The Ottoman model of tolerance

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Middle East Topics: Istanbul, Judaism, Ottoman Empire, Turkiye Views: 7880

The vicious attacks on two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul displayed equal measures of intolerance and inhumanity. But above all, they demonstrated an amazing degree of sheer callousness and irrationality. With one stroke, the perpetrators of this monstrous crime have lost any sympathy for their cause that might have existed in Turkey. 

What did Al Qaeda hope to achieve by killing Jews living peacefully in a Muslim country? In the event, the attacks have given Israel and the West a further excuse to brand Muslims anti- Semites although we have always claimed that historically, Jews were far better treated by Muslims than they were by Christians. The Ottomans were particularly welcoming to them and at one point, there were 400,000 Jews living in their empire (which included Palestine). 

Jews, driven out of Spain by the Inquisition in the 15th century, were welcomed in the Ottoman Empire. In his book 'Constantinople', Philip Mansel quotes a rabbi in Turkey writing to his brethren in Europe where they were facing increasing persecution after 1453: 

"Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed by heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered. Rich are the fruits of the earth. Everything is cheap and each one of us lives in freedom. Here a Jew is not compelled to wear a yellow star as a badge of shame as is the case in Germany where even wealth and great fortune is a curse for a Jew because he therewith arouses jealousy among the Christians and they devise all kinds of slander against him to rob him of his gold. Arise my brethren, gird up your loins, collect up your forces and come to us." 

Pushed out by an intolerant Church in much of Europe, Jews began playing an increasingly important role in the Ottoman Empire. Several districts in Istanbul were identified with them and their synagogues were focal points in their daily lives. Retaining an archaic form of Spanish as the language they use among themselves to this day, Jews are thoroughly integrated into Istanbul society. Although there are only 27,000 left in the city, they are active and successful in business and professions. Over the years, I have met several of them in Istanbul and they were indistinguishable from other Turks; indeed, I had no idea they were Jewish until my friends told me later. 

As an example of the close relationship between Jews and Muslims in Istanbul, Mansel informs us that in one ancient market built during the days of Suleiman the Magnificent, a synagogue and a mosque shared the first floor. They both exist side by side to this day. According to the author, the Jews used their commercial skills to marginalize the well-entrenched Italian community by the 16th century. Mansel quotes a French diplomat from the period writing enviously: 

"They [Jews] now have in their hands the most and greatest traffic of merchandise and ready money that is conducted in all the Levant. The shops and stalls stocked with all the varieties of goods which can be found in Constantinople are those of the Jews. 

They have also among them very excellent practitioners of all the arts and manufactures, specially the Marranos [Jews] not long since banished and expelled from Spain and Portugal who to the great detriment and injury of Christianity have taught the Turks several inventions, artifices and machines of war such as how to make artillery, arquebuses [ancient muskets], gunpowder, cannon-balls and other arms." 

So clearly, the Jewish community was very useful to the Ottomans and were considered equal citizens in a vast empire that drew Janissaries from Sweden, slaves from Africa and traders and artisans from much of the known world. One reason for the empire's longevity was that most of the Sultans were tolerant rulers who realized the value of a multi-cultural society long before it became a buzz-word in the West. 

From this model to the growing intolerance that threatens world peace today is a long and tragic fall. Karachi had a synagogue and a small Jewish community until the Fifties and I remember having a couple of local Jewish kids with me in school. Now for a large number of Muslims around the world, a Jew is a caricature figure to be hated and reviled, regardless of whether he supports Israel or not. It is important to remember that many of them in the West firmly oppose the extremist policies being followed by Sharon and his ilk, as do many Israelis. 

We have demonized Jews to such an extent that we equate them all with extremist right-wing settlers. While most Jews supported the creation of Israel, many of them do not approve of retaining the territories occupied after the 1967 war, and accept the right of the Palestinians to their own state. 

In our righteous anger over the creation of a state perceived as a western outpost in Palestine, we forget that specially after the horrors they suffered under Nazi Germany, the Jews were desperate for a homeland. Now, whatever the rights and wrongs of the UN resolution that brought it into being, Jews will defend Israel's right to exist tooth and nail. 

