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Inserts / Messages
- Basic Education
- Interesting Articles
- Religious Lectures
- Wiladat Celebrations
- Questions about Iman
- Healthy Living
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
|WE first hear of the Ottoman Turks at the commencement of the thirteenth century, when fleeing before the Mongols, to the number of about 50,000.
They came to the help of the Sultan of Iconium, and in return for their services both against the Mongols and the Greeks, had assigned to them a district in the north-west of Asia Minor.
This was the nucleus of the future Ottoman empire, which, increasing at first by the absorption of the petty states into which the Saljuq Turks had split up, afterwards crossed over into Europe, annexing kingdom after kingdom, until its victorious growth received a check before the gates of Vienna in 1683.
From the earliest days of the extension of their kingdom in Asia Minor, the Ottomans exercised authority over Christian subjects, but it was not until the ancient capital of the Eastern empire fell into their hands in 1453 that the relations between the Muslim Government and the Christian Church were definitely established on a fixed basis.
- One of the first steps taken by Sultan Muhammad II, after the capture of Constantinople and the re-establishment of order in that city, was to secure the allegiance of the Christians, by proclaiming himself the protector of the Greek Church.
- Persecution of the Christians was strictly forbidden; a decree was granted to the newly elected patriarch which secured to him and his successors and the bishops under him, the enjoyment of the old privileges, revenues and exemptions enjoyed under the former rule.
- Gennadios, the first patriarch after the Turkish conquest, received from the hands of the Sultan himself the pastoral staff, which was the sign of his office, together with a purse of a thousand golden ducats and a horse with gorgeous trappings, on which he was privileged to ride with his train through the city.
- But not only was the head of the Church treated with all the respect he had been accustomed to receive from the Christian emperors, but further he was invested with extensive civil power.
- The patriarchs court sat to decide all cases between Greek and Greek : it could impose fines, imprison offenders in a prison provided for its own special use, and in some cases even condemn to capital punishment: while the ministers and officials of the government were directed to enforce its judgments.
- The complete control of spiritual and ecclesiastical matters (in which the Turkish government, unlike the civil power of the Byzantine empire, never interfered), was left entirely in his hands and those of the grand Synod which he could summon whenever he pleased; and hereby he could decide all matters of faith and dogma without fear of interference on the part of the state.
- As a recognized officer of the imperial government, he could do much for the alleviation of the oppressed, by bringing the acts of unjust governors to the notice of the Sultan.
- The Greek bishops in the provinces in their turn were treated with great consideration and were entrusted with so much jurisdiction in civil affairs, that up to modern times they have acted in their dioceses almost as if they were Ottoman prefects over the orthodox population, thus taking the place of the old Christian aristocracy which had been exterminated by the conquerors, and we find that the higher clergy were generally more active as Turkish agents than as Greek priests, and they always taught their people that the Sultan possessed a divine sanction, as the protector of the Orthodox Church.
A charter was subsequently published, securing to the orthodox the use of such churches as had not been confiscated to form mosques, and authorizing them to celebrate their religious rites publicly according to their national usages.
Consequently, though the Greeks were numerically superior to the Turks in all the European provinces of the empire, the religious toleration thus granted them, and the protection of life and property they enjoyed, soon reconciled them to the change of masters and led them to prefer the domination of the Sultan to that of any Christian power.
Indeed, in many parts of the country, the Ottoman conquerors were welcomed by the Greeks as their deliverers from the rapacious and tyrannous rule of the Franks and the Venetians who had so long disputed with Byzantium for the possession of the Peloponnesos and some of the adjacent parts of Greece; by introducing into Greece the feudal system. These had reduced the people to the miserable condition of serfs, and as aliens in speech, race and creed, were hated by their subjects, to whom a change of rulers, (since it could not make their condition worse) would offer a possible chance of improving it, and though their deliverers were likewise aliens. Yet the infidel Turk was infinitely to be preferred to the heretical Catholics.
|The Greeks who lived under the immediate government of the Byzantine court, were equally unlikely to be averse to a change of rulers.
