Conversion to Islam in the Balkans: Kisve Bahas? Petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670-1730

By Anton Minkov | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION
OBJECTIVE, METHODOLOGY AND SOURCES

The time may be ripe for modifying some of the old approaches to
the study of the Middle East. It is not my intention, at the time, to
discuss at any length new approaches to the study of modernization
of the Middle East. It will suffice to note the growing divergence of
opinion among Westerners and native scholars with regard to the ori-
gin and trend of developments in the Middle East.

The native writer’s views on a given event often conflict with those
expressed by outsiders. True, the native, immersed in his own culture
and compelled to satisfy the demands of a domestic audience, may
not have the freedom and the objectivity of an outside observer. But
the question still remains whether the outsider’s views on the social,
political, and cultural problems of the Middle East are entirely free of
his own values and political commitment. Moreover, one may ask
whether an outsider can always do a proper justice to an event or
trend which his own society did not experience in its historical evo-
lution. A new understanding of Middle Eastern society and its mod-
ernization could be achieved by analyzing in the greatest possible detail
the internal structural transformation of this society, the emergence of
various social groups, their interrelations, and their impact on culture
and government. Thus, a factual, empirical approach to the study of
the Middle East, free of value judgments or cultural assumptions, should
yield satisfactory results. (Kemal Karpat)1

Although I am certainly not the first student of Islamic history to have been inspired by the above statement made thirty five years ago by Prof. Kemal Karpat,2 and although scholarly advances in the interval have softened some of its edge, I still find it quite contem- porary and significant, especially in connection with the subject that I propose to investigate here, namely, conversion to Islam. Indeed, there is perhaps no other topic in the field of Ottoman history that

1 K. Karpat, “The Land Regime, Social Structure, and Modernization in the Ottoman Empire,” in W. Polk and R.L. Chambers, ed., Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East; The Nineteenth Century (Chicago, 1968), 69.

2 See also C.A.O. Van Nieuwenhuijze, Sociology of the Middle East (Leiden, 1971), xi.

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