By attacking and desecrating Jewish synagogues and graves in different parts of the world, Muslims are increasingly identifying themselves with right-wing extremist groups that feed on hatred of all things non-white and non-Christian. In a statement issued after the Istanbul attacks, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles based Simon Wisenthal Centre was moved to say: "They want to cleanse Europe of Jews so that it will be all open territory for the fundamentalist Islam groups..." He went on to charge that the goal of Islamic fundamentalists echoes "the policy advocated by the Nazis during World War II". 

Although these charges are farfetched, they reflect the fear and anger among the Jews and resonate in a West sympathetic to them for a variety of reasons ranging from cultural affinity to the collective guilt surrounding the Holocaust.

The attacks on the Istanbul synagogue have only alienated Muslim Turkey and the Christian West. Worse, they have further tarnished the image of Islam. All peace-loving people should firmly condemn the killers and their methods.

Source: Dawn

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Middle East
  Topics: Istanbul, Judaism, Ottoman Empire, Turkiye
Views: 7880

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Older Comments:
Actually Akbar you're mistaken. The slaughter of 20 million Muslims does not count because they do not belong to that accursed tribe from Eastern Europe. Meaning they werent Ashkenazi Jews.
john norman is zionist troll, he's only following the dictates of the talmud, that great tome of jewish supremascisy.

Ismail Behisti got it exactly right. And by the way, John, you talk about Ottoman intolerance for Jews and Christians, and you talk about the Jewish holocaust, and you never EVER agree with one Muslim perosn ever since you have visited this site, even if they say that killing innocent people, whether they are jews or any other ethnicity, is wrong. It seems like to me that you are blaming Muslims for being totally intolerant throughout history....I beg to differ, and so do even thousands of American historians for that matter.

Speaking of holocausts, so people like you John keep on reminding everyone that 6 million jews died in the holocaust, well what about the more than 20 million Muslims that were slaughtered by Stalin? Why don't you defend this holocaust? What is your agenda, come out and say it please, I'd like to know what you truly believe and if you are favouring one group over the other...can't you see we're all human? It's pretty sad but I don't think you see that....sad for you, b/c if you don't you'll just be left behind.

Nice article, a thoughtful one indeed.But I understand fron this article that the author has assumed that it must be al-qaeeda who has done it, but I dont understand why the author has made such assumption. Even from the article it is clear how good the relationship is between jews and muslims specially in turkey, and secondly, and more importantly, the author himself pointed out that it will benifit the anti islamic block in making them even more energetic in their war against muslims so I dont understand why would al-qaeeda want to give their enemies such a chance??

Finally, al-qaeeda is a USA made phenomena which may not even exists in reality! But unfortunately it seems to me that pentagon and its allies comes up with insulting confusing words and we in the muslim world just assume that its right. I would be glad if the author can think ohters too behind this terrible horrendous crime while al-qaeeda may too be a suspect.

great article. but we (muslims) must be mindful of a collective assault (ignited by western ideology and concepts via the media related to islamic extremists) which may place us in a precarious position (i.e. a worldwide negative overview) relative to that of the ostracized jews in history.??..

remember that the ordinary people of israel who by their indifference to the plight of the palestinians have caused pain and anger amongst muslims all over the world. do the jews feel the pain of the muslims- NO. then let them taste a bit of the punishment they have unjustly meted out to the muslim.
secondly,how does a country that openly practises secularism be termed muslim; how muslim is a land that by law prohibits the hijab ? where is the much touted secularist freedom of choice in religion that turkey extends to the non muslim but not the muslim.
thirdly, how come "muslim" turkey receives such approval from israel that they sell their best arms to the turk.. muslim turkey has long had her turkey cooked, stewed braised n roasted.
quran refers to the jews as even though being closest in religion to the muslim , nevertheless their inveterate enemy for all time.
let the jews prove us muslims wrong; let them prove they are better in friendship than the christian.
its true that judaism, flourished under muslim rule for 1400 yaers; we can see despite this heritage of good relations, how islam flourishes in israel today. go to israel today ; see for yourself.

Assalam alaikum

The article provides an excellent overview of how well Jews, Christians and other ahl-dhimma where treated during the Ottoman Caliphate.Indeed the attacks in Istanbul must be condemned, not only are they wrong from an Islamic viewpoint but they also give ammunition to the enemies of Islam who say that all Muslims are anti-semites.
However I disagree with the author's view on the creation of the Zionist state, as Muslims we must take care to differentiate between Zionists and Jews that live(ed) amongst the Muslims peacfully.The Zionist state was not created due to the persecution the Jews suffered during WWII but due to an orchestrated scheme stretching back to the end of the 19th century by individuals such as Theodr Herzl and Chaim Weizmann the former was an agnostic and despised traditional Jewish religion.We should also not forget that the creation of this entity led to the death and expulsion of thousaunds of Muslim and Christian inhabitants of Palestine.Indeed it is due to the existence of this state that the feelings of hatred against Jews in general have increased in the Middle East over the past 50 years since its illegal creation, when before under the rule of Islam, Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived in peace.