The degradation and tyranny that characterized the dynasty of the Palæologi are frightful to contemplate.
“A corrupt aristocracy, a tyrannical and innumerable clergy, the oppression of perverted law, the exactions of a despicable government,
and still more, its monopolies, its fiscality, its armies of tax and custom collectors, left the degraded people neither rights nor institutions, neither chance of amelioration nor hope of redress.”
Lest such a judgment appear dictated by a spirit of party bias, a contemporary authority may be appealed to in support of its correctness. The Russian annalists who speak of the fall of Constantinople bring a similar indictment against its government. “Without the fear of the law an empire is like a steed without reins.
Constantine and his ancestors allowed their grandees to oppress the people;
- there was no more justice in their law courts;
- no more courage in their hearts;
- the judges amassed treasures from the tears and blood of the innocent;
- the Greek soldiers were proud only of the magnificence of their dress;
- the citizens did not blush at being traitors;
- the soldiers were not ashamed to fly.
- At length the Lord poured out His thunder on these unworthy rulers,
- and raised up Sultan Muhammad, whose warriors delight in battle, and whose judges do not betray their trust.”
This last item of praise may sound strange in the ears of a generation that has constantly been called upon to protest against Turkish injustice; but it is clearly and abundantly borne out by the testimony of contemporary historians.
The Byzantine historian who has handed down to us the story of the capture of Constantinople tells us how even the impetuous Bayazid was liberal and generous to his Christian subjects, and made himself extremely popular among them by admitting them freely to his society.
Murad II distinguished himself by his attention to the administration of justice and by his reforms of the abuses prevalent under the Greek emperors, and punished without mercy those of his officials who oppressed any of his subjects.
For at least a century after the fall of Constantinople a series of able rulers secured, by a firm and vigorous administration, peace and order throughout their dominions, and an admirable civil and judicial organization, if it did not provide an absolutely impartial justice for Muslims and Christians alike, yet caused the Greeks to be far better off than they had been before.
The Greeks were harassed by fewer exactions of forced labor, extraordinary contributions were rarely levied, and the taxes they paid were a trifling burden compared with the endless feudal obligations of the Franks and the countless extortions of the Byzantines.
The Turkish dominions were certainly better governed and more prosperous than most parts of Christian Europe, and the mass of the Christian population engaged in the cultivation of the soil enjoyed a larger measure of private liberty and of the fruits of their labor, under the government of the Sultan than their contemporaries did under that of many Christian monarchs.
A great impulse, too, was given to the commercial activity of the country, for the early Sultans were always ready to foster trade and commerce among their subjects, and many of the great cities entered upon an era of prosperity when the Turkish conquest had delivered them from the paralyzing fiscal oppression of the Byzantine empire, one of the first of them being Nicæa, which capitulated to UrKhan in 1330 under the most favorable terms after a long-protracted siege.
Like the ancient Romans, the Ottomans were great makers of roads and bridges, and thereby facilitated trade throughout their empire; and foreign states were compelled to admit the Greek merchants into ports from which they had been excluded in the time of the Byzantine emperors, but now sailing under the Ottoman flag, they assumed the dress and manners of Turks, and thus secured from the nations of Western Europe the respect .and consideration which the Catholics had hitherto always refused to the members of the Greek Church.
There is, however, one notable exception to this general good treatment and toleration, viz. the tribute of Christian children, who were forcibly taken from their parents at an early age and enrolled in the famous corps of Janissaries. Instituted by UrKhan in 1330, it formed for centuries the mainstay of the despotic power of the Turkish Sultans, and was kept alive by a regular contribution exacted every four years, when the officers of the Sultan visited the districts on which the tax was imposed, and made a selection from among the children about the age of seven. The Muslim legists attempted to apologize for this inhuman tribute by representing these children as the fifth of the spoil which the Quran assigns to the sovereign, and they prescribed that the injunction against forcible conversion should be observed with regard to them also, although the tender age at which they were placed under the instruction of Muslim teachers must have made it practically of none effect.
|When the corps was first instituted, its numbers were rapidly swelled by voluntary accessions from among the Christians themselves, and the circumstances under which this tribute was first imposed may go far to explain the apathy which the Greeks themselves appear to have exhibited.
