1888 (Sykes).

23While villagers used the missionary presence to improve their standard of living, the basic attachment of local Christians to the ancient Orthodox Church is striking13. It was a part of their culture, it was religion as they understood it, replete with icons and incense, forgiving on observance, and tolerant of local practices such as saint-worship. This was in stark contrast to the scriptural fundamentalism and iconoclasm of the Protestants, and the ritual dogmatism of the Catholics, which in their separate ways were highly intolerant of local religious practice. Thus, villagers toyed with conversion, bargained with the Greek Church to obtain some of the benefits brought by the European missionaries, even went through the motions of conversion. The majority, however, remained within the Greek Patriarch’s fold.


24As the community most directly affected, the Orthodox church responded forcefully to the activities of the Latin and Protestant missionaries. After a slow beginning, by the 1880s the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate mounted its counterattack.

  • 14 CMS G3 P/O 1885 n° 135, “Report for the Half Year ending May 31 1885: Jerusalem and Salt District” (...)

“The chief general feature of the work [...] during the last six months has been the growth of opposition on the part of the Greek hierarchy. The Greek Patriarch is an energetic man, well supported it is said, by Russian wealth. He has appointed super-intendants in many places where formerly there were none, both East and West of the Jordan. [...] They are inscrupulous; and backed up, as they are by all the prestige and power of the Patriarchate, are capable of much mischief”14.

25Priests were dispatched to villages targeted by the Protestants and Latins, schools were opened and churches restored or built anew. In al-Fuhays, where the Latins achieved wholesale conversion by 1876, the Orthodox managed to win the wholesale reconversion of the population back to the Greek faith in 1886 (Medebielle, n.d.: 62-63). When the first members of the Greek community in al-Husn made overtures to the Latin Patriarchate, the Orthodox Patriarch dispatched a priest to dissuade the disaffected party (Medebielle, n.d.: 70-71). In spite of these efforts, the Nimr family converted to the Latin rite, prompting Patriarch Nikodemos to write to the head of the family personally in tones alternately cajoling and threatening.

  • 15 Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Hosson, letter from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to (...)

“We cannot hide from you the fears and sorrow and astonishment that overcame us on learning that you were led into the error of deviation from your loving mother the true church, the faith which guided your forefathers. [...] How could an honourable person accept for their bones to be resurrected apart from the bones of their fathers and grandfathers, who died in the true faith, on the terrifying day of the Lord[‘s judgement]?[...] We cannot believe that you would seek to cast doubt among your Christian brethren, for woe to he who is the source of doubts”15.

  • 16 From the translation of an article published by CMS catechist Behnam Hassouna in the Arabic newspa (...)

26Nikodemos redoubled his efforts in the ‘Ajlun district, building an elaborate church and opening a school in al-Husn; by 1886 there were 15 schools under the Patriarch’s superintendent in Jabal ‘Ajlun alone16. And in March, 1886, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch dispatched an archimandrite to al-Salt to counter the inroads made by the Latin and Protestant missionaries into his community there. He called together the four priests, two elected representatives and ten communal heads (mukhtars) of the community to stir them to action against the European missionaries. The Catholic priest in Salt, Don Gatti, wrote to his superior that the Orthodox clergyman was “pursuing an implacable war with us” (Medebielle, n.d.: 41-42).


  • 17 CMS G3 P/O 1883 n° 78, 8 April 1883 (Allan).
  • 18 CMS G3 P/O 1886 n° 49, 18 February 1886 (Hall); n° 52, 11 July 1886 (Connor); n° 54 and n° 64, 8 a (...)

27The European missionary societies enjoyed a grace period with the Ottoman authorities which lasted nearly two decades. In this time, they opened schools, built churches, and established congregations. In the process, they raised tensions within society which began to cause concern in official circles. Proselytic activities among the Muslims of Transjordan raised particular problems with the Ottoman authorities. Muslim students, including the children of Ottoman functionaries, were enrolled in missionary schools along with Christian children. However, when reports began to circulate of Muslim boys professing Christianity, the government initiated a clampdown17. In 1886, strict new measures were imposed, by which Muslim children were forbidden to attend Christian schools, and imposing strict licensing procedures for schools and medical clinics18.

