Conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Balkans initially followed a pat- tern similar to the one established by Bulliet for the regions incor- porated in the central Islamic realm during the seventh and eighth centuries. Islamization was a gradual process, which started in the fifteenth century with the conversion of the former Balkan military elite. It developed as a widespread phenomenon in the sixteenth and especially in the seventeenth century, when larger segments of the rural population started to embrace Islam. The seventeenth century may be designated as the Balkans’ “age of conversions.” By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the third period of the con- version process—“early majority”—had been completed. At this time, close to forty percent of the Balkan population was Muslim. In terms of the factors behind conversion, the Balkans also conformed to ear- lier patterns. With the exception of the boys collected through the devşirme institution, conversion was primarily a voluntary process, driven by a combination of social and economic factors such as mar- ket pressures, desire for social advancement, religious syncretism and past heretical influences.
However, instead of continuing into the period of “late majority” according to Bulliet’s schema, the Islamization process came to a sudden halt in most of the Balkan lands in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Such a break with the usual pattern of Islamization may rightly be considered a surprise.
I have tried to find an answer to this puzzling situation in kisve bahası petitions, submitted primarily during the period 1670s–1730s, and thus reflect the unique social conditions prevailing in the Ottoman Empire during the last decades of the conversion process. I have come to the conclusion that the petitions point to the existence of an elaborate institution for religious conversion in the period under consideration. In my opinion, the introduction of ceremonies and documentation of conversion, manifested in the kisve bahası practice, is evidence for a change in the nature of conversion brought about by the rise of fundamentalism in Ottoman society. In other words, these last decades of the Islamization process in the Balkans coincided with
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Publication information: Book title: Conversion to Islam in the Balkans: Kisve Bahas? Petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670-1730. Contributors: Anton Minkov - AssociateEditor. Publisher: Brill. Place of publication: Boston. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 193.
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