In memory of Said al-Mufti (1898-1989)

Said al-Mufti

On 16 March 2018, the Circassian Association held a memorial event for Said al-Mufti (Habjoka), former Prime Minister of Jordan.

Mohammad Azoga delivered the following speech (translated here by Tamara Mufti). It provides a snapshot of family and political life in the nascent Hashemite Kingdom and the central role of the Circassian community at the time.

“My memories of the late Said al-Mufti take me back to my childhood days, because Pasha used to love taking afternoon walks with his friends, starting from his home at the bottom of Rainbow street and moving on past the 1st circle. Once during those strolls, I was playing hide and seek with my friends in the street. As I was attempting to escape them I came across Abu Mansour [as Said was known to friends and neighbours, Mansour being his first-born son who died tragically young] walking with a very distinguished person, who was wearing a special turban over Arab dress and carrying a Yemeni style dagger. I ran towards them and noticed two soldiers walking discreetly behind them. I got hold of the robe of al Pasha’s companion trying to hide from my friends when al Basha scolded me in Circassian, telling me “Go away, you rude boy!”

When I got home that same evening, and recounted the incident to my father, he laughed and said, “Do you know who that person was, the one whose robe you grabbed?” When I answered that I didn’t, he said, “It’s his Majesty King Abdullah!”

The second personal memory took place in December 1984 following the assassination of Azmi al- Mufti [while working as a Jordanian diplomat in Bucharest]. I was a member of a group of Azmi’s friends who were appalled by the crime and started to hold meetings and give angry speeches demanding revenge against the perpetrators.

During one of these meetings, I was just starting to deliver a speech after a fiery one given by the late Shaikh Abdul Baqi Jammo when I was approached by a friend who whispered to me “the Pasha is on the phone and wants to talk to you”. I thought that it was one of my army officer friends, so I responded by saying, “tell him I’ll call him later”. The man got closer to me and said “it’s Said Mufti”, so I jumped and ran towards the phone. That day he said to me, “Mohammad , I have heard of what you are doing. I don’t want to lose you the way I lost Azmi. I want you to pacify matters.” With this instruction he put the public good before his own personal grief.

I could only respond by saying, “As you wish, Pasha. I went back to the meeting and changed my speech drastically”.

The scene which is never forgotten by the inhabitants of Jamal Amman over a period of 30 years was that of Said Pasha sitting on a wooden and straw stool in front of his garage, surrounded by a group of friends and neighbours. Some of the people I remember were the late Zaha’din al Hmood , Ali Mismar, Mohammad Ali Rida, Yacoub Qaqeesh, Othman Abida and, last but not least, Saleh – the owner of the neighbouring green grocery, and the Pasha’s chauffeur Aladdin.

I was told by my friend Basil Mufti that Mohammad al Mufti, father of Said, did not see his son till he was 4 years old. The Ottoman government had sent Mohammed to Yemen for nearly 5 years, and when he returned, family members pushed Said forward to greet his father without telling the latter, so Mohammad didn’t pay him any attention. Said was angry and upset. Running away into the garden he started gathering little stones in his pockets. And when asked what he was going to do with them, he answered that he would throw them at the man who paid him no attention.

The Pasha did not communicate directly with his children, in accordance with Circassian tradition, but relied on Umm Mansour [Najiah] to liaise between father and the sons and daughters. There did exist a special role for the youngest mollycoddled daughter Tamara as an intermediary, who was never refused any request.

The Pasha used to spend long periods away from home because of his public duties, but the children recall him pacing up and down the long verandah of the house smoking , and they would surmise that something is bothering him.

There was also a close friendship which deepened between him and King Abdullah, to the extent that members of the household were not surprised or nervous when the King showed up for lunch to eat the Circassian national dish Ships w Pasta. Some of the foreign dignitaries who visited the home, as Basil recalls, were [UN Secretary-General] Dag Hammarskjöldd, General Templar and Nouri Al Said.