28The Ottoman government, competing for the souls, minds and bodies of its subjects, had to provide the services which they forbade missionaries to deliver. They recognized the dubious religiosity of the tribesmen at the Transjordan frontier. The problem was aggravated the further one moved south. Ottoman assessments of the inhabitants of the Karak district did not differ from those of the missionaries:

  • 19 Basbakanlik Archives, Istanbul (hereafter BBA), Y.Mtv 89/130, Governor of Syria Mehmet Rauf Pasha (...)

“Although there are in excess of 50,000 Muslim tribesmen estimated to be living within the region of Ma’ an, they have long been born into savagery and ignorance of Islamic religious duties and regulation of prayer. There is no time [in their lives] when they come together for instruction; one thus doesn’t encounter one man in a thousand who performs his prayers. Even the most educated and most religiously observant of the indigenous people would not know the [names of the] Companions of the Prophet, or could distinguish the Companions from the great Prophets. Given the absence of mosques and prayer rooms it is only natural that they should abandon prayer, for even if they so desired there are no places of worship to be found”19.

29In seeking to extend their authority over such a population, the Ottoman government pursued several objectives. They sought to check all inroads by foreign missionaries among the Muslim population. They sought to inculcate religious values as a means to reinforce attachment to the Caliphal Ottoman state. Towards this end they built mosques in rural towns and dispatched religious instructors to work in the countryside. They sought to provide a modern education, in the sense of a multi-disciplinary schooling on a par with the curricula of the European missionary schools. Education could thus serve to reinforce state-approved values, and prepare graduates for state service. Primary (ibtidai) and secondary (rushdi) schools were built to teach the national curriculum at the Transjordan frontier.


  • 20 BBA, Y.Mtv 89/130.
  • 21 BBA, YMtv 128/43, Karak mwtoam/Huseyin Hilmi to the Imperial Palace (19 Rabi‘Al-awwal 1313/9 Septe (...)

30To forestall missionary work among Muslims, the Ottoman government sought to build on the Muslim identity of the residents of Transjordan. Population centers were thus to be endowed with mosques. As already noted, this led to the construction and restoration of mosques in Irbid and Dar’a early in the 1880s. And, on entering al-Karak in 1893, the Ottoman government sought to endow its new regional capital with a proper mosque. The governor of Syria petitioned the Imperial Palace with the drawings and costings for a new structure built on the site of the ancient mosque “founded by Faruk [i.e. the Caliph ‘Umar] at the time of the [seventh Century] conquest of Syria, destroyed five or six centuries ago”. The cost of constructing the mosque, with a school attached, was estimated by army engineers in the region of 300,000 piasters. “The needs of the people and the prominence of this exemplary sacrifice for charity... would have positive consequences for the administration of the [Karak] region”20. The governor’s arguments prevailed, and the mosque was built within the next two years (Dowling, 1896: 330). Similarly, the regional governor in al-Karak wrote to the Imperial Palace in 1895 for funds to restore the tombs of three companions of the Prophet in the village of Mu’ta, three hours to the south of al- Karak. The tombs [türbe] of Ja’far Tayyar, ‘Abdullah b. Ruwaha and Zayd b. Haritha were frequented by pilgrims. More than that, by linking the local population to early Islamic history, as in connecting the mosque in al-Karak to the Caliph ‘Umar, the Ottomans were reinforcing an indigenous connection to Islam. In addition to restoring the three tombs, the regional governor proposed to rebuild an ancient mosque at the site, for a total of 70,000 piasters21. Over the next two decades, old mosques were restored and new ones built along the length of the Transjordan frontier, by local initiative and with government support. In al-Salt, the “little mosque” (al- Jami’ al-Saghir) was built between 1906-07 with funds raised from within the community (Royal Scientific Society 1990: 150); the Umayyad mosque was partially restored in Amman, and a second small mosque built; and in the Kura district of Ajlun, Salih al-Tall oversaw the restoration of the village mosque of Dayr Abi Sa’id in 1900 (Tall, ms: 205-06).


