Childhood & Early Life
Born in Istanbul in 1853 or 1854, Hussein ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abd al-Mu'in ibn Awn was the eldest son of Sharif Ali ibn Muhammad and Bezm-i Cihan. Sharif Ali was the second son of former Emir of Mecca, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Mu'in.
Hussein was two years old when he moved back to Mecca after his grandfather, Muhammad, was reappointed to the Emirate in 1856. In 1861/1862, he started living with his uncle Abd Allah in the Hejaz.
Unlike other young sharifs, Hussein was raised at home and was not sent out of the city to be with the nomadic Bedouin.
He developed command over the Arabic language and studied Islamic law and doctrine. He also studied the 'Mu'allaqat,' a compilation of seven long Arabic poems. He memorized the 'Qur'an' before turning 20.
During the reign of his uncle Abd Allah, Hussein became familiar with the ‘Sharifian’ court. He went on several expeditions to Nejd (the central region of Saudi Arabia) and the eastern regions of the Hejaz to learn about the Arab tribes, who were under the control of the emir.
His interactions with the ‘Bedouins’ taught him ways to survive in the harsh desert environment. He learnt a lot about the flora and fauna of the desert. He also learned horse-riding, hunting, and Humayni verse, a form of vernacular poetry (malhun) of the ‘Bedouin.’
During 1871-1872, Hussein went to Constantinople to see his ailing father, who died later that year. Thereafter he returned to Mecca.
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Ranks & Titles
In 1877, after Abd Allah's death, Hussein and his cousin Ali ibn Abd Allah were given the honorary title of ''pasha,'' a high rank as per the ‘Ottoman’ political and military system.
When Abd Allah's successor, Sharif Husayn Pasha, was assassinated in 1880, the Sultan made Abd al-Muttalib of the ‘Dhawu Zayd’ Emir, removing the ‘Dhawu Awn’ line from the Emirate, which made Hussein upset. He, along with his uncle Abd al-Ilah and two cousins, Ali and Muhammad, travelled to Istanbul, but the sultan asked them to return back to Mecca.
Sultan suspected Hussein and his two cousins, Ali and Muhammad, and their uncle Abd al-Ilah of conspiring with European powers to restore the Sharifate to their clan.
In 1882, Abd al-Muttalib was deposed and the Emirate was returned to the 'Dhawu Awn.' Sharif Awn ar-Rafiq Pasha was appointed emir.
Hussein was granted the honorary title of grand Sharif by sultan Abdülhamid on November 24, 1908.
Alliance with the British
The rise of Turkish nationalism under the Ottoman Empire had left the Hashemites displeased. During the First World War, Hussein initially allied with the Ottomans, but on the advice of his son, Abdullah, he started secret negotiations with the British, as they believed that the Ottoman administration was planning to oust him at the end of the war.
As a result of this, Hussein began to consider rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. The British military envoy T. E. Lawrence encouraged Hussein and his sons to rise in revolt. Lawrence made certain promises of territory to Hussein after the war.
Hussein asked his sons Feisal and Abdullah to coordinate with the British, and then he began the 1916 ‘Arab Revolt’ against the ‘Ottoman Empire.’ The revolt was aimed at creating a single unified Arab state, running from Aleppo (Syria) to Aden (Yemen), and the British had promised to recognize the same. With the help of Arabs, the British managed to defeat the Turks in the Middle East.
Hussein expected to gain control over a substantial Arab territory after the war, but no official treaty was ever signed between the two parties. The official correspondence between the British High Commissioner in Egypt Sir Henry McMahon and Hussein, however, clearly indicated that some territory was to be awarded after the war.
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After the war, the Middle East was partitioned by the British and French into mandate territories, and the British went back on their promise to support an independent Arab state. Both Hussein and Lawrence felt betrayed as the territorial distribution of the Middle East was completely different from what the two had expected.
Britain, France, and Russia had agreed to recognize Hussein as the independent ruler of the Hedjaz and the same was communicated to him on December 10, 1916. Hussein declared himself as King of the Hejaz and also King of the Arab lands (malik bilad-al-Arab), which increased his conflict with Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the first monarch and the founder of Saudi Arabia. The two were already in conflict due to their religious differences.
On October 30, 1916, Emir Abdullah recognized Hussein as the sovereign of the Arab nation in a meeting of the ''majlis'' (the Arabic and Persian term for "council"). He was hence named as the ''Malik al-Arab'' (King of the Arabs).
After the First World War, the Arabs were freed from the Ottoman rule. Hussein's son Faisal became the King of Syria. However, he and his brother, Abdallah, were later made kings of Iraq and Transjordan, respectively, after France and the United Kingdom acquired the Middle East.
Hussein refused to accept the 'Treaty of Versailles' (1919) to protest the 'Balfour Declaration' of 1917, in which the British government had announced Palestine as a Jewish state and enforced British and French rule in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.
He also refused to sign the 'Anglo-Hashemite Treaty,' which cost him the British alliance during the invasion by Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.
On March 3, 1924, Hussein declared himself ''Caliph,'' after the 'Turkish Grand National Assembly' abolished the Turkish Caliphate. This proclamation was not received well by many and the Saudis drove him out of Arabia; he was defeated by Saud in 1924.
Thereafter he fled to Amman in Transjordan, where his son Abdullah was Emir. Hussein hence retained the title of Caliph. His relationship with Abdullah, however, soured, as he felt himself more worthy of ruling. Abdullah then sent him to Aqaba and finally Hussein was exiled from Aqaba to Cyprus (which was controlled by the British) to live with his son Zaid. In 1930, he was paralyzed by a stroke and Emir Abdullah took him to Amman, Transjordan.
Personal Life & Death
Hussein's first wife, Sharifa Abidiya bint Abdullah Khanum, was the eldest daughter of his paternal uncle, Amir Abdullah Kamil Pasha, Grand Sharif of Mecca. With Abidiya bint Abdullah, he had Prince Ali, the last King of Hejaz;, Prince Abdullah, Emir (later King) of Transjordan; Princess Fatima, and Prince Faisal, later King of Iraq and Syria.
From his second wife, Madiha Khanum, he had Princess Saleha.
From his third wife, Queen Adila Khanum, he had Princess Sara and Prince Zaid.
He had also married Sharifa Khadija bint Abdullah Khanum, sister of his first wife.
In 1930, while in Cyprus, Hussein suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. He died the following year on June 4, 1931, in Amman, Transjordan, and was buried in Jerusalem on the 'Haram esh-Sharif' or "Temple Mount."