>>We have demonized Jews to such an extent that we equate them all with extremist right-wing settlers.

Although I agree with the jist of the author's message and feel that he did an honest job trying to portray a general Muslim disillusionment with the Judaic people, I beg to disagree with the above mentioned statment. Whose the "we" the author is trying to portray? He's guilty of the same generalization when he accuses Muslims of demonizing Jews. I don't demonize Jews so why should I be apologetic to them? I believe I'm capable enough in differentiating between the peace loving Jews with the right-wing, neoconservative, ultra-orthodox, pro-Israeli Jews. In all due respect, from the message boards to the chat rooms on the internet, I belive it is the latter that is more guilty of intolearance than the Muslims. Yes, Muslims might hold antipathy and anger towards the people with who they perceive as stealing their land; but generally they are well-informed capable people who recognize that Zionism is the problem and not Judaism.


H.I. FROM USA said:
the most restrictive dhimmitude, jizya, jannisaries? need i say more?

The author writes "...a vast empire that drew Janissaries from Sweden, slaves from Africa and traders and artisans from much of the known world. One reason for the empire's longevity was that most of the Sultans were tolerant rulers who realized the value of a multi-cultural society long before it became a buzz-word in the West."

So, they were tolerant, multi-cultural *slave owners*? Maybe I'm missing something, but isn't this paragraph a paradox? Or don't the slaves count because they were from Africa? Is that why the Ottomans can be multi-cultural and tolerant and still have slaves? Because Africans don't count?

Please help. I find this very confusing and distressing.

Don't be too hard on the Turkish Jews Ismail. Every self organizing system organizes itself loosely around a set of rules. As each of these needs resources from the environment they tend to compete with each other. They are locked in an environment that changes as their response to each other changes. They push each other to "the edge of chaos" in which the change necessary to compete threatens the cohesiveness of the society. Organizations that are too conservative become obsolete and noncompetitive. The result is eventual starvation or domination by those societies that are liberal enough to advance. The paradigm of an Islamic state can be partitioned into three or more rule sets. The first set is the "natural laws" of physics, statistics etc. Consider these to be God's creations and those that ignore or deny them will eventually autolysis. The Pope denied Galileo's evidence and lead the church to cause nearly half of all Catholics into being atheists. The next set of rules are revelatory and lead to a sustainable, stable society within a changing threat matrix. These rules lead to a globally optimal society. While these two sets are globally optimal, they allow for responsiveness in the third set of rules for local optimization within the globally optimal framework. This third set are extrapolations on the first two. They must be mutable to allow the society to change within the changing environment. Unfortunately, most theologians do not keep their extrapolations distinct from the first two sets. They lock their society into a set of rules that will eventually be unfit within the changed environment. One should be very careful about not confusing ones own extrapolations to the rules of God with the rules of God. That is saying of God what you know not and you will be responsible for the damage you do to your society in doing so.

Your utter contempt for Muslims is amazing! Even when you agree with a Muslim it is not without hate.

I agree with most of your comments H.A. however, I disagree with one point, that concerning your statement regarding muslims attending the funerals of U.S. GIs killed in Iraq. The people in the Jewish synagogue, or the other pedestrians killed in suicide attacks were not part of an active, overt, armed action against anybody. U.S soldiers in Iraq are an occupying force, brought about by an illegal invasion, and they are the instruments of a pro-zionist agenda in the region. These soldiers on a daily basis kill many iraqi civilians and commit other atrocities which for the most part go unreported. It pains my heart to hear the stories and to see the faces of the young GIs killed, but look they were not forced to go, they can 'conscienscously object', but most believe in the mission, just like the terrorist believes in his, both kill innocents and their motives are suspect, I wouldn't attend the funeral of either.
I have objected to your idea, but I haven't critcized you personally. Please provide the logic behind your reasoning, maybe there's something here that I fail to see.


