"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Ottomans as an example of religious tolerance and blessing the Jews

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

This next chapter dealt with the Ottoman empire in particular Mehmed and Suleyman.  While the author admitted they could be brutal - like anyone else - overall I came away with a fairly good impression of them. Granted these chapters are hardly in-depth history since they cover empires and dynasties in a matter of twenty-five or thirty pages. But still, I was pleasantly surprised with most of what I read about the Ottomans.  First the author assures us that religion - meaning the spread of Islam - was hardly the motivating factor.  Power was and "religion was at best an instrument of control." He explains further, "If the mantle of religion could be used to justify expansion, all the better. If religious toleration helped pacify subject peoples and maintain stability, so be it."  (pg. 169)  The author noted Protestant Reformer Martin Luther as one who looked to the Ottomans as an example of religious toleration - a way of life he desired in his world of religious wars.  

Ottomans didn't care what religion you were. Granted you had to be a Muslim to do certain tasks, but for the most part the Ottomans were perfectly fine with people worshiping however they wished.  Jews expelled by Christian Europe - who very much cared about your religious identity - were welcomed by the Ottomans. In fact Jewish artisans and engineers designed weapons for the Ottomans that were sometimes used against the Europeans.  Ironic that the ones expelled (the Jews) were able to help the ones who took them in (the Ottomans) against the intolerable ones (Christian Europe) who had told them to leave!

Reading these words made me ponder about a few things.  First the fact that the Europeans were more concerned with what religion a person was -- is this true today? I know in America we don't have ID cards stating what religion we practice or were born into. Sure we may take polling data to find out these stats, but it's not official government record. On the other hand, I know in Syria, for instance, they do put such things - whether you are Muslim or Christian - on your registration papers. I think it's a pretty big deal to get it changed if you decided to follow a different religion.   So I was thinking to myself I wonder when and why things changed. If we can consider the Ottomans as the Muslim world and Europe as the Christian world at that time, it seems the Christians were more concerned with the religious preferences of its subjects yet today is may be the reverse is true.  Now I'm curious if Europeans concern themselves with such things or if most Muslim-majority countries are like Syria in keeping up with religion on national ID cards. Maybe it's totally not a Muslim-majority country thing, but the somewhat dictatorial rulers who may or may not be religious at all who come up with these control mechanisms.  Hmmm, now I am curious.

How is it in YOUR country and ones you are familiar with?  [Edited to add: I was informed that Germany does take note of such things when you register there.]

While reading about the Jewish contribution benefiting the Ottomans who welcomed them, I remembered people saying that God blesses those who help and are friends with the Jews.  This is more from the way I was raised -- very pro-Jewish bunch compared to Europe where Jews were often persecuted and accused of being Christ killers.  Of course when I read how the Jews helped the Ottomans I wondered more about this and whether or not it were true historically.

The author stated that "Jews, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Catholics, Copts, and others [lived] in peace and security and [were able] to practice their beliefs unmolested. There are many reasons why the Ottomans were so successful and so resilient, but perhaps the most important was that they gave people just enough autonomy to keep them content, loyal, and uninterested in change."   (pg. 172)

Karabell reminds us that the sultans' actions were not driven by the Quran or hadith. At times it became "a spur and justification for war, but they drew on the legacy of Muhammad and the warrior culture of the early Arab conquests only when it suited them."  Many things they did were not condoned in Islam, but few would speak up against the powerful rulers' anti-Islamic actions.  "Islam, like any great religion, is an umbrella that encompasses a wide range of virtues and a multitude of sins."  (pg. 179)


Lat said...

My country does have a box tp specify religion in forms and it's also displayed in our ID.I think it is still compulsory now.Perhaps it's good to keep a check on the number of religious adherents here,only as a status check not to demean or degrade any particular faith.Here all faiths are equal.

As for the Ottomans rule,I agree it wasn't according to Quran.That's why I don't quite get the call for the return of the Caliphate which some do identify with the Ottomans rule.If your a muslim ruler,then you're condidered a caliph? I don't know these things and I don't believe it's feasible now.

hajar aman shah said...

in Malaysia, our ID card are 'adoned' by what race and religion we are...

i still write 'irrelevent' to 'race'&'religion' box i need to check. for buying a washing machine?

i still couldn't understand the whole separation idea and the purpose. keeping tab? faith control?

oh, thank you for sharing your thoughts with this post. Its very informative. :)

observant observer said...

In Indonesia, our IDs also come with the religion column, at times it can be used to do some sweeping of some people who become the target of other people when things get rough between them, it does happen...!!
Since Indonesia is a country with very diverse ethnicities, religions and also races , people can easly identify each other by their distinctive names, and very often religion also plays important role in getting jobs, or position or promotion, you know, the majority sometimes think its best to keep their fellow people as the ruler, which sometimes understandable but other times really can bother you.

Wafa' said...

just wanted to say that i am enjoying your posts even though i leave most times with commenting.

The book seems very interesting but makes me wonder. How will our world be without this spreading of religions , of course through war, ? did it all come with a win/win situation or did everyone lose?
Isn't civilization still happening with or without conquering the world ?

maybe i am way too naive but i would love to see a world where no one is fighting another over religion or anything else , a world where there will no conquering, simply living with each other :)

i am still reading your beautiful posts :)

Susanne said...

Lat, thanks for letting me know how the religious ID thing is in your country. That's interesting. :)

I appreciate your perspective on the Ottoman/caliphate thing as well.


Susanne said...

Hajar, welcome and thank you for letting me know how things are in your country. I agree that it's irrelevant when you are buying a washing machine..ha, ha! I think some people/institutions just want to know TOO much!

Thanks for your feedback!

Susanne said...

Observant, that's so fascinating to me! I've heard my Syrian friend say you could tell people are Muslim or Christian by their name. It makes sense to some extent. I don't think too many Christians would name their children Muhammad and I doubt I'd meet very many Muslim Pauls. :-D

Susanne said...

Wafa', you have such a sweet spirit. I wish, too, that there were not such religious conflicts. :-/

Thanks to you all for your feedback. I enjoyed your comments as always!