What is the meaning of Pax Ottoman, a term used by Westerners to signify the Ottoman’s peace and tolerance?
The concept called Pax Ottoman in Western culture is used to express the Ottoman State’s contribution to world peace during the times when the Ottoman State was the super power in the world. It is better understood from day to day what the peace established by the Ottomans, which used its power to ensure the world peace, meant although it was the super power of its time, for the Balkans, the Black Sea coasts, the Middle East and North Africa geographies have today turned out to be such places as where the political balances and international peace have been deteriorating.
The vacancy of the Ottomans who had withdrawn from the Balkans was not filled, and accordingly that region was quite Balkanized. The term Balkanization is a political term denoting division, partition and political chaos, which would define its thorough meaning with the Ottomans’ retreat from the region. The broad Arab world has never caught again their serene days they had lived under the banner of the Ottoman banners. The gift of Israel to the Arab society by the West occurred after the Ottoman State’s falling weak and withdrawn from the region. While the Ottoman state had been pouring aids and sending surrahs (gifts sent by the Sultan annually) to the destitute of Medina from the heart of Anatolia and Egypt by means of charity foundations, there was solely and merely one aim of the West, who had been settling in the region for the last century: hegemony and oil. After the Ottoman State had retreated from the peninsula, the extensive Arab geography was divided with a ruler; and thus such political maps were formed as to facilitate the colonialism of the West. In brief, tranquility became a thing of past.
The Ottoman State was an element of balance in Europe, Middle East and North Africa. It was a common point where the demands of a large number of sections of society with different ethnical structures and religions met. In fact, the Ottoman State had built such a supra-structure that churches and mosques stood side by side. And the foundation of that supra-culture was based upon “Divine Responsibility“. In essence, the fundamental philosophies of conquests were the yield of that mental world that was based on Divine Liability. Such targets as to conquer states, annex new soils, establish a powerful state, rule masses of people, which were all deemed as the fundamental ideal of the secular world did not go far from being a means for Ottoman administrators, for the prevailing notion in all the Islamic societies was not based upon hoarding ephemeral riches but formed around such a sublime ideal as “I’la al-Qalimatullah“ (Enjoining right, and forbidding evil). At least, it was theoretically like that. The fundamental goal was the glorification and protection of the Religion and enabling the whole mankind to benefit from the favor of Islam. And in fact a strong state and conquests were needed for that objective.
Ottoman administrators who deemed themselves affiliated to “Shar’ al-Sharif (Shariah)” oppressed no ethnical minority under their sovereignty but assured them to live by their own beliefs, for that attitude was an essential principle of Islam and included in those rights granted by Islamic Legislation to Ahl al-Dhimmah (non-Muslim subjects), and that could not be violated. As a matter of fact, our Muslim forefathers acted – as they did in every affair- within the limits determined by what they called “Sahr’ al-Sharif”, viz. Islamic Legislation, as regards to the non-Muslims dwelling on the Ottoman State’s soils. According to Islamic Legislation, which was called “Shar’ al-Sharif” in the Ottoman State, non-Muslims that had made peace with Muslims and recognized the sovereignty of a Muslim State were called “Dhimmis” (non-Muslim subjects), who all were – disregardful of their colors, tongues and races – equally treated as per the decrees of “Shar’ al-Sharif”.
It is likely to meet many examples as to freedom in belief from the Ottoman history. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was conquered and annexed to Ottoman soils in 1463 by Sultan Muhammad the Conqueror, the citizens of the country professed Islam by their own will without any oppression by virtue of the Ottomans’ just and tolerant administration and subsequently they remained loyal to the Ottoman State and attached to the ideals it represented. The Grand Conqueror granted religious freedom to the region’s dwellers when he conquered Bosnia and assured their property and life security. In a rescript sent to Latin priests in the region it was evidently expressed that the Conqueror granted the region’s dwellers goods and life security, religious freedom and liberty:
“I am Sultan Muhammad Khan. Let everyone be – they laymen or notables – be informed that işbu dârendegân-ı fermân-ı hümâyûn Bosna ruhbânlarına mezîd-i inâyetim zuhûra gelip buyurdum ki, mezbûrlara ve kiliselerine kimse mâni‘ ve müzâhim olmayıp ihtiyâtsız memleketimde duralar. Ve kaçup gidenler dahi emn ü emânda olalar.