G.E. FROM U.S.A. said:
you have got to be kidding!
just because the europeans treated the jews with genocidal rage, doesn't mean the ottomans treated them well. janissaries, jizya, second-class citizens. during the ottoman reign, the most hideous and restrictive form of dhimmitude was unleashed against the non-muslim population, including the jews (despite some jews being exempt). just because europe was genocidal at the time, doesn't mean the ottomans were nice. far from it!

C said:
remember of all the atrocities that are happening to our brethern in Palestine.


Terrorism is unlawful in Islam andment thus unacceptable no matter the grievance. Also our treatment of Jews must be in light of Qur'an and Sunnah not on emotional and ignorance.

That said, Muslims must be careful in the way we put our thoughts. For example is Al Qaeda or Some Muslims behind the Turkish bombing? The question is needed because the enemies of Islam are capable of quite a lot. So before we pass judgement on the culprit we must do our own investigation and not accept other peoples judgement as the Qur'an exhorts us.

The actions of some Muslims must not be equated to the action of all Muslims. And also these unIslamic actions cannot tarnish the Image of Islam, except in the eye of the ignorant. For what a Muslim or some Muslims do are not necessarily Islamic unless such action can be found in the Sources of the religion. So as in every case, Islam must be judged by its content not in the action of followers who are not perfect.

It is does not correct or helpful when Muslims themselves make statements that indicate these wrong ways of thinking. We must understand how to talk about our religion if we are to propagate its teaching properly.

Muslims must not compete with Christians as to how to treat others but must treat people according to the teaching of our deen.

There is truth in the fact that some Muslims treat Jews based on emotions rather than by the dictates of our religion. Those who do this will definately fall foul in the eye of ALLAH, as in Islam the end does not justify the means.

On the issue of Jews defending Israel till the end, there is no question that if usurpers are going to defend what is not rightfully theirs, the rigthful owners will do likewise. No matter what, injustice cannot be condoned, Jews can have their rights, but must equally give others theirs.


This article is a good reminder of what we muslims have to be careful of. We cannot and must not let a gang of zealots highjack our pristine religion. The Quran clearly states that muslims must protect the religious places of worship of all religions.
Everyone muslim should come forward and condemn this act of barbarity done in the name of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood, always has been and always will be. This is a message that we have to get forth to all who live around us. I think we muslims living in the west have a greater responsibility in that regard and should take it upon ourselves to let our fellow human beings know that these acts of violence have no place in Islam. We have to be more proactie. There is no other way to counter the hatred and bigotry being thrown around.

Salaam Alaykum,
To Ismail Behishti , If Jews are our enemy then I am a traitor to the Moslims for I have dear freinds who are of the Jewish faith in the U.S
The Qura'n never stated that the Jews are the enemny, but it did state that Shaytan is the enemy. To me the Qura'an is true and everything else could be possibly false, even if it was displayed as facts.
If the west yells us, we return the yell with a smile, after all a better man is one who fights ignorance by asking God to give hidaya to the ignorant, and how could one ask for Hidaya if he doesnot have love for the one who needs it? learn to love mankind for he is part of you, for we were all are one single nafs before coming to earth.
I asked Allah for forgiveness.

H.A. FROM ABC said:
Muslims should pray for the Jews who were killed and also for their families. Muslims must also attend their funerals.

Muslims should also pray for the families American soldiers who are dying everyday in Iraq.

It does not matter if Chritians or Jews derive great pleasure when they kill or oppress Muslims. Many of them do and many don't. The same can said of Muslims.

Al-Qaida or whoever is kililng innocent Jews must be punished by Islamic Court b/c they are not following the Quran.

Although the American gov't, the Zionists and their Westernized Middle Eastern proxies are the root of all the current deaths and destruction...Be patient, proactive, and have trust in Allah. HE is enough for solving all problems. Just act according to his Rx.


Apart from being intolerant we as Muslim societies are inept, corrupt, misguided, mislead, frivolous.

I am proud of what Islam stands for. But I am saddened by the present day Muslim standing in the world.

Eid-ul-Fitr is on Monday in Libya, Tuesday in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon, and probably Wednesday in Pakistan.

This is an OUTRAGE, an ABSOLUTE disgrace! when we cannot simply celebrate on the same day.

How do you propose to unite against the unjust West if you cannot agree on a simple event.

I am ashamed.

