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

By Anton Minkov | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
KISVE BAHASI PETITIONS AS SOURCES
OF CONVERSION

Kisve Bahası Petitions—Personal Documents or a Chancery Stereotype?

In my opinion, kisve bahası petitions are the most significant docu- mentary source regarding conversion to Islam in the last quarter of the seventeenth and the first quarter of the eighteenth centuries. In contrast to the information provided by tax-registers, which is open to interpretation as to the nature and motives of conversion, in the instance of petitions we have direct statements by the converts point- ing to their voluntary conversion.

Realizing the potential dangers posed by these sources to the the- ory of coercive conversion to Islam, Bulgarian scholarship had sought to depersonalize their content or dismiss it outright as of dubious nature.1 The “illusion,” by which the petitions were made to resem- ble personal applications by non-Muslims for acceptance into the Islamic faith, was attributed by them to the administrative methods of the Ottoman chancery that “enveloped the destinies of countless people who for various reasons severed their links with the Christian faith”2 or, in other words, to the chancery style. It is emphasized that the function of the petitions was to start a financial correspon- dence accounting for the expenses incurred by the treasury for the converts. Therefore, the kisve bahası petitions are not to be regarded as personal documents, but rather as a product of the Ottoman chancery, written by skillful scribes.3 Another “decisive” argument used by Bulgarian scholars is that, if there were no Ottoman “aggres- sors” in the Balkans, conducting religious, economic and political discrimination against the Christian population, there would never

1 Mutafchieva, “Image,” 9.

2 Velkov and Radushev, “Documents,” 63.

3 S. Dimitrov, “Avant-propos,” 34.

-110-

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