Gelüp bizim hâssa memleketimizde havfsiz sâkin olup kiliselerine mütemekkin olalar. Ve yüce hazretimden ve vezîrlerimden ve kullarımdan ve reâyalarımdan ve cemî‘-i memleketim halkından kimse mezbûrelere dahl ve ta‘arruz edip incitmeyeler, kendülere ve cânlarına ve mâllarına ve kiliselerine ve dahi yabandan hâssa memleketimize âdem gelirler ise yemîn-i mugallaza ederim ki yeri, göğü yaratan Perverdigâr hakkıçün ve Mushaf hakkıçün ve ulu Peygamberimiz hakkıçün ve yüz yirmi dört bin peygamberler hakkıçün ve kuşandığım kılıç hakkıçün bu yazılanlara hiçbir ferd muhâlefet etmeye. Mâdâm ki bunlar benim emrime mutî ve münkâd olalar. Şöyle bilesiz.”
With the assurance of essential rights and freedoms as well as thanks to an affectionate and just administration stated in the edict of the Conqueror the feudal begs’ tyranny and oppressions that had been lasting in the Balkans for years thus came to an end. Sad to say, with the Ottomans’ withdrawal from those soils the former chaos and tyranny started anew. Non-Muslim subjects that had long been living under the Ottoman State’s just administration would now re-stage oppressions and tyrannies arising from forgotten enmities and hatreds as result of the authority gap in the last period of the Ottoman State as well as the provocations of foreign focuses and thus unfortunately opening the way leading to the realization of today’s tragedy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Serbian Fascism that exposes the Kosovars to genocide has long forgotten that they took shelter with the affectionate hands of the Ottomans five hundred years ago. When Sultan Muhammad the Conqueror expanded his conquests in Rumelia and arrived at the frontiers of Serbia, the Serbians that remained between two fires were forced to make their choice between Hungary and the Ottoman State. At that time the Serbians were Orthodox while the Hungarians Catholic and as there was discordance between the Romans and the Latin, the two countries did not like each other at all. The King of Hungary, Jan Hunyad, was eager to conquer Serbia. The Serbian King, George Brancowich, sent a delegation to the Hungarian King, who egged him on to rebel against the Ottoman State and asked him:
“If the Hungarians defeat the Turks, what kind of permissions will you grant concerning the Orthodoxy, the sect of the Serbians?”
The reply of Jan Hunyad was very interesting from the point of reflecting the level of their respect towards humankind and their rights and freedoms:
“I will tear down all the Orthodox churches and establish Catholic churches throughout Serbia instead.”
He also sent a delegation to Sultan Muhammad the Conqueror to ask the same question and received the following answer:
“A church will be put up next to each mosque”. Having received this letter, the Serbian King obeyed the Muslim Ottoman State not Christian Hungary.
The Covenant given by the Conqueror upon his conquest of Istanbul to the Galatian Genoese was also of the significant documents in our history that expressed the protection of the basic rights and freedoms of the non-Muslim subjects and the establishment of social peace. As we have studied this edict in the section as to the rights of minorities, we cut it short here.
The Ottomans developed policies in direction of being an element of balance in the world’s political arena. As a matter of fact, that mission of element of balance ensured through military victories in the West and the East would precisely realize during the age of rise. In 16th Century the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea entered under the sovereignty of Turks, the peace and tranquility in the Balkans continued, and the Northern Africa and Arabian Peninsula also came under the rule of that strong state and thus were included in the zone of peace and security. While the Ottoman State ensured the atmosphere of peace, tolerance and liberty over the Balkan societies, it was becoming the country the other European countries would first take into consideration. In fact, the European countries would take into account what the Ottoman State would say even as regards to their relations between themselves. Accordingly, they were unable to follow such a policy as disregarded the Ottoman State and as independent from the Ottoman State. Because the Ottomans were not passive spectators that merely watched Europe but a mighty actor. We might say this: The Ottomans were such a state that international powers were watching it carefully even when it was falling.