It is without question a shameful, sad and unIslamic act to kill innocents as in the case of the Jewish synagogue in Turkey. The angry fanatics who kill worshippers using Islam as a pretext are bigger enemies to Islam, and a Jihad needs to be fought against these self proclaimed protectors of Islam, when in fact they are the bigger enemy. But, I will say this much, all the blame for the current situation does not fall squarely on the "Islamic radicals", the major Jewish organization especially in the U.S. have over the years provided uncritical support to the Zionist state of Israel and this is coming back to bite them, the critic of the Israeli government often comes from within but rarely from the diaspora, this is just as bad as "Islamic radicalism". Where are the Jewish heavy weights standing up against Israeli policies? Honestly, I don't see them.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the West's "war on terror" is a "war on Islam" and no matter how much you run around the circle, Jews are the drill masters of this war. Just a few months ago one of Israel's cabinet ministers said that, " we are looking forward to a world without Islam". I did not hear anybody in the west crying "hate speech" and calls for his reprimand. Israel's Prime Ministers and high officials have regularly referred to Palestinians as "drugged cockroaches", "two-legged beasts", "grass hoppers", "vipers" etc.; and never heard anybody in the "righteous" West condemning them or calling for their resignations. Compare that to the condemnations pouring forth from four corners of the West about Dr. Mahatir's comments about Jew's ruling the world by proxy.
Muslims were right in providing haven for Jews from Spain, but a Monday-moring quarterbacking would clearly show where the knife stuck in the back of Islam came from. It is no secret that most of the senior operatives in Kemal Pasha's cabal of "Young Turks" that set Turkey against Islam were Jews. Could there be a more perverse obscenity than the fact that after United States, Turkey is the closest ally of Israel. Could there be an outrage greater than the fact that in the land of Caliphate, it is a crime to follow the Islamic dress code.
Having said that, we as Muslims cannot cherrypick and choose to follow some edicts and ignore others. We should refer to the ayat in Quran that says that, " killing an innocent person is like killing the whole humanity and saving an innocent life is like saving the whole humanity." No matter how uphill our struggle is, we can not allow ourselves to veer from the path of Quran. If our struggle is right, which it definitely is, the victory will come through following the path of Allah and Quran not by showing a contempt for them.

Well aren't we in a sorry state. By that I mean humanity in todo. It has been my experience in working with Republicans that when they make outrageous statements like can be found in: that it is because they have been thinking about it in their little cold-blooded think tanks and are seeing if there is any significant objections (they call doing this "trial balloons"). The things stated by Clark in page 130 of his book (see ) were trial ballooned around 1998. It has also been my experience that if they do not receive sufficient objections that some of these think tank idiots will try to install a heartless dead head into office to carry out their objective along with goading three for four dibbuks out of the 1.5 billion Muslims to carry out their black op for them. Given things like that ought not be very difficult.
Given the west's propensity to start word wars, ethnically cleanse multiple continents and economically enslave anyone unable to resist them I do not think this threat should be taken lightly. Therefore, what are we, and by that, I mean humanity in todo, to do. You can stick your head in the sand and wait for it to come about but you should remember that while the meek may inherent the earth with the west's preference for mini nukes, depleted uranium weapons, land minds and other weapons of lingering destruction, it's ability to sustain them should be given a low probability assessment.
A direct assault on them is a fool's game of treating the symptom instead of the disease. Before you can fight the lesser jihad, you must win the greater jihad. But I am afraid that a time table is being set in which no one will have time to survive unless this trend is checked. Create the objections to this trial balloon.

The life you save may be your own.

I agree with much this writer has to say with one proviso. Leaving aside the Holocaust, Jews did not recieve better treatment at the hands of muslims than they did at the hand of Christians.
Jews were not equal citizens (neither were Christians, for that matter) with Muslims. They suffered discriminatory treatment, massacres, expulsions, and so on. It is a pity that it is virtually impossible to find a Muslim to offer an apology for this treatment.

Beautiful article. Intolerance in the Muslim world is one of the greatest thorns in our sides. We have to learn to respect and love everyone, regardless if they are Muslim or Non-Muslim, Wahabi or Sufi, Traditional or Progressive. Our goal as Muslims is not to force and convince everyone to beleive as we beleive, but to learn how we can live peacefully and comfortable in a pluralistic society. The world will never be uniform, everyone will never be the same, there are many cultures and religions out their, and we have to learn to get along with everyone, be they Liberal or Conservative Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or whatever, or it will be US that will cease to exist.