31Under Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Ottoman state school system expanded rapidly and, from the 1880s, the network was extended significantly at the Transjordan frontier. The first state primary schools appear to have been opened in Irbid in 1883 and al-Salt in 1884, though thereafter numerous Qur’anic primary schools, state elementary (mekteb-i i’dadi) and secondary (mekteb-i rusdi) schools were opened in all towns and large villages. In al-Karak, a mosque kuttab school was a top priority for the new regional governor in 1894 and figured in the costings for the building of the new mosque. The government subsequently built in al-Karak the most extensive state secondary school in the Transjordan region (Tarawneh, 1992: 308-09).

32Vital Cuinet, drawing on official statistics from the 1890s, claimed that there were some 171 Muslim schools in operation in the Ma’an region, which comprised the districts of al-Salt, al-Karak, al-Tafila and Ma’an. These included seven theological schools supported by pious endowments under the authority of the Sheyhülislam (which Vital termed “superior” schools), four “secondary” schools under the ministry of education, and some 160 “primary” schools, including both Qur’anic kuttab and state elementary schools. In the ‘Ajlun district, Cuinet counted 177 schools, state and private combined.

His figures are given in Table 1:

His figures are given in Table 1:

Table 1: Number of schools, by level, and number of students in Transjordan c.1890

  • 22 BBA, Y. Mtv 73/80, petition to the Imperial palace (11 Jumada al-awwal 1310/31 December 1892).

33The schools were intended to propagate Islamic values and to check the influence of “foreigners from England and France and various other places” who were “spreading Western knowledge”22.

34Cuinet asserted that all schools in the province of Syria followed the same curriculum and regulations as schools in the other provinces of Empire. Consequently, successful graduates were eligible to pursue higher education in Damascus and even Istanbul. A number of primary school graduates went on to study at the ‘Anbar School in Damascus. Salih al-Tall spent three years at the ‘Anbar school which confirmed his loyalty to the Ottoman state and gave him credentials to enter into state service (Tall, ms: 183-198). Others took their studies further yet and attended the civil and military academies in Istanbul. An alternate route was provided by the tribal school founded by Sultan Abdülhamid II, which sought to instil Ottoman values in the sons of leading tribal shaykhs (Rogan, 1996).


  • 23 CMS, G3 P/O 1886 n° 52, 11 July 1886 (Connor).
  • 24 BBA, I.Dah 1000687, trade (29 Dhu al-Qa’da 1309/24 June 1892).

35While schools provided a means to reach the young, the Ottomans were equally concerned to counteract the proselytising of Christian missionaries among adults. The state consistently sought to provide spiritual guidance to Muslim communities within reach of European missionaries. Thus, when the villagers of Dar’a attacked the government school, the state reacted not just by punishing those held responsible but by dispatching Qur’anic teachers to work with the tribes, “provided with a tent and a camel to carry it when the tribe removes from place to place”23. Similarly, Sultan Abdiilhamid II called for the posting of “village preachers” (koy imamlari) to every village in those districts of rural Syria where “Muslim children are sent to schools opened by foreigners”. He also called for the provincial printing presses to publish books and treatises for distribution as a means of reaching the literate24.

  • 25 CMS, G3 P/O 1895 n° 81, April 1895 (Sykes).
  • 26 C M S, G3 P/O 1897 n° 91, April 1897 (Johnson); and n° 152, copy of letter from W.S. Richards, Bri (...)

36These calls for Qur’anic teachers to work among the tribes and for village preachers became particularly acute after the Ottoman entry to al-Karak, given the determination of the Latin and Protestant missionaries to make inroads among the Muslims there. The CMS had faced consistent Ottoman opposition to working in al-Karak, to some extent because the Sublime Porte believed that Britain had "intentions of extending her authority north and east of the Gulf of Akaba: and everything of a British missionary character is viewed through that light”25. In 1896, the CMS was represented by Frederick Johnson, an accredited medical doctor. The audacity of the British medical missionary was confirmed in April 1897 when Dr Johnson travelled the short distance from Karak to Qatrana to visit “the Hajj Pilgrims on their outward journey with the idea of discovering the existence or not of opportunities for the Medical Missionary”. He met with the “Pasha of the Hajj” and other officials and, not surprisingly, was dealt a warning six months later from the British Consul in Damascus “enclosing copy of a Note Verbale received from the Sublime Porte in which further complaint is made of your action in the matter of proselytism among Moslems”26.

