The as long as Islam remained the dominant

The
arrival of the 14th century brought a further wave of expansion of
the Ottoman empire in Europe, the middle east, Asia and Africa which resulted
in a plethora of religious minorities falling under the authority of the
Ottomans. The Sultans had to find a way to integrate these new citizens without
causing instability and chaos within it. The Pact of Umar in 637 AD was key in
setting the tone for Ottoman policies towards religious minorities upon their
conquest of non-Muslim inhabited lands. The pact preached for tolerance towards
other religions as long as Islam remained the dominant religion in the public
sphere of Ottoman society. Thus, the policies implemented were tolerant in
comparison to European states as the Ottoman empire neither massacred, exiled
or forcibly converted their religious minorties. However, a divide still
existed as followers of Islam were clearly at an advantage economically,
socially and politically as illustrated by the implementation of the Millet
system, the dhimmi contract and the devshirme system. However, further
examination reveals that these tolerant policies also happened to be very
pragmatic and beneficial for the empire, arguably making pragmatism rather than
tolerance, the main feature of Ottoman policy towards religious minorities.

 

Quranic
teachings state that man is completely free in choice of faith and that
furthermore no one person had the right to impose their faith on others. This
in combination with the pact of Umar, encouraged the Ottoman empire to respect
these tenets who at the time was also establishing their identity, and by being
devoted this also gave their empire much needed legitimacy. All faiths were
allowed to be practised under Ottoman rule but only under certain conditions.
The dhimmi contract was established which contained a tax called ‘jizya’ that
religious minorities would pay in return for protection from the Sultan’s
forces if necessary and freedom of worship albeit inconspicuously. Despite the
seemingly tolerant actions demonstrated by allowing religious minorities the
freedom of worship, this penalty was imposed but masked as a simple transaction
in exchange for their protection. However, this tolerance seemed contradictory
as the taxes paid by non-Muslims were much higher than those of Muslims.
Furthermore, within the religious minorities, those of Abrahamic faith were
treated better than those not practicing them. Again, it is clear that despite
tolerant policies, inequality was clear between those of Muslim faith and the
religious minorities.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

 

The Ottoman
empire established the Millet system which in essence gave non-Muslims autonomy
through areas where a religious representative of each respective faith would
govern. Within these regions, their respective faiths could be practiced, but
again restrictions came into play due to the dhimmi contract. These
restrictions included but were not limited to: not being able to erect new
religious monuments and not inciting others especially Muslims into converting
to another religion. Outside of these regions non-Muslims individuals were
limited in the social sphere as shown by the jobs accessible to them. Important
governmental positions were not given to religious minorities, however lower
ranked administrative jobs were on the contrary available to them. Another
transgression, into religious minorities” lives was the Devshirme system. This
involved selecting boys from Christian villages, converting him to Islam,
educating and eventually he would make his way into the high ranks of Ottoman
society. The Christians had no way of protesting this. Once more, we can see
that a certain level on inequality remained despite Ottoman policies, yet this
was mild in comparison to European’s states treatment of religious minorities.

 

An
argument can be made however, that through the implementation of these tolerant
policies, the Ottoman empire was simply being pragmatic in the way they handled
such a large group of religious minorities coming under their control. The
basis for their policies was that by promoting tolerance, they could
effectively minimise the risk of an uprising occurring. Conveniently enough,
the treatment of religious of minorities in Europe would make them appreciate
the tolerance shown by the Ottomans, incentivising them not to change the
status-quo. Furthermore, by maintaining boundaries through use of the Millet
system limited the possibility of crossover influence from occurring between
Muslims and non-Muslims. Even when taking boys from Christian villages through
the devshirme system, they were strategic about taking no more than two boys
from respective villages. In doing so, they illustrated their pragmatism as
taking more from each village would surely have caused revolt amongst religious
minorities. In addition, through this process they would slowly convert a
number of them into devoted worshippers aimed to benefit Ottoman empire in the
long run. Nevertheless, the Sultan recognised the conquered religious
minorities and those who fled from European rule as an extremely valuable
resource for the empire. The incoming Jewish population for example had an
established reputation concerning their trade expertise. This was perfect for
Sultan Bayezid II who wanted to increase the empire’s trade capacity. Moreover,
both the conquered and migrating populations brought vast amounts of knowledge
with them including the previously aforementioned trade expertise, which could
only benefit the Ottoman empire.

 

Ultimately,
it can be argued that tolerance was the main feature of Ottoman policy towards
religious minorities, however the intentions behind these policies can be seen
as the Ottoman empire simply being more pragmatic in their actions, using
tolerance as a means to do so. When looking into the historical context,
European states were much more radical giving the choice of exile, conversion
or death for refusal of compliance. The Ottoman empire however, enabled
religious minorities to keep practicing their faith, and despite the
inequalities resulting from them, the situation remained significantly better
than in European states. The Ottoman empire was cunning enough to be tolerant
whilst pragmatic within their policies in order to maintain peace within of
diverse population whilst helping the empire flourish. Therefore, it can be
argued that pragmatism was the main feature of Ottoman policy towards
non-religious minorities, however tolerance played a big role in it, especially
when compared to the European states.