The whole country had been laid waste by war, and families were often in danger of perishing with hunger; the children who were thus adopted were in many cases orphans, who would otherwise have been left to perish;
further, the custom so widely prevalent at that time of selling Christians as slaves may have made this tax appear less appalling than might have been expected. This custom has, moreover, been maintained to have been only a continuation of a similar usage that was in force under the Byzantine emperors.
It has even been said that there was seldom any necessity of an appeal to force on the part of the officers who collected the appointed number of children, but rather that the parents were often eager to have their children enrolled in a service that secured for them in many cases a brilliant career, and under any circumstances a well-cared-for and comfortable existence, since these little captives were brought up and educated as if they were the Sultans own children.
This institution appears in a less barbarous light if it be true that the parents could often redeem their children by a money payment.
Thomas Smith, among others, speaks of the possibility of buying off the children, so impressed: “Some of their parents, (out of natural pity and out of a true sense of religion) that they may not be thus robbed of their children, who hereby lie under a necessity of renouncing their Christianity, compound for them at the rate of fifty or a hundred dollars, as they are able, or as they can work upon the covetousness of the Turks more or less.”
The Christians of certain cities, such as Constantinople, and of towns and islands that had made this stipulation at the time of their submission to the Turks, or had purchased this privilege, were exempted from the operation of this cruel tax.
These extenuating circumstances at the outset, and the ease with which men acquiesce in any established usage—though serving in no way as an excuse for so inhuman an institution—may help us to understand what a traveler in the seventeenth century calls the ” unaccountable indifference “ with which the Greeks seem to have fallen in with this demand of the new government, which so materially improved their condition.
Further, the Christian subjects of the Turkish empire had to pay the capitation-tax, in return for protection and in lieu of military service. The rates fixed by the Ottoman law were 2½, 5 and 10 piastres a head for every full-grown male, according to his income, women and the clergy being exempt.
In the nineteenth century the rates were 15, 30 and 60 piastres, according to income.
Christian writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries generally speak of this tax as being a ducat a head, but it is also variously described as amounting to 3, 5 or 5 7/8 crowns or dollars. The fluctuating exchange value of the Turkish coinage in the seventeenth century is the probable explanation of the latter variations. To estimate with any exactitude how far this tax was a burden to those who had to pay it, would require a lengthened disquisition on the purchasing value of money at that period and a comparison with other items of expenditure. But by itself it could hardly have formed a valid excuse for a change of faith, as Tournefort points out, when writing in 1700 of the conversion of the Candiots: “It must be confessed, these Wretches sell their Souls a Pennyworth: all they get in exchange for their Religion, is a Vest, and the Privilege of being exempt from the Capitation-Tax, which is not above five Crowns a year.”
The land taxes were the same both for Christians and Muslims, for the old distinction between lands on which tithe was paid by the Muslim proprietor, and those on which Kharaj was paid by the non-Muslim proprietor, was not recognized by the Ottomans.
Whatever sufferings the Christians had to endure proceeded from the tyranny of individuals, who took advantage of their official position to extort money from those under their jurisdiction. Such acts of oppression were not only contrary to the Muslim law, but were rare before the central government had grown weak and suffered the corruption and injustice of local authorities to go unpunished.
There is a very marked difference between the accounts we have of the condition of the Christians during the first two centuries of the Turkish rule in Europe and those of a later date, when the period of decadence had fully set in. But it is noticeable that in those very times in which the condition of the Christians had been most intolerable there is least record of conversion to Islam. In the eighteenth century, when the condition of the Christians was worse than at any other period, we find hardly any mention of conversions at all, and the Turks themselves are represented as utterly indifferent to the progress of their religion and considerably infected with skepticism and unbelief.
