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)