Islamic Perspectives

When Ottoman Sultan sent aid to Ireland

160 years ago, during the Great Famine in Ireland, the Ottoman Empire sent £1,000 sterling (about $1,052,000 today) and three shiploads of food to Drogheda, Ireland which was ridden with famine and disease between 1845 and 1849. Also known as the Great Hunger, this famine had lasting effects: at least one million people died due to famine-related diseases and more than one million Irish fled, mainly to the United States, England, Canada, and Australia.

The Ottoman ruler at that time, Sultan Abdul-Majid declared his intention to send £10,000 sterling to the Irish farmers but Queen Victoria requested that the Sultan send only £1,000 sterling, because she had sent only £2,000 sterling herself!

 The Sultan sent £1,000 sterling but also secretly sent three ships full of food. The British administration tried to block the ships, but the food arrived secretly at Drogheda harbour.

This generous charity from a Muslim ruler to a Christian nation is important, particularly in our time when Muslims are often unfairly accused of human rights violations.

 Likewise, the appreciative plaque and overall reaction of the Irish society in return for this generocity deserves to be remembered.

In commemoration of the Ottoman aid, Drogheda added the Ottoman crescent and star to its coat of arms. Their football club’s emblem retains this design till this day.

President Mary McAleese during an official visit to Turkey in March 2010, gave an address at a dinner at the Presidential Palace in Ankara where she said,

“Contacts between Ireland and Turkey are not simply a recent tourist phenomenon however. In the mid nineteenth century a million of Ireland’s citizens died of starvation. During that Famine, Turkey’s then leader Sultan Abdul Majid sent three ships loaded with food to Ireland. In your state archives, there is a letter of profound thanks for that generosity, signed by a large number of Ireland’s public figures and clergy. The cargo was unloaded in a port called Drogheda and since then at the insistence of the people, the star and crescent of your country forms part of the town’s coat of arms. Those symbols of Turkish kindness are to be found today on the crest of Drogheda’s football team - a fitting contemporary link given that football is as much a national passion in Turkey as it is in Ireland.”

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2015 on page no. 20

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