But if we except the tribute of the children, to which the conquered Greeks seem to have submitted with so little show of resistance, and which owed its abolition, not to any revolt or insurrection against its continuance, but to the increase of the Turkish population and of the number of the renegades who were constantly entering the Sultans service,—the treatment of their Christian subjects by the Ottoman emperors—at least for two centuries after their conquest of Greece—exhibits a toleration such as was at that time quite unknown in the rest of Europe.
The Calvinists of Hungary and Transylvania, and the Unitarians of the latter country, long preferred to submit to the Turks rather than fall into the hands of the fanatical house of Hapsburg; and the Protestants of Silesia looked with longing eyes towards Turkey, and would gladly have purchased religious freedom at the price of submission to the Muslim rule.
It was to Turkey that the persecuted Spanish Jews fled for refuge in enormous numbers at the end of the fifteenth century, and the Cossacks who belonged to the sect of the Old Believers and were persecuted by the Russian State Church, found in the dominions of the Sultan the toleration which their Christian brethren denied them.
Even in Italy there were men who turned longing eyes towards the Turks in the hope that as their subjects they might enjoy the freedom and the toleration they despaired of enjoying under a Christian government.
It would seem, then, that Islam was not spread by force in the dominion of the Sultan of Turkey, and though the want of even-handed justice and the oppression of unscrupulous officials in the days of the empires decline, may have driven some Christians to attempt to better their condition by a change of faith, such cases were rare in the first two centuries of the Turkish rule in Europe, to which period the mass of conversions belong. It would have been wonderful indeed if the ardor of proselytizing that animated the Ottomans at this time had never carried them beyond the bounds of toleration established by their own laws. Yet it has been said by one who was a captive among them for twenty-two years that the Turks “compelled no one to renounce his faith.”
Similar testimony is borne by others : an English gentleman who visited Turkey in the early part of the seventeenth century, tells us that ” There is seldom any compulsion of conscience, and then not by death, where no criminal offence gives occasion.”
a Dutch traveler of the sixteenth century, tells us that while he was admiring the great mosque of Santa Sophia, some Turks even tried to work upon his religious feelings through his aesthetic sense, saying to him, ” If you become a Muslim, you will be able to come here every day of your life.”
About a century later, an English traveller had a similar experience : “Sometimes, out of an excess of zeal, they will ask a Christian civilly enough, as I have been asked myself in the Portico of Sancta Sophia, why will you not turn Muslim, and be as one of us?”
The public rejoicings that hailed the accession of a new convert to the faith, testify to the ardent love for souls which made these men such zealous proselytizers.
|The new Muslim was set upon a horse and led in triumph through the streets of the city.
If he was known to be genuinely honest in his change of faith and had voluntarily entered the pale of Islam, or if he was a person of good position,
he was received with high honor and some provision made for his support.
There was certainly abundant evidence for saying that “The Turks are preposterously zealous in praying for the conversion of Christians to their religion: they pray heartily, and every day in their Temples, that Christians may embrace the Quran, and become their Proselytes, in effecting of which they leave no means unassaied by fear and flattery, by punishments and rewards.”
These zealous efforts for winning converts were rendered the more effective by certain conditions of Christian society itself.
- Foremost among these was the degraded condition of the Greek Church.
- Side by side with the civil despotism of the Byzantine empire, had arisen an ecclesiastical despotism which had crushed all energy of intellectual life under the weight of a dogmatism that interdicted all discussion in matters of morals and religion.
- The only thing that disturbed this lethargy was the fierce controversial war waged against the Latin Church with all the bitterness of theological polemics and race hatred.
- The religion of the people had degenerated into a scrupulous observance of outward forms, and the intense fervor of their devotion found an outlet in the worship of the Virgin and the saints, of pictures and relics.
