The ships had arrived silently in the night at the small Egyptian port city of El Salloum (or Sollum), their cargo carefully unloaded by the few Bedouin residents who had abandoned their nomadic ways and settled the city. Overseeing the Bedouin workers were thousands of Senussi men, a Sufi-Muslim order of tribesmen from Libya. A largely nomadic people, like the Bedouin, the Senussi hadn’t come to El Salloum to trade or rest. The Senussi had come to meet their shipment of thousands of rounds of ammunition, machine guns and even light artillery from Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The Senussi had come to wage a jihad against the West.
On November 23rd, 1915, in the deserts of Egypt, the Great War had become a Holy War.
Through the lens of the early 21st Century, the Senussi appear nearly pacifistic. An off-shoot of the more mystical Sufi-Islamic faith, the Senussi had been founded in the mid-1800s in Mecca as a relative liberal interpretation of Islam. The movement’s leader, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi (or Grand Senussi; a title that survived him), had rebelled against what he perceived as the more conservative orthodoxies of the Ottoman officials in Mecca. Senussi preached that his followers live lives of voluntary poverty and resist fanaticism in the name of the faith. Branded by a fatwa condemning his teachings, Senussi moved from Mecca, eventually finding acceptance in the Bedouin communities of the desert. Continue reading