Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

17
The Ottoman Empire
and Its Aftermath

During the last decades of the Ottoman Empire three different unifying ideologies competed for the loyalty of Ottoman subjects. They may be designated as the Islamic, the Ottoman, and the Turkish principles of identity.

Islam was the traditional basis of the Ottoman state as of virtually all other states in the classical Islamic world. It provided the principle of authority, of identity, and of political and social cohesion and loyalty. The polity was conceived as the Community of Muslims, its head as the successor of the Sultans and Caliphs of the glorious past and as the holder of an Islamic sovereignty dedicated to the maintenance of Islam and the extension of its domain. Characteristically, when Ottoman Muslims observed the role of Prussia and Sardinia in the unification of the German and Italian peoples in the nineteenth century and considered a possible parallel role for themselves, they saw it in terms not of Turks but of Islam—of a greater Islamic unity, embracing all Muslims, with Ottoman Turkey as its leader. In this sense the Empire was conceived not as a domination of Turks over non-Turks, since all Muslims were theoretically equal irrespective of language or origin, but as a domination of Muslims over non-Muslims. The task of the Muslim Empire was to preserve the heritage of the Prophet, to uphold and enforce the law of Islam and bring it ultimately to all mankind. Non-Muslims were at least to be subjugated and preferably converted. Those who accepted the faith of the masters of the Empire could aspire to full equality with them and access to all positions, even the highest. Those who preferred to adhere to their old religions were permitted to do so but were required to

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