Memoirs of Mr. Hempher: Confessions of a British spy
An early 18th century British spy in the Ottoman lands revealed covert operations designed to spread separatism across the Muslim world.
Ismail Cal / World Bulletin / History
The Memoirs of Mr. Hempher was an autobiographical account of a British spy who had infiltrated the Ottoman Empire in the early 1700s. In the document, Hempher confesses to a number of plans to destroy the Ottoman Empire by promoting separatism in the Middle-East and thus leave the Muslim world in tatters.
Hempher was a British spy who had been specially raised and sent to the Ottoman Empire. After receiving an in-depth education in Islam and the Turkish language in Britain, he was sent on his first mission in Istanbul.
On arrival, after portraying himself as a lonely westerner who had converted to Islam, he came under the tutelage of a scholar known as Sheikh Ahmed. Under his tutelage, he learned Arabic and the Islamic sciences, as well as further enhancing his Turkish.
Hempher later returned to Britain to be briefed by the British Imperial Ministry. He was then sent on a new mission to Basra, Iraq to study, stir and even provoke new separatist tendencies in the Muslim world. In a place where both Sunni and Shiite Muslims coexist, Basra was the ideal location for this mission.
According to Hempher, nine other agents like himself were operating in the Ottoman lands. One of these agents went missing in Yemen, while another went missing in Russia. The agent in Egypt abandoned his mission after actually converting to Islam, whereas another agent died while on duty.
In his memoirs, Hempher details the weak points of the Muslim world, and along with exposing tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, he also explained the formation of a new movement which later became known as Wahhabism.
One of the most important confessions of Hempher was that the British Imperial Ministry was following political developments in the Muslim world so closely that they had even established a unit to predict new trends.
The most shocking roles that this unit fulfilled was appointing individuals to operate as copycat covers of the Ottoman sultan and Sheikh-ul-Islam (Grand Mufti), as well as the Safavid ruler, grand vezir and the Shiite spiritual leaders. According to Hempher’s account, these individuals were specially trained the disguised to represent these personalities. Together with their advisers and scribes, they would collect information on their assigned districts.
In his memoirs, Hempher stated that these units were able to correctly predict the trends and reflexes in the Muslim world seventy-five percent of the time.
While in the city of Najaf, Hempher posed as a student of knowledge. In one particular instance, he recalled encountering one of these copycat spies, who was posing as a Shiite religious scholar, but at that time Hempher was not aware that the scholar was actually a spy like himself.
Hempher asked the fake scholar if it was permissible to rebel against a Sunni regime. The scholar replied saying that it was not justified to rebel against a government just because it was Sunni, that all Muslims were brothers and that it would only ever be permissible if the Sunni establishment was subjecting the Muslims to oppression and cruelty within the boundaries of ordaining the good and forbidding the evil.
Hempher was stunned when he found out that the fake scholar was actually a spy, as he himself was so convinced that he was actually speaking with a Shiite scholar. At the same time he felt proud of the other spy for pulling off such a great act.
Despite all of this, Hempher still could not contain admitting his admiration for the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) at certain points in his memoirs.
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