History revisited

Photos: The story of a 19th-century Iranian Shaikh who lost his Shaikhdom under the Pahlavis

Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī was loyal to the British hoping they would help him – but they didn’t.

The Qatar Digital Library has digitised a number of sources concerning the life and times of Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī (1861-1936), the Emir of Mohammerah and chief of the Banu Ka’b tribe.

Detail from a 1908 War Office map of Persia and Afghanistan that shows Mohammerah. Image credit: British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77.
Detail from a 1908 War Office map of Persia and Afghanistan that shows Mohammerah. Image credit: British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77.

Mohammerah, now named Khorramshahr, is a city located at the confluence of the Karun and Shatt al-Arab Rivers in the Khuzestan region of Iran (formerly known as Arabistan). This area was nominally a part of the Persian Qajar Empire, but for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries it was ruled as a semi-independent Shaikhdom by the Arab al-Ka‘bī family.

Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī wearing military uniform and honours bestowed on him by both the British and Persian Governments. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]
Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī wearing military uniform and honours bestowed on him by both the British and Persian Governments. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]

Throughout Khaz’al’s reign (1897-1925), he was one of the most important political figures in the Persian Gulf and a prominent supporter of Britain’s presence in the region. Although never formally a part of the British Empire, the Gulf had been effectively incorporated into the British imperial system since the early 19th century. The conclusion of treaties and agreements with the region’s various tribal rulers was one of the central means by which Britain enforced its hegemonic presence, and Khaz’al was no exception to this trend.

Shaikh Khaz'al's palace, Qasr al-Failiyah in Mohammerah, 1921. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]
Shaikh Khaz'al's palace, Qasr al-Failiyah in Mohammerah, 1921. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]

Indeed, Khaz’al actively fostered close relations with Britain in an attempt to gain their assurance that in the event of the Qajar Empire collapsing or being overthrown, Mohammerah would be formally recognised by Britain as an independent state with him as its ruler.

Mohammerah, May 1917 from Album of tour of the Persian Gulf (Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox) which contains several images of the city in 1917-18.
Mohammerah, May 1917 from Album of tour of the Persian Gulf (Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox) which contains several images of the city in 1917-18.

After oil was discovered by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the forerunner of BP) in Khuzestan in 1908, Britain strengthened its ties to Khaz’al further. In 1910 he was made a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. Khaz’al sought to prove his loyalty to Britain in return and he acted as a key ally throughout the First World War during which – with British military assistance – he suppressed a pro-Ottoman tribal uprising in his domains.

Sheikh Khaz’al’s yacht docked behind Qasr al-Failiyah, 1925. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]
Sheikh Khaz’al’s yacht docked behind Qasr al-Failiyah, 1925. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]

However, Khaz’al’s efforts to gain formal British recognition of his suzerainty over Mohammerah and achieve independence failed. Unlike the ruling families of the other Shaikhdoms in the Gulf – who remain in power today – ultimately Britain did not guarantee his rule. After the rise to power of Reza Khan (Shah from December 1925 onwards) and the fall of the Qajar dynasty, Khaz’al came under increasing pressure. The centralising and modernising programme of the new government in Tehran could not tolerate Mohammerah’s relative independence.

After leading an unsuccessful uprising, Khaz’al was taken to Tehran by force and detained by Reza Khan in April 1925. He remained in the capital under house arrest until his death in May 1936. After his fall from power, many of Khaz’al’s family members, including his son Abdullah, fled to Kuwait – where the Shaikh owned property – and many of his descendants remain living there until the present day.

A young Sheikh Abdullah seated (centre) and his elder brother Sheikh Chassib (third from right) with a number of their retainers, 1908. Image credit: VivereInPace/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0
A young Sheikh Abdullah seated (centre) and his elder brother Sheikh Chassib (third from right) with a number of their retainers, 1908. Image credit: VivereInPace/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0

Those who wish to learn more about this intriguing historical figure and the broader political context in which he lived can do so using a number of India Office Records files about him that have recently been digitised and uploaded on to the Qatar Digital Library by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership as detailed below.

This article first appeared on British Library’s Untold Lives blog.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.