Islamic Ottoman Empire and Dhimma Pact

The Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) is a political structure and Islamic state with impressive and complicated history. It existed for more than 7 centuries and finally disintegrated in the beginning of the 20th century, after World War I, as it happened with other empires, such as the Russian or the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The Ottoman Empire influenced modern world greatly, partly due to the policies of its government in religious sphere. Internal religious strategy was effective and formed contemporary views on the Islamic world to a large extent. One of the most famous policies of this state was the dhimma pact, the document which legitimated the place of non-Muslims in the Islamic empire. This pact could be considered very significant taking account of specific character of Muslim world-view and their policies towards adherents of a different faith.

In many ways, Islam gained its todays popularity due to the Ottoman Empire. This state became one of the forefronts of development of this religion in the Middle East and in Southern Europe in 16th and 17th centuries. This empire was established by Turkic tribes in Anatolia and existed since the era of decline of the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century until the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1922. Its name comes from the name of Sultan Osman I, founder of the dynasty of the Ottomans. In the early 14th century, Osman attached to his own inheritance the land that extends to the shores of the Black and Marmara seas, as well as most of the territory to the west of the river Sakarya up to Kutahya in the south. After the death of his son Orhan, Osman took the fortified Byzantine city area. Bursa, as called by the Ottomans, became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and remained so for more than 100 years as long as they were not conquered by Constantinople. Almost within a decade, Byzantium lost almost all of Asia, and the historic towns known as Nicaea and Nicomedia were called Iznik and Izmit.

The management of this huge country with plural population, different climatic conditions, and sanitary traditions was often complicated. The Turkish sultans in the second half of the 15th century and in the 16th century managed to solve this problem. Main components of success were consistent policy of centralization, consolidation of political unity and well-organized and well-honed military machine. These factors were closely associated with military land tenure system. Three levers of power ensured that the Empire would be firmly held in the hands of the sultans. They embodied and personified the power, not only secular, but also spiritual, for the sultan held the title of Qaliph, the spiritual head of all Sunni Muslims.

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Residence of the sultans from the middle of 15th century and until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was Istanbul. This city was the center of the whole system of government, assembly of higher authorities. French historian of the Ottoman capital, Robert Mantran, rightly sees in this city the specific embodiment of the Ottoman state. Despite the diversity of the territories and peoples under the authority of the sultan throughout its history, Istanbul was the epitome of the Empire due to the cosmopolitan nature of its population (Aquinas 87). However, the Turkish element was dominant as it represented synthesis of the Empire, its administrative, military, economic, and cultural center. In 1456 Sultan Mehmed began the construction of a new palace in Istanbul, called Grand Serail or Cannon Gate Palace. For construction, there was chosen an area on the Cape, dominating the confluence of three “seas” – Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, which had previously hosted the Byzantine acropolis.

The Ottoman Empire could not certainly be analyzed in isolation from Islam. Islam appeared between VI and VII centuries. Its central figure is considered to be the ancestor of Muhammad (Mohammed), who in the Muslim tradition is perceived as a prophet. As compared with Christianity, Islam has its own features and characteristics that will be discussed below.

God’s creation is a conceptual point of religious belief. In Christianity, there are angels and people. God gave man free will and made man and woman equal in front of the deity. Husband and wife in marriage become one flesh (figuratively) and live in peace and harmony. In Islam, Allah created the so-called jinns and other creatures similar to humans who are able to take on any guise. According to Islam, a man does not have his own free will, as opposed to Christian beliefs. Also, Islamic priests claim that men spiritually have an advantage over women and can have up to four wives. The Quran allows to place physical abuse upon a woman if she is guilty of any deed (Abelson 190).

The nature of a person is one of the most important pillars of religious theory. According to Christianity, a person was created in God’s image and likeness of Him. Adam and Eve before their spiritual fall were immortal and incorruptible (Abdo 176). Inobedience to God became fatal and influenced the history of mankind. However, Muslims believe that a person was created in another way, different to Allah. The predecessors of mankind were mortal, just as everybody else, and the mortal world after their fall was not distorted.

Christianity revolves around Jesus Christ and the saints. For Christians, He is God the Son, who came to Earth to save the human race. In Islam, Jesus is considered one of the prophets. Muslims also believe in Virgin Mother of God, the prophetess. The intercession of the saints, venerated in Christianity, is rejected in Quran. In Christianity, the cross is the instrument of victory over Satan, though for Muslims, this instrument is the black stone in Mecca. Visual part of material ritual, the icon, is revered by Christians; however, Muslims reject the idea of picturing saints in any manner. Priests and church service are quite important, too. In Christianity, the sacraments and services require priests and their formal rituals, while n Islam, there are almost none of them. Prayer (also known as Namaz) may be said individually or collectively, by any believer under control and with advice of someone who knows the Quran well. As for charity, both Christians and Muslims donate to the poor. But if in Christianity it is a voluntary activity, a deed of good will, in Islam such activities are carried out as a pillar of faith. Sacrifice for the sake of the poor is a consecrated duty of a true Muslim (Farley 60). Christian house of worship is called a temple; a Muslim one is called a mosque.

The concept of the Holy Spirit in Christianity claims that Holy Spirit and the Trinity are inseparable from the incarnation of God. In Islam, the Angel Gabriel is called the Holy Spirit. Also, both religions have sacred books (Chafer 112). Christians base their teachings on the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. The holy book of Islam, which plays the role of the Holy Scriptures, is called the Quran. The teachings of Islam are based on the Quran and Holy Tradition of Sunnah. Muslims believe that in the text, there are callings towards peace between representatives of differing religions, as long as the competing religion displays enough respect. Modern Islam is heterogeneous: there are moderate (secular) Muslims, and more radical ones. One of the criteria for defining the level of strictness is attitude towards Christianity and other differing religious teachings.