  • 27 BBA, Y.Mtv 185/33, telegram from Nazim Pasha (30 Ramadan 1316/23 December 1898).
  • 28 Y.Mtv 192/127, copy of the memorandum from the Mesihet (21 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1315/29 July 1899).

37Ottoman officials continued to follow the work of European missionaries in the Karak district very closely. The governor in Damascus sent a telegram to the imperial palace in December 1898 with the familiar refrain of “Latin and Protestant foreign missionaries opening unlicensed schools and educating wild and uncivilised Arab Muslim children devoid of Islamic beliefs”. However, his solution was to imitate the societies they sought to suppress, and to dispatch Muslim “missionaries” (misyonerler) to the Karak district to work in pairs among the tribes on state salaries of 150 piasters each27. Similarly, the office of the Sheyhiilislam dispatched salaried preachers to remedy the ignorance of Islamic practice in Ma’an in July 189928.

  • 29 CMS, G3 P/O 1899 n° 186 (Harding, 16 November).

38The news of the Muslim missionaries was received with alarm by the CMS, and dismissed with derision by the Latins. CMS missionary Henry Harding wrote to ²a British supporter in 1899 asking him “to sympathize with my feelings on learning that the Turks are sending fourteen fully trained Moslem missionaries to Kerak, and these are on their way now”29.

39Unfortunately, we have no local account to describe how these Hanafi Muslim missionaries were received. Antonin Jaussen provides the only description of Karaki attitudes to their work. Jaussen claimed that the Ottoman missionaries made little impression on the natives of the Karak region. Some results were had in getting the bedouin to observe the fast of Ramadan, though respect for the fast was localised: more fasting in the town, less among the plateau lands of Moab, and no observation at all among such independent tribes as the Bani Hamida, Bani Sakhr and Huwaytat. The injunction to pray five times daily, he claimed, was even less respected. According to Jaussen, the bedouin found the prostrations of prayer dishonourable and dismissed the practice as “the prayers of the effendis”. Once having learned to pray, Jaussen claimed the knowledge was only used out of political motives as part of “official life” when visiting government offices in town. He cited as an example members of the Huwaytat tribe who “had themselves initiated in the art of prayer and submitted to those practices only when they went to the Saray (government offices)” (Jaussen, 1908: 290-91).

40On balance, the benefits which European missionaries brought to Transjordan would seem to have offset the social tensions which their activities provoked. The tolerance between Muslims and Christians which had distinguished Transjordan up through the 1860s had given way to a divisive sectarianism which strained relations between the different Christian denominations, as well as Muslim-Christian relations. The good will of the Ottoman state had been strained beyond repair, as missionaries came to be seen as agents of foreign powers. Yet these societies introduced valuable social services to communities which had formerly been neglected by the Orthodox church and Ottoman state. Churches and mosques were built to provide for the spiritual needs of the population. A multi-disciplinary education came to be available to children in all the region’s major towns. The standard of medical service was improved significantly, as Ottoman municipal doctors joined CMS missionary clinics.

41With the end of Ottoman rule, and the creation of the British Mandate in Transjordan, the worst of the sectarian tensions were eliminated. The great power rivalry, between Britain, France and the Ottomans, had been resolved with the colonial situation which defined clear spheres of influence. The creation of the Emirate, under the Hashemite household, ensured that the Muslim character of Transjordan would not be jeopardised by ambitious missionaries hoping to make converts among the Muslim bedouins of the region. The missionary societies themselves seem to have abandoned the folly of their early years and applied their limited resources to meeting the needs of their congregations rather than seeking mass conversions. Thus, the legacy of the missionary rivalries is rather the social service infrastructure than the divisive sectarianism of Ottoman times.



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Dowling T.E. (1896), “Kerak in 1896”, Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, p. 327-32.