- There were many who turned from a Church whose spiritual life had sunk so low, and weary of interminable discussions on such subtle points of doctrine as the Double Procession of the Holy Spirit, and such trivialities as the use of leavened and unleavened bread in the Blessed Sacrament,
- gladly accepted the clear and intelligible theistic teaching of Islam. 
We are told of large numbers of persons being converted, not only from among the simple folk, but also learned men of every class, rank and condition; of how the Turks made a better provision for those monks and priests who embraced the Muslim creed, in order that their example might lead others to be converted. While Adrianople was still the Turkish capital (e. g. before 1453) the court was thronged with renegades, and they are said to have formed the majority of the magnates there.
Byzantine princes and others often passed over to the side of the Muslims, and received a ready welcome among them : one of the earliest of such cases dates from 1140 when a nephew of the emperor John Comnenes embraced Islam and married a daughter of Masud, the Sultan of Iconium.
After the fall of Constantinople, the upper classes of Christian society showed much more readiness to embrace Islam than the mass of the Greeks; among the converts we meet with several bearing the name of the late imperial family of the Palæologi, and the learned George Amiroutzes of Trebizond abandoned Christianity in his declining years, and the names of many other such individuals have found a record.
The faith of Islam would now be the natural refuge for those members of the Eastern Church who felt such yearnings after a purer and simpler form of doctrine as had given rise to the Paulician heresy so fiercely suppressed a few centuries before.
This movement had been very largely a protest against the superstitions of the Orthodox Church, against the worship of images, relics and saints, and an effort after simplicity of faith and the devout life. As some adherents of this heresy were to be found in Bulgaria even so late as the seventeenth century, the Muslim conquerors doubtless found many who were dissatisfied with the doctrine and practice of the Greek Church;. and as all the conditions were unfavorable to the formation of any such Protestant Churches as arose in the West, such dissentient spirits would doubtless find a more congenial atmosphere in the religion of Islam.
Frequent mention is made of cases of conversion from among the clergy, and even among the highest dignitaries of the Church, such as a former Metropolitan of Rhodes. In 1676 it is said that in Corinth some Christian people went over every day to the Turks and that three priests had become Muslims the year before; in 1679 is recorded the death of a convert monk. On the occasion of the circumcision of Mustafa, son of Muhammad IV, in 1675, there were at least two hundred conversion to Islam made during the thirteen days of public rejoicing, and numerous other instances may be found in writings of this period. A contemporary writer (1663) has well described the mental attitude of such converts.
|“When you mix with the Turks in the ordinary intercourse of life and see that they pray and sing even the Psalms of David;
that they give alms and do other good works;
that they think highly of Christ,
hold the Bible in great honor, and the like;
that, besides, any ass may become parish priest who plies the Bassa with presents, and he will not urge Christianity on you very much; so you will come to think that they are good people and will very probably be saved;
and so you will come to believe that you too may be saved, if you likewise become Turks.
Herewith will the Holy Trinity and the crucified Son of God, with many other mysteries of the faith, which seem quite absurd to the unenlightened reason, easily pass out of your thoughts, and imperceptibly Christianity will quite die out in you, and you will think that it is all the same whether you be Christians or Turks.”
Records of conversions after this period are not common, but Motraye gives an account of several, who became Muslims in Constantinople in 1703; among them was a French priest and some other French Catholics, and some priests from Smyrna.
Another feature that contributed to the decay of its numbers:
- was the corruption of the Greek Church and degradation of its pastors, particularly the higher clergy.
- The sees of bishops and archbishops were put up to auction to the highest bidders, and the purchasers sought to recoup themselves by exacting levies of all kinds from their flocks;
- they burdened the unfortunate Christians with taxes ordinary and extraordinary,
- made them purchase all the sacraments at exorbitant rates, baptism, confession, holy communion, indulgences, and the right of Christian burial.