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Nevertheless, history of Islam and the Ottoman Empire witnessed prejudices towards different faiths by Muslims, as other confessions have been seen as infidel ones. Therefore, people who profess, for instance, Christianity, were considered infidels and subject to sufferings. The rulers of those peoples were, respectively, kings of the infidels: Byzantium and Persia. It should be mentioned that in Christianity, there cannot be any coercion to faith. Besides, Christianity is a religious, not a political system. Christianity has not developed any specific form of existence of the state, it does not recommend any particular preferred system of government, does not have its own system of civil law, although, of course, the Christian moral values have a significant impact on the formation of the rule of law in the European states and in a number of other continents (North and South America, Australia). In late 16th century, the Christian officials were able to work out a joint stance on how the Islam states shall be treated: with peace and maximum tolerance. The political and economic value of the Ottoman Empire and its satellites was too high to be neglected (Inalcik, 59).

Christian children, after taking Islam, became the spiritual enemies of their relatives. They had only one privilege – to serve the sultan, who could generously reward a person for their loyalty. Non-hereditary ruling class of Christians with equal opportunities was formed solely on the basis of merit. Thus, the Turks managed to be the ruling nation for centuries and constantly expand their borders. Public servants held key positions in state government where they were not tolerated by Muslim Turkish aristocracy plagued by clan and family ties. The first cracks of the system appeared later. When the slaves of the sultan wanted to repeat their fate in their children, and the local Muslim nobility came to power. This historical events served as a background for the development of the dhimma pact.

In Middle East, earlier than in Western Europe, there was meritocracy or elite quality that ensured 600-years flourishing of the Ottoman Empire. This unique cosmopolitan civilization in terms of ethno-national and ethno-religious association was created within a single century. The Ottoman Empire borrowed Roman tradition of granting citizenship to foreigners, their naturalization for their own benefit and for the benefit of the empire. Thus, the roots of the first dhimma for the Christians dated 1403 A.D. Subjects of the sultan of Christian origin were given equal footing with Muslims from birth – the possibility of achieving higher official positions in the state.

The dhimma pact legalized representatives of different faiths within Muslim community, gave them economic and social maintenance. In turn, the people who fell within the scope of the pact called dhimmis should pay taxed to the Ottoman Empire, be its subject, and serve the state in accordance with the laws. Defeated communities of Jews or Christians could serve Islamic law; they were even given certain extent of religious freedom. This pact allowed them to be untouched by further potential attacks by the Ottoman Empire. It is also worth mentioning that dhimmis were not required to pay additional taxed that the Muslims themselves were to pay. They were considered small autonomy community.

As a tribute to their defeated status, every non-Muslim male living on the territory of the Ottoman Empire was to pay the jizya tax. This tradition lasted for many centuries and was cancelled only in the 20th century. Representatives of different religions were allowed to do some rituals that are not appropriate in the Muslim community, for instance, eating of pork or alcohol consumption. Such practice as Zoroastrian self-marriages was also tolerated. Non-Muslims were practically allowed to do whatever they want if they did not engage public.

In fact, dhimma pact could be regarded a truce within the general process of jihad. Jihad is a normal and permanent state of war between Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb, a war that can only end in the final victory over the infidels and the absolute domination of Islam throughout the world. Islamic theologians and lawyers argue that infidels possess lands illegally, and therefore the land should be returned, according to the divine law, to the followers of the true religion. On this basis, any act of war in the Dar al Harb (which has no right to exist) is perceived as a necessary and legalized, and excludes any disapproval or moral doubt in Islam.

As jihad is a state of constant war, it excludes the possibility of true peace, but allows a temporary truce in accordance with the requirements of the political situation. This truce, which is able to last no longer than ten years, shall terminate unilaterally by a Muslim ruler, but only after he warns the enemy first. Finally, jihad requires that all contracts with the infidels are always held under the concept of a temporary truce. Truce with the Muslims is made depending on whether the victory over the infidels had been won on the battlefield or by lies. Those who took up arms and fought with Muslims, could be put to death or enslaved, bought, exchanged or released, and their wives and children could be turned into slaves (Erickson 67). Moderate or Secular Muslim faith is a branch that succeeded mostly in establishing of peaceful relationships with the Christians. They are the believers of the same faith, but are oriented to the Western standards and condemn their national actions against peace.

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The idea of dhimma may have developed because Christian faith took longer time to introduce its main pillars, which is a paradox. It is a common knowledge that the religious systems of the 14th and 15th centuries were to a large extent shaped by various historical events, for instance, division into Orthodox and Catholic churches. In this context the Day of the Judgment remained a vital concept to connect these groups. This is the day when everybody obtains their deserts for what they have done throughout their lives penalty or reward. Isaiah and Jeremiah also mentioned this day in their prophecies.

The influence of the dhimma pact upon the history of the Ottoman Empire is hard to overestimate. Firstly, this policy line based upon the Quran and thus was a popular measure among the Muslim population. Secondly, it allowed the state to co-exist with other nations, sometimes even merge with them. This led to the establishment of temporary peace and fence-mending. Therefore, the Ottoman Empire became a state with developed economical relationships and stable politics. This, in turn, resulted in the strengthening of its status in the world arena. Besides, jizya was relatively mild tax as compared with massacres or blood feud. Jizya tax may have been one of the first diplomatic resolutions on the history of Islamic world.

Therefore, the dhimma pact and establishing mutually beneficial relations with the Christian world was one of the factors that gave chance for the Ottoman Empire to be successful as a world political actor.

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