Basil also recounts that the Australian Government owes his family a “Qama” (the straight Circassian dagger). When I asked him why, he said that Said was standing in al Rida street in 1918 when a regiment of Australian soldiers was marching through. The captain of the regiment noticed a tall, distinguished young man wearing the Circassian costume decorated by a gilded dagger. The captain halted, approached the young man and took the dagger away. At the time the allied forces were confiscating all arms.

Basil recalls that one morning as he was leaving home for school, he saw a very venerable old man sitting quietly and patiently on the veranda waiting for Said Pasha to wake up. Basil asked him for his identity and he said he was Mithgal al Fayez. Basil rushed indoors and told his mother, who woke Said up promptly. Said asked al Fayez the reason for his unannounced visit. He told him, “the Circassians have kidnapped a girl and brought her to me, and I’m not familiar with your culture and tradition, so can you help? When asked who it was, he named the daughter of one of Said Pasha closest friends’ Ismail Zakaria. So eventually Said intervened and his friend refused [the marriage], but despite that refusal, the marriage took place under Said’s protection. Zakaria, the friend, was very upset and stopped talking to him until they both attended the funeral of a friend of theirs, where they walked towards each other near their friends grave and embraced.

As for Tamara, she says: “There is an old black and white photograph which shows my father sitting on a big armchair in his room with me as a 3 or 4 year old standing close to him , while he had  his arm around me smiling.   This is the oldest picture I could find which reminded me of my father as a younger man and father. For me he was this larger than life man , rather aloof , tall, handsome , and extremely charismatic , leading a very busy life outside the home.   I remember him as someone who was highly respected by everyone who came across him or had dealings with him, and I always felt that he occupied high office to which he was dedicated, but remained just the father to whom I could run and greet when he came home.  I would run to him and tell him about the things I had done during the day, even the fights I might have had, or the imagined or actual injustices inflicted upon me by my older siblings.  He would lend me his ear on such occasions and listen sympathetically.   I think that being the youngest of my siblings, he spoilt m , to the point that if they wanted anything from him, they would send me as an emissary to him to ask him for what they wanted, and he never refused.

I remember that I used to get very excited , when he went away on his many travels abroad, knowing that he will come back laden with gifts for the many members of the family, and, last but not least, for me. I would be waiting for him to return with excitement and anticipation, and I could see him smiling with pleasure at my reactions to opening the gifts he had brought back.

I knew in my heart that he was essentially a traditional Circassian father, who expected obedience and respect. He seemed to carry this veneer of stiffness and seriousness, but in my heart I knew him to have a very soft centre.  There were many people who held him in awe and found him slightly remote but I never did. He was the father who I turned to if I needed anything and he was always there for me. I remember times when I was sick and unable to sleep, he would come to my room and start singing to me in Circassian and attempt to teach me the words which I found hard to pronounce.  The song I remember most to this day is “Satanay guacha”, and I credit him for that.

Trying to recollect these memories hasn’t been easy , because it has brought back so many emotions, and I realise how much I miss him in my life. I am so proud to be his daughter, and I know now what a privilege it has been to grow up in his shadow and to fully appreciate  his wonderful legacy of honesty , integrity, and his absolute love for Jordan.  I recall him saying to me , that having travelled all over the world , he honestly believed Jordan to be the best place to live in.”

On hearing of the passing away of Pasha [in 1989], I went immediately to his home  and there was a small group of us standing on the veranda, where pon someone asked me, “where is his Majesty the King?” I told him that I had heard his Majesty was in Alexandria on a state visit to Egypt. Then I turned round towards the garden gate, and said “Here is his Majesty!”.

His majesty King Hussain came accompanied by only one escort and he offered his condolences to Izzeddin Al-Mufti  and said to him modestly, “He was like an uncle to me  and I hope the family will agree to bury him in the Royal cemetery. Till now I will never forget that his Majesty personally stood and accepted condolences at the Royal cemetery  with Basil standing behind him.

One last thing I have to mention, that the only favour Said Mufti ever requested from the King was the piece of land that we are standing on now [the Circassian Association in Amman], commemorating his wonderful legacy.

May god bless his soul.

Assalam alaikum warahmatullah wabarakato.”

Amman, 16 March 2018