There have been stories of many heroes who fought against the colonial powers but the struggle of Sultan Ali Dinar of Darfur is often overlooked. It is a story of an anti-colonial struggle not many people know or are aware of today. The struggle took place in today’s Sudan region of Darfur.
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Sultanate of Darfur
Darfur was part of the Sultanate of Darfur. The origins of this Sultanate can be traced back to the early 17th century. The Sultanate was ruled by the Keira Dynasty. The sovereignty of the Sultan of Darfur ended with the incorporation of Sudan and Darfur by Ottoman Egypt.
Things went even worse for Egypt when the Mahdist rebelled and took over the region establishing their own state in 1885. The Mahdist state headed by Muhammad Al-Mahdi was called Ad-Dawla Al-Mahdiyya. The Mahdists were defeated by the British in 1898 and ultimately in 1899.
Darfur remained outside British control, but the rest of the country was incorporated into British territories. In fact, the territory was part of the Khedivate of Egypt which in turn was officially part of the Ottoman Empire.
Ali Dinar’s Rise to Power
As mentioned above, the Darfur region was left alone and Ali Dinar from the house of Keira took the reigns and became the Sultan of Darfur. The Darfur Sultanate was alive once again.
The British at first wanted Ibrahim Ali, also from the House of Keira, as a ruler of Darfur. But Ali Dinar acted fast, took control of the region, and started to organize and consolidate his position. Because of the fragile situation, he had to accept to pay the British Empire a yearly tax. He considered himself a sovereign Sultan but the British saw him merely as an appointed governor.
Sultan Ali Dinar of Darfur looks for allies
Sultan Ali Dinar’s Darfur Sultanate was surrounded by the French in the West, by the Belgians from the South and by the British from the North. He sought to look for allies and got in contact with the Ottoman Empire during the final years of the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II.
Sultan Abdulhamid managed to send his aides with the yearly pilgrimage caravan called Surre-i Hümâyûn. He requested an Ottoman flag and pledged his allegiance to the Ottoman Khalifa.
Sultan Ali Dinar went on and looked for more allies. He found his second ally in (Trablusgarp) Ottoman Libya. He managed to get close relations with the Senusi order there and requested arms so he could establish a 10,000 men strong army.
Ottomans enter World War I
With the involvement of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, a call for Jihad was declared in 1914 by Sheikh ul Islam in Istanbul. In January 1915, an Ottoman envoy was sent to Sultan Ali Dinar with gifts, money and a letter from Enver Pasha on behalf of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI. Ali Dinar introduced the envoy to his people on the Friday Prayer Khutbah and swore to take part in the Jihad (World War I).
Sultan Ali Dinar declared on 22 May 1915 that he stopped paying taxes to the British and took up arms. The British in return armed the tribes who were hostile to Sultan Ali Dinar. Sultan Ali Dinar had to fight both the rival tribes and the British army.
The British deployed thousands of soldiers. The army was equipped with modern rifles, artillery and even aeroplanes. In a series of clashes, Sultan Ali Dinar’s men took part in hit-and-run tactics. However, the British managed to defeat the disorganized army of Ali Dinar in several battles.
There were talks for a cease-fire between the British/Egyptian forces and Ali Dinar up to August 1916. The Sultan was merely trying to gain time in order to get the much-awaited weapons, ammunition and gold from the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Ali Dinar, therefore, refused to surrender and continued the fight. However, the technologically advanced British soldiers were closing in. Ottoman help could not get past the Suez Canal and the Libyan front was also closed because of fighting.
The Last Battle
By October 1916, Sultan Ali Dinar was in a bad situation, with only a thousand followers left he retreated back to Jebel Marra. There he was attacked by the British/Egyptian forces. As a result, he again had to retreat. This time he retreated to Jebel Juba. During this battle, he lost several hundred followers and many were taken prisoner.
Finally, he decided to make his last stand in Jebel Juba instead of surrendering. The British commenced the final assault with artillery and heavy machine gun fire. When they reached Ali Dinar’s camp they found his body.
Fall of the Dynasty
Sultan Ali Dinar was born in 1856. He was martyred on 6 November 1916. The Ottoman High Command issued a proclamation to all Ottoman units in which they honoured his fight against imperialism and praised his martyrdom. Afterwards, Darfur was annexed into British Sudan.
Further Readings: Ali Dinar, Last Sultan of Darfur, 1898-1916
Last updated on May 19th, 2023 at 11:13 pm
Mükremin Ümit Gül is a history enthusiast. He writes on Ottoman history.