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9-08-2015, 18:07


The Ottoman Empire was not only a major center of Jewish life in Europe in the early modern period, but, after the conquest of Granada by Christian forces, the most important center of Muslim life in Europe as well. Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire had their own courts for handling internal affairs, but anything that involved Muslims would come before a Muslim court. In the early Ottoman Empire, men wishing to study Islamic law ( shari’a ) or theology had to go to Damascus or Cairo, but beginning in the middle of the fi fteenth century religious colleges ( madrasas ) were attached to mosques, supported by income from land in the area. The most important of these were those established by the sultans; those who hoped to gain a judgeship in a large city or a position as an imam at any important mosque needed to attend one of these elite colleges. Judges ruled on specifi c cases and interpreted both religious and secular law, and they also enforced the sultan’s decisions. The decision of judges applied only to the case at hand; if a broader ruling was desired, people turned to muftis, religious offi cials with the authority to issue fatwas, or legal opinions that were universally binding. The chief mufti of the Ottoman Empire was a powerful individual, usually drawn from a small handful of families. His opinions had to be put in force by a decree of the sultan, but sultans also turned to the chief muftis for opinions about political issues and muftis became important advisors to the court. Though offi cially Islam does not have a chief fi gure of authority akin to the pope, by the later sixteenth century the chief mufti was understood to be the head of the religious-legal establishment, and his offi ce regularly issued fatwas on many aspects of life. Formal education in law, theology, or the Qur’an was one avenue to religious understanding in the Muslim world, but direct revelation was another. Beginning in the eighth century, Muslim mystics, termed Sufi s, taught that divine revelation could come to certain holy individuals, especially those saints who could fully lose themselves in God. This radically different line of thought could have developed into a separate branch of Islam, but most Sufi s taught that those who gained knowledge of God through mysticism still had to obey the shari’a, and Sufi sm became part of orthodox Islam, in both its Shi’a and Sunni branches. Sufi s were often wandering ascetics, venerated for their wisdom and austere lifestyle. Religious orders or brotherhoods ( tariqas ) were established dedicated to specifi c Sufi saints, which, like Christian monasteries, came to own property. Many Muslims belonged to a Sufi order, and some orders included women, providing a religious community and role not available elsewhere in Islam. There were many different Sufi orders in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere in the Islamic world, and they often split and recombined over the centuries. Each group had its own rituals and ceremonies, often involving music and the recitation of sacred texts. Some orders, such as the Bektashis, were popular among rural people; they spread Turkish religious poetry, broadened the understanding of Islam among villagers, and provided places for people to stay while traveling. There was no organized plan for conversion in the Ottoman Empire, though over the years peasants in many areas gradually turned to Islam, more as the result of contact with orders such as the Bektashis than with learned theologians in Istanbul. Not all Sufi orders were rural ascetics, however. Devotion among the Mevlevi order focused on sacred texts in Persian and on dancing to produce a state of ecstasy until one was “a drop of wine in the ocean of God’s love.” (Western Europeans referred to them as “whirling dervishes,” from the Persian word “darvish,” which means an ascetic.) Mevlevi orders thus taught the Persian language, poetry, and music; many of the most important poets and composers in the Ottoman Empire were Mevlevis. Sufi saints were the focus of popular devotion; as in Christianity, people read or heard stories about their lives and miracles, prayed to them for assistance, and made pilgrimages to their shrines. Some Sufi shrines had, in fact, been Christian shrines earlier, and a few places were sacred to both Christianity and Islam, such as the shrine on the Greek island of Levitha, honored by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as a site sacred to the dragon-slayer St. George and by Muslims as a site associated with Koç Baba, a spiritual leader also regarded as a killer of mythical beasts. Learned imams sometimes objected to the emotional rituals and pilgrimages favored by Sufi s and their adherents, arguing that they led people away from the essentials of Islam. Sufi brotherhoods provided important social links, however, and their ceremonies were generally more popular than the more formal and reserved services in mosques. For these reasons, and because many sultans and other powerful people were members of Sufi brotherhoods, opposition to Sufi teachings rarely had much effect and most imams did not press the issue. This toleration of a range of religious practices did not extend to Shi’ites, however. The Ottomans – who were Sunni – saw Shi’ites as linked to the Shi’ite Safavid dynasty in Iran, and so as political opponents as well as heretics. They arrested and charged people with being Safavid sympathizers, testing their loyalty by demanding they say Sunni prayers and affi rm the early caliphs as the true successors to Muhammad. (Sunnis believe that the earliest caliphs were legitimate successors to the Prophet, while Shi’ites believe that leadership can only pass through a blood relative of Muhammad.) In 1537, Süleyman I ordered that mosques should be built in every village and that all men should be expected to attend prayer services regularly. He, and later Ottoman rulers, did not inquire closely into people’s beliefs, however, and as the Safavids declined in power in the seventeenth century investigations and trials decreased. In general, the Ottoman Empire was tolerant of a wider range of beliefs and practices within Islam than most Christian states of different variants of Christianity, and certainly more accepting of those who followed other religions.