Religious Persecution in the Ottoman Empire
For thousands of years, people of many different cultures have had a knack for maltreating those who hold beliefs different to their own. In western religions, Christians, Muslims, and Jews have not always been completely tolerant towards each other. The Ottoman Empire started in the 14th century A.D. and thrived into the early 20th century A.D. The empire gained notoriety for its oppressive Islamic reign. The rule of the late Ottoman Empire is a great example of religious intolerance.
Christians and Jews did not always have such a rough time in the Ottoman Empire. Under one of the great, early emperors, Suleiman the Magnificent, Jews and Christians were treated with a degree of fairness. Although unable to hold public office, the Jews and Christians were allowed to conduct business as any of the Muslims would. Some of them became quite wealthy, and some Muslims would probably become jealous of that wealth, setting the stage for the persecution later faced by non-Muslims living in the empire. A small tax, known as a Jizya, was collected from all non-practicing Muslims. One would think it was in the best interest of the State to maintain such amiable policies; non-Muslims accounted for a great deal of tax revenue. Unfortunately, as the empire grew, so did religious intolerance.
Following Suleiman’s rule, the Ottoman Empire fell into a period of revolts
and failed military conquests. Many of the lands that the Ottoman’s had taken over
were of a primarily Christian demographic. Most of the Ottoman’s foes were Catholic nations, such as Spain and Italy. Many Christian boys of conquered lands were forced receive and Islamic educations and serve many years in the Ottoman military. These Janizaries were used to control populations within Ottoman borders. Riots and civil revolts arose out of the indignation that many non-Muslims felt for being placed under Islamic rule. Dissenting Christians and Jews were proving to be quite a thorn in the side of the Ottoman ruling class, and the eventual maltreatment faced by non-Muslims was probably foreseeable. In an attempt to quell the riots, Ottoman rulers used force and enacted arbitrary laws. This certainly bred more discontent among non-Muslims creating a vicious cycle of revolt and retribution.
The Ottoman’s were known to treat animals better than they did Christians. The laws that were set up made it a greater offense to deny a dog food than to deny food to a non-Muslim. Animals generally received better treatment than non-Muslims, but this is not surprising considering this is a culture that thought it was good to rub camel foam into their beards. This really paints a picture of the Ottoman’s attitude towards Christians living in the empire.
It is pretty clear to most that there were better places for Christians to be living in the latter half of the 2nd millennia. Whether they were being subjected to arbitrary laws, facing brutal punishment, or starving from lack of food, non-Muslims had a hard time getting along in the Ottoman Empire. The unfortunate part is that this type of religious intolerance is common throughout history and has yet to cease even today.
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