- Some of the clergy even formed an unholy alliance with the Janissaries,
- and several bishops had their names and those of their households inscribed on the list of one of their Ortas or regiments,
- the better to secure an immunity for their excesses and escape the punishment of their crimes under the protection of this corporation which the weakness of the Ottoman rulers had allowed to assume such a powerful position in the state.
The Christian clergy are even said to have carried off the children of the parishioners and sold them as slaves, to get money for their simoniacal designs.
While there was so much in the Christian society of the time to repel, there was much in the character and life of the Turks to attract, and the superiority of the early Ottomans as compared with the degradation of the guides and teachers of the Christian Church would naturally impress devout minds that revolted from the selfish ambition, simony and corruption of the Greek ecclesiastics.
Christian writers constantly praise these Turks for the earnestness and intensity of their religious life; their zeal in the performance of the observances prescribed by their faith; the outward decency and modesty displayed in their apparel and mode of living; the absence of ostentatious display and the simplicity of life observable even in the great and powerful.
Even the behavior of the soldiery receives its meed of praise. During the march of an army the inhabitants of the country, we are told by the secretary to the Embassy sent by Charles II to the Sultan, had no complaints to make of being plundered or of their women being maltreated. All the taverns along the line of march were shut up and sealed two or three days before the arrival of the army, and no wine was allowed to be sold to the soldiers under pain of death.
The same conclusion is drawn by a modern historian, who writes:—” We find that many Greeks of high talent and moral character were so sensible of the superiority of the Muslims, that even when they escaped being drafted into the Sultans household as tribute-children, they voluntarily embraced the faith of Muhammad. The moral superiority of Ottoman society must be allowed to have had as much weight in causing these conversions, which were numerous in the fifteenth century, as the personal ambition of individuals.”
- A generation that has watched the decay of the Turkish power in Europe and the successive curtailment of its territorial possessions, and is accustomed to hearing it spoken of as the “sick man,” destined to a speedy dissolution, must find it difficult to realize the feelings which the Ottoman empire inspired in the early days of its rise in Europe.
- The rapid and widespread success of the Turkish arms filled men’s minds with terror and amazement. One Christian kingdom after another fell into their hands: Bulgaria, Servia, Bosnia, and Hungary yielded up their independence as Christian states.
- The proud Republic of Venice saw one possession after another wrested from it, until the Lion of St. Mark held sway on the shores of the Adriatic alone. Even the safety of the Eternal City itself was menaced by the capture of Otranto.
- Christian literature of the latter half of the fifteenth and of the sixteenth centuries is full of direful forebodings of the fate that threatened Christian Europe unless the victorious progress of the Turk was arrested; he is represented as a scourge in the hand of God for the punishment of the sins and back-slidings of His people, or on the other hand as the unloosed power of the Devil working for the destruction of Christianity under the hypocritical guise of religion.
- But—what is most important to notice here—some men began to ask themselves, “Is it possible that God would allow the Muslims to increase in such countless numbers without good reason? Is it conceivable that so many thousands are to be damned like one man? How can such multitudes be opposed to the true faith? since truth is stronger than error and is more loved and desired by all men, it is not possible for so many men to be fighting against it. How could they prevail against truth, since God always helps and upholds the truth ? How could their religion so marvelously increase, if built upon the rotten foundation of error?”
As organized by the Muslim Law, slavery was robbed of many of its harshest features, nor in Turkey at least does it seem to have been accompanied by such barbarities and atrocities as in the pirate states of Northern Africa.
The slaves, like other citizens, had their rights, and it is even said that a slave might summon his master before the Qadhi for ill usage, and that if he alleged that their tempers were so opposite, that it was impossible for them to agree, the Qadhi could oblige his master to sell him.
The condition of the Christian captives naturally varied with circumstances and their own capabilities of adapting themselves to a life of hardship; the aged, the priests and monks, and those of noble birth suffered most, while the physician and the handicraftsman received more considerate treatment from their masters, as being servants that best repaid the money spent upon them. The galley-slaves naturally suffered most of all, indeed the kindest treatment could have but little relieved the hardships incident to such an occupation.