by Rashad Hasan el-Hadiz
Before I begin this post I want to say “Merry Christmas” to all of our Christian friends in the world. This is a blessed time of year as the birth of Jesus (blessings be upon him) is remembered and celebrated by the faithful. My prayer now is that the peace, compassion, tolerance, and mutual respect that once existed between Christians and Muslims be restored. Sadly, in many parts of the Middle East this season is not a good one for many Christians who are being killed by Muslim fanatics who are burning down their churches and killing the Christian People of Scripture which is absolutely WRONG according to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an!
Let me begin with a bit of Islamic history and the beginnings of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The empire was founded by Turkish tribes under the leadership of Osman Bey in 1299 A.D. For hundreds of years it was one of the most powerful and advanced Muslim states in world history. It was multinational, multiethnic, and multilinqual. But it was also MULTI-RELIGIOUS as the empire was composed of not only Muslims but also Christians and Jews, et al. When the Ottomans conquered an area they did NOT force the conquered people to convert to Islam but, instead, they allowed the people to continue to practice their own faith. This administrative tactic made Ottoman rule more acceptable to the conquered peoples and minimized the threat of rebellion as the conquered peoples were not only allowed to continue practicing their own religion but they were also allowed to continue with their traditions and customs. The Muslim Ottoman Turks did not try to force conquered people into being like them but, rather, they tolerated and RESPECTED the religion, custom, and traditions of the conquered lands. This approach by the Ottomans was very much in line with the teachings of the Qur’an which admonishes Muslims to RESPECT the places of worship of Christians and Jews (ie: Churches and Synagogues) and to treat them as “People of the Book” or “People of Scripture.” Further, Christians and Jews, not just Muslims, were allowed to serve in both the provincial and imperial government and some achieved high positions with some even becoming Grand Viziers, the Ottoman equivalent to a Prime Minister or President.
The Ottoman Empire existed for an astounding 623 YEARS! Officially, it was founded on 27 July, 1299 AD and ended at the end of WW1 on 1 November 1922 when the end of the Sultanate was declared and Turkey became a Republic under Mustafa Kamal otherwise known as Attaturk. At the height of its power the Ottoman Empire was a global center o culture, science, invention, and philosopical endeavors. Astounding progress was made in medicine and construction techniques that were soon adopted in Europe and around the world. Even to our very own days today the modern world continues to feel the influences of the Ottoman Empire!
Under the leadership of Osman I the first Ottoman Sultan the Turkish tribes were mostly CHRISTIAN until they converted to Islam and that is historical FACT. Yes, the Ottomans began as Christians who later converted to Islam. The majority of the Ottoman Turks practiced Sufism because it did not require one to memorize the Qur’an nor to pray in a mosque. A Sufi Muslim could simply read from the Qur’an and pray anywhere and since the Ottomans were nomads at this time they had no cities and no mosques so Sufism fit their habits and customs well as nomads. Sufism continued to be the most influential and powerful sect of Islam during the entire 623 year rule of the Ottoman Turks over most of the Middle East and Southeastern Europe (ie: Romania, Hungary, Bosnia, etc). Sufism is considered by some to be the “mystical arm” of Islam and there is no question that Sufism is probably the most “liberal” sect of Islam. Today most Muslims are Sunnis or Shias (Shi’ites) which are both conservative branches of Islam. Sufism valued tolerance and intellect and it still does today. Sufism today continues to be much more tolerant of other faiths and Sufis feel no need to impose their beliefs on others just as they felt the same in the times of the beginning of the Ottoman Empire.
The Qur’an teaches that Muslims must respect the places of worship of the Christians and Jews (churches and synagogues) because they are People of the Book. Together all three religions form what is sometimes termed as the “Abrahamic Faiths” because each of these three faiths trace their origins back to the Patriarch Abraham (pbuh). Ottoman Sufis Muslims put this teaching into practice and respected mosques, churches, and synagogues which were all considered to be places in which the one true God was remembered and worshipped by the faithful (Sura 22:40).
Ottoman Sufis also practiced the Quranic teaching FORBIDDING compulsion in religion! We find this teaching in the Qur’an in Sura 2:256 which says:
“There is no compulsion in religion,
truly the Right Way has become clearly distinct from error;
therefore, whoever disbelieves in Shaitan (Satan) and believes in Allah (God),
he indeed has laid hold of the firmest handle which shall not break off,
and Allah (God) is Hearing and All-Knowing.”
[Sura al-Baqara 2:256]
Another translation of this same verse says:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.
Truth stands out clear from Error,
Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah
Has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold,
that never breaks.
And Allah hears and knows All-Things.”
(Sura al-Baqara 2:256)
Thus, Islamic Ottoman rule lasted for 623 years and encompassed most of the Middle East and Ottoman rule was characterized by RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE which is very MUCH in line with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. And the sect or form of Islam practiced by the Ottomans was SUFISM which today is the third branch (sect) of Islam. Continue reading