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1 Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes (hereafter Nantes), Constantinople: Correspondance avec les Echelles (hereafter CCE), Damas, Savoye to Constans, 25 Feb. 1902. Emphasis in the original.

2 Nantes, CCE, Damas, Barré de Lancry to Constans, 2 August 1902.

3 Nantes, CCE, Damas, Savoye to Constans, 25 February 1902.

4 Papers of the Church Missionary Society, University of Birmingham Library (hereafter CMS) CM/O 41/279, F.A. Klein, “Notes on a Missionary tour in the transjordanic country” 1868, p. 12.

5 CMS G3 P/O 1886 n° 54, 19 February 1886 (Jamal).

6 CMS C M/O 9/6, petition from 58 Protestant familes of al-Salt to the CMS, 17 March 1873.

7 CMS C M/O 36/3B, n.d., Khalil al-Jamal’s autobiographical notes.

8 See also CMS, G3 P/O 1886 n° 52, Connor to Lang, 11 July 1886 in which he reports that in Dar‘A “the Government opened a school and the people rose against it, pulled down its doors, and refused to have it in their village.”

9 See, for example, Francis Bourazan’s exchange with a Salti: “...these three Sundays I have been to prayer, please he said pay my debt that I might come always to your prayer...”, CMS, C M/O 8/96A, Bourazan, 4 February 1874.

10 See, for example, the Arabic petition sent by 17 men of the Latin church in Salt to the Patriarch for a major loan of Pt 17,500 for a 10,000-dunum plot of land. Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Salt, 25 July 1897.

11 CMS G3 P/O 1880 n° 119, 31 August 1880.

12 See, for example, CMS C M/O 36/6, Khalil al-Jamal’s letter to the CMS of 14 July 1880: “...I am looked at by the Turkish Officials here, as the Representative of the Engleez (English people)”.

13 See, for example, CMS G3 P/P vol 3, n° 83, 19 March 1888 (Sykes).

14 CMS G3 P/O 1885 n° 135, “Report for the Half Year ending May 31 1885: Jerusalem and Salt District” (Wolters).

15 Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Hosson, letter from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to ‘Abdullah al-‘Isa al-Nimr, 30 December 1884.

16 From the translation of an article published by CMS catechist Behnam Hassouna in the Arabic newspaper al- Nashra celebrating the work of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem in the ‘Ajlun district. The article provoked a storm of controversy in CMS circles. G3 P/O 1886 n° 133.

17 CMS G3 P/O 1883 n° 78, 8 April 1883 (Allan).

18 CMS G3 P/O 1886 n° 49, 18 February 1886 (Hall); n° 52, 11 July 1886 (Connor); n° 54 and n° 64, 8 and 23 February 1886 (Wolters).

19 Basbakanlik Archives, Istanbul (hereafter BBA), Y.Mtv 89/130, Governor of Syria Mehmet Rauf Pasha to the Imperial Palace (21 Rajab 1311/28 January 1894).

20 BBA, Y.Mtv 89/130.

21 BBA, YMtv 128/43, Karak mwtoam/Huseyin Hilmi to the Imperial Palace (19 Rabi‘Al-awwal 1313/9 September 1895).

22 BBA, Y. Mtv 73/80, petition to the Imperial palace (11 Jumada al-awwal 1310/31 December 1892).

23 CMS, G3 P/O 1886 n° 52, 11 July 1886 (Connor).

24 BBA, I.Dah 1000687, trade (29 Dhu al-Qa’da 1309/24 June 1892).

25 CMS, G3 P/O 1895 n° 81, April 1895 (Sykes).

26 C M S, G3 P/O 1897 n° 91, April 1897 (Johnson); and n° 152, copy of letter from W.S. Richards, British Consul in Damascus, to Johnson, 13 October 1897.

27 BBA, Y.Mtv 185/33, telegram from Nazim Pasha (30 Ramadan 1316/23 December 1898).

28 Y.Mtv 192/127, copy of the memorandum from the Mesihet (21 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1315/29 July 1899).

29 CMS, G3 P/O 1899 n° 186 (Harding, 16 November).


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