The Ottoman administration was not based upon oppression but principles of justice, not transgressing the limits determined by Shar al-Sharif. Therefore, human rights and freedoms were being applied in the Ottoman State to the largest extent of contemporary times. The differences in religion and races were no obstacle to such rights, for in West from 1533 to 1546 wherein the Ottoman threat prevailed Protestants had vastly been relieved of the oppressions of Catholic Habsburg. As a matter of fact, in mid-XVI. century Turks were deemed as the hope of Protestants and that the Protestants in the Ottoman soils performed their religious duties freely was considered ideal for those living in the lands of the Empire. In fact, they would say: “It is better to fall in the hands of Turks rather than those of the Franks” (Ducas, pg. 291, Bonn). The statements in that letter sent to the Portuguese King during the procedures of the settlement of peace with the Portuguese in the 16. century evidence the grandeur of the peace umbrella of the Ottomans:
“With the divine aid of the Allah the Most High şimdiki halde hilafet-i rûy-ı zemine kabza-ı tasarruf ve iktidar murad olub şark ve garbın re’âyâsı cenah-ı devletimizle müstazıl olub daima re’âyâ hakkında mezîd-i merhamet-i şahânemiz mebzûl oldığına binâen…”.
Cemil Meriç’s reply to the question as to why a Bodin, a Machiavelli, a Hobbes was not raised in the Ottoman State reads as follows:
“Why raised? These excellent theorists of Monarchy would have become the epicists of the Magnificent Sultan if they had lived in the Ottoman lands. The dream of a just and munificent state which they did not see come true in their country was only fulfilled by the Ottomans”.
In his work titled ‘Sultan Sulaiman the Lawmaker’ Fairfax Downey wrote: “Peoples of twenty different races lived without complaint and uproar under the sovereignty of Sulaiman (Sultan Sulaiman the Legislator). The subjects, including non-Muslims, were allowed to hold estate, in return of which they were charged with some liabilities. A great number of Christians abandoned their homes in Christian countries whose taxes were heavy and their justice indecisive and they were settled in Turkey”.
On the other hand, they undertook the protection and the leadership of the Sunnite Islamic World in the East removed the Shiite danger. Considering it a fardh al-ain (obligatory act binding all) to get rid of the Shiite oppression on the Muslims, the Ottomans further strengthened their place in the Islamic world with their campaigns, for with Selim the Excellent’s campaign to Egypt the Ottoman Sultans received the title of Caliph and thus increased their spiritual influence. The institution of Caliph, which granted the Sultans the right to have word over all the Muslims, not only reinforced the Ottomans’ power but also helped them establish the peace they targeted.
With the agreement concluded in 1590 the superiority of the Ottomans intensified. With that agreement ‘tabarrai’, which meant cursing the three Caliphs except for Ali, which had been also discussed in the agreement of 1555, was banned. In the agreements to follow these religious issues were always given priority. With their similar policies, the Ottomans strengthened their image of spiritual guardianship of the Sunnite world and the protectorate of the Religion.
The mission of the being a Defender of the Religion quite seemed a matter of primary importance. The rationale of campaigns was theoretically based upon the maintenance of the Religion and religious zeal. When the Portuguese occupied India, in the statement of reasons for the project Suez Canal, which would enable the Ottoman fleet to sail through the Suez for the rescuing of that land from the invasion of infidels, was written that it could not be deemed suitable that the ways of those Indian Muslims who would visit Haramain al-Sharifain (the Sacred Cities, i.e. Mecca and Medina) be cut and moreover that Muslims be under the governance of unbelievers.
The age of the Lawmaker was a brilliant era wherein the meaning of the term ‘the Pax Ottoman’ was proven, for in that age the efforts for a sound legal system to prevail, giving priority to the principle of justice, undertaking the leadership and the guardianship of the Sunnite World and again shouldering the ‘divine mission’ against the Safawids in the east and the Christian World in the west would cause the XVI. century to become an Age of the Legislator, which era would later be always idealized.
The projects of Mehmed Pasha of Sokul, the realization whereof seemed infeasible in consideration of the possibilities of the time, were all the fruits of that supra-ideal. Opening the Suez Canal and thus following a more efficient policy in the region and in the Indian Ocean, hindering the Kingdom of Moscow – which had been attempting to control the historical routes of trade and pilgrimage leading from the Central Asia to the East – whereby enhancing the liaison of the Central Asia with the Sunnite World, opening the Don-Volga Canal in order to reach the Caspian Sea and supporting the Andalusian Muslims in a more serious manner could be counted among those projects.
In short, Pax Ottoman signifies the application by the Ottoman State of the Islamic Legislation, which regards the whole mankind as the servants of Allah .
Resource:The Unknown Ottoman