Hijaz Railway

William Ochsenwald

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:
Hijaz Railway

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In 1900–1908, under the leadership of Sultan Abdülhamid II, the Ottoman Empire built the main line of the Hijaz (also Hejaz, Hidjaz, Hicaz) Railway between Damascus and Medina, including a branch line to Haifa. According to the Ottomans, the chief purpose of the railway was to foster the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina; the railway was even allegedly turned into a waqf (Muslim religious endowment), thereby stressing its religious status. However, many authors emphasize the secular purposes of the railway, such as helping to extend the power of the central government in Istanbul to its far-away provinces in Arabia. Therefore, the importance of the railway may be viewed as religious and of interest to all of the world’s Muslims, or as secular and of concern chiefly to the history of the Ottomans, Arabs, and the successor states of the Ottoman Empire after its disappearance following World War I. Some sections of the railway continued to be used after 1918, but proposals to rebuild the whole line have so far not been realized. Most sources for the Hijaz Railway are in German and Turkish because of the prominent role played by the Ottoman Turks and German engineers in the construction, financing, and operations of the railway. Also, the Ottoman archives in Istanbul and the German archives contain an abundance of documents on the railway. During World War I the Ottoman Empire and Germany fought Arab forces from the Hijaz and their British advisers, such as the famous T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), along the railway. Most English-language materials are centered on the railway’s role in World War I. Whatever the language, most of the earlier accounts of the railway are generally straightforward and lacking in theoretical approaches, although more sophisticated studies have appeared since 1990.

Article.  4639 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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