Turning back the clock on Muslim history

Criticism of the Ottoman Sultans | Global Intifada

Jinnzaman has an interesting feature on scholarly criticism of the Ottoman empire, which was not as simplistic as some Muslims portray it, by calling all of the sultans awliyaa’ (saints); rather, there were some good and some bad, as one of the major scholars who witnessed the conquest of Egypt testified.

One of my main criticisms of Muslim political activism is that some assume that if we only turned back the clock to, say, the mid-Ottoman period, or even the 18th century, everything in the Muslim world would be fine again. I have even read a suggestion that the imperial family still exists, and that the Muslims should find the pretender an office to move into. Quite apart from the fact that turning back the clock just does not happen, they overlook the negative aspects of their rule, notably the boy tribute system in Europe, which I have heard some Muslims offer as an example of Ottoman statesmanship even though it produced a lasting legacy of bitterness. Perhaps the people left behind were more embittered than those taken, who became part of an elite regiment in the Ottoman army, but it was an oppressive innovation all the same.

While I do not wish to excuse local hostility to Muslims, given that none of them actually experienced this particular form of oppression (it was ended long before the Ottoman empire fell, because the Janissary corps it produced came to be seen as a threat to the Ottoman state), and because it probably has much to do with the attitude of Serbian clergy towards people of other religions (including Catholics, let alone Muslims), the fact remains that the Balkans, which did not experience any other form of Muslim rule besides the Ottmans’, have not become a predominantly Muslim region unlike many other places just as far from the traditional centres of Islam which were exposed to Islam just as late (e.g. Indonesia and parts of Africa), and the nature of Ottoman rule cannot be excluded when we consider the reasons for this, given the length of Ottoman rule there.

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