MEDḤAT PASHA, a liberal Ottoman statesman of the 19th century, who served both as provincial governor and grand vizier (b. Istanbul, 18 October 1822; d. Ṭāʾef, 8 May 1884).
Medḥat, whose real name was Ahmed Şefik (Aḥmad Šafiq), was called “father of the liberals.” He displayed tolerance toward other religions on several occasions, as in the case of the Bahais and the Noṣayris. For instance, while passing through Mosul in the beginning of his governorship of Baghdad (1869-72), he set free seventy exiled Bahais who had been subject to maltreatment(Māzandarāni, p. 62; Alkan, p. 109). Later, when Nāṣer-al-Din Shah intended to visit the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in 1870 (Medḥat Pasha, 1325, I, pp. 95-96), the Persian foreign minister, considering security, asked the Ottoman authorities for the removal of the Babis from Baghdad (Medḥat Pasha, I, pp. 95-96). The acting British consul in Baghdad at that time, having heard the rumour that the order had been issued for the imprisonment of the Babis in Baghdad, asked Medḥat Pasha about the situation. The latter wrote that he had received orders from Istanbul to take measures in order to prevent any occurrence that might endanger the safety of the shah. Therefore, he asked the Babis to leave the city for some time, and he also offered financial assistance to those who might be without the means of traveling. He added that he himself was reluctant to persecute good subjects of the empire and did not have problems with their religious ideas (Momen, p. 267; Alkan, p. 110).
Medḥat Pasha was governor of the Syrian province (1878-80) when he met ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ ʿAbbās Effendi in ʿAkkā, Palestine in May 1880. ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ had been in contact with like-minded Ottoman reformers, and it was probably through them that Medḥat had heard about him. Medḥat Pasha, apparently impressed by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s character and erudition, invited him to Beirut, the provincial capital, which the latter then visited in June 1880. The contact with Medḥat Pasha is regarded from the Bahai viewpoint as beneficial to the prestige of the Bahai faith (Shoghi Effendi, p. 242; Balyuzi, 1971, pp. 37-38; idem, 1991, p. 378; Alkan, pp. 111-14).
Medḥat was also one of the few Ottoman officials who seemed to have cared for the oppressed Noṣayris during his governorship in Syria. For instance, in the petitions presented to the Sublime Porte, he mentioned the Noṣayris and the measure to be taken in order to pacify them peacefully (Medḥat Pasha, 1908; Gedikli, pp. 169-89). Unlike governors before him who had used military force to pacify the Noṣayris, he summoned their leaders, notables and sheikhs from all over Syria and promised them that they would be treated with justice like other subjects of the Empire and that he would help to put an end to their harsh living conditions. He established schools in their areas andbeganbuilding roads so their isolation would come to an end (Ṭawil, pp. 454-59; Moosa, pp. 278-79). His project did not materialize, however; Sultan ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid II removed him as governor, fearing that Medḥat was trying to create an autonomous Syria with himself as the ruler.
“Abu’l-Aḥrār Medḥat Pāšā [mod. Tk. Ebu’l-Ahrar Midhat] merḥum’un lāyeḥasi,” Tam
āšā 1/3, 21 Šaʿbān 1326/18 September 1908, pp. 1-2.
Necati Alkan, Dissent and Heterodoxy in the Late Ottoman Empire: Reformers, Babis and Bahaʾis, Istanbul, 2008, pp. 109-14.
Hasan M. Balyuzi, ʿAbdul-Bahá The Centre of the Covenant of Baháulláh , London, 1971.
Idem, Baháulláh: The King of Glory, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1991.
R. H. Davison, “Midḥat Pasha,” in EI2 VI, 1991, pp. 1031-35.
Fethi Gedikli, “Midhat Paşa’nın Suriye Layihası,” in Divan, 1999/2.
Asad-Allāh Fāżel Māzandarāni, Tāriḵ-e ẓohur al-ḥaqq V, n.p., n.d.; digitally republished, East Lansing, Mich., 1999 at http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/arabic/vol3/tzh5/5tzh.htm (accessed 3 January 2012).
ʿAli Haidar Midhat, The Life of Midhat: A Record of His Services, London, 1903.
Medḥat Pasha, Midhat Pasa’nin Suriye lâyihasi, ed. Hüseyin Tosun, Istanbul, 1908.
Idem, Tabṣera-ye ʿbbrat and Merʿāt-e ḥayrat, 2 vols. in one, Istanbul, 1325/1907–08.
Moojan Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, 1844–1944, Oxford, 1981, p. 267.
Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects, Syracuse, N.Y., 1987, pp. 405-6.
Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, Ill., 1979.
Moḥammad Amin Ḡāleb Ṭawil, Taʾriḵ al-ʿAlawiyin, Beirut, 2000.
Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: January 23, 2012