Ivo Andric analyzed the rayah (meaning “herd,” and “to graze a herd”) or dhimmi condition imposed upon the indigenous Christian population of Bosnia, for four centuries. Those native Christian inhabitants who refused to apostasize to Islam lived under the Ottoman Kanun-i-Rayah, which merely reiterated the essential regulations of dhimmitude originally formulated by Muslim jurists and theologians in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. Andric’s presentation musters:
a wealth of irrefutable evidence that the main points of the Kanun, just those that cut the deepest into the moral and economic life of Christians, remained in full force right up to the end of Turkish rule and as long as the Turks had the power to apply them…[thus] it was inevitable that the rayah decline to a status that was economically inferior and dependent.
The prevailing discriminatory conditions were exacerbated by Bosnia’s serving as either a battlefield or staging ground during two centuries of Ottoman razzias and formal jihad campaigns against Hungary. Overcome by excessive taxation and conscript labor:
Christians therefore began to abandon their houses and plots of land situated in level country and along the roads and to retreat back into the mountains. And as they did so, moving ever higher into inaccessible regions, Muslims took over their former sites.
Moreover, those Christians living in towns suffered from the rayah system’s mandated impediments to commercial advancement by non-Muslims:
Islam from the very outset, excluded such activities as making wine, breeding pigs, and selling pork products from commercial production and trade. But additionally Bosnian Christians were forbidden to be saddlers, tanners, or candlemakers or to trade in honey, butter, and certain other items. Countrywide, the only legal market day was Sunday. Christians were thus deliberately faced with the choice between ignoring the precepts of their religion, keeping their shops open and working on Sundays, or alternatively, forgoing participation in the market and suffering material loss thereby. Even in 1850, in Jukic’s “Wishes and Entreaties” we find him beseeching “his Imperial grace” to put an end to the regulation that Sunday be market day.
Christians were also forced to pay disproportionately higher taxes than Muslims, including the intentionally degrading non-Muslim poll-tax. The specific Kanun-i-Rayah stipulations which prohibited the rayahs from riding a saddled horse, carrying a saber or any other weapon in or out of doors, selling wine, letting their hair grow, or wearing wide sashes, were strictly enforced until the mid-19th century. Hussamudin-Pasa, in 1794 issued an ordinance which prescribed the exact color and type of clothing the Bosnian rayah had to wear. Barbers were prohibited from shaving Muslims with the same razors used for Christians. Even in bathhouses, Christians were required to have specifically marked towels and aprons to avoid confusing their laundry with laundry designated for Muslims. Until at least 1850, and in some parts of Bosnia, well into the 1860s, a Christian upon encountering a Muslim, was required to jump down from his (unsaddled) horse, move to the side of the road, and wait for the latter to pass.
Christianity’s loud and most arresting symbol, church bells, Andric notes, always drew close, disapproving Turkish scrutiny, and, “Wherever there invasions would go, down came the bells, to be destroyed or melted into cannon.” Predictably:
Until the second half of the nineteenth century, “nobody in Bosnia could even think of bells or bell towers.” Only in 1860 did the Sarajevo priest Fra Grgo Martic manage to get permission from Topal Osman-Pasa to hang a bell at the church in Kresevo. Permission was granted, thought, only on condition that “at first the bell be rung softly to let the Turks get accustomed to it little by little.” And still the Muslim of Kresevo were complaining, even in 1875, to Sarajevo that “the Turkish ear and ringing bells cannot coexist in the same place at the same time”; and Muslim women would beat on their copper pots to drown out the noise…on 30 April 1872, the new Serbian Orthodox church also got a bell. But since the…Muslims had threatened to riot, the military had to be called in to ensure that the ceremony might proceed undisturbed.
The imposition of such disabilities, Andric observes, extended beyond church ceremonies, as reflected by a 1794 proclamation of the Serbian Orthodox church in Sarajevo warning Christians not to
sing during …outings, nor in their houses, nor in other places. The saying “Don’t sing too loud, this village is Turk” testifies eloquently to the fact that this item of the Kanun [- i-Rayah] was applied outside church life as well as within.
Andric concludes, “for their Christian subjects, their [Ottoman Turkish] hegemony brutalized custom and meant a step to the rear in every respect.”
Paul Ricaut, the British consul in Smyrna, journeyed extensively within the Ottoman Empire during the mid-17th century, becoming a keen observer of its sociopolitical milieu. In 1679 (i.e., prior to the Ottomans being repulsed at Vienna in September, 1683; see later discussion of Ottoman “tolerance”), Ricaut published these important findings: (i) many Christians were expelled from their churches, which the Ottoman Turks converted into mosques; (ii) the “Mysteries of the Altar” were hidden in subterranean vaults and sepulchers whose roofs were barely above the surface of the ground; (iii) fearing Turkish hostility and oppression, Christian priests, particularly in eastern Asia Minor, were compelled to live with great caution and officiate in private obscurity; (iv) not surprisingly, to escape these prevailing conditions, many Christians apostasized to Islam.
The phenomenon of forcible conversion, including coercive en masse conversions, persisted throughout the 16th century, as discussed by Constantelos in his analysis of neomartyrdom in the Ottoman Empire:
mass forced conversions were recorded during the caliphates of Selim I (1512-1520)…Selim II (1566-1574), and Murat III (1574-1595). On the occasion of some anniversary, such as the capture of a city, or a national holiday, many rayahs were forced to apostasize. On the day of the circumcision of Mohammed III great numbers of Christians (Albanians, Greeks, and Slavs) were forced to convert to Islam.
Reviewing the martyrology of Christians victimized by the Ottomans from the conquest of Constantinople (1453), through the final phases of the Greek War of Independence (1828), Constantelos indicates:
the Ottoman Turks condemned to death eleven Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly one hundred bishops, and several thousand priests, deacons, and minks. It is impossible to say with certainty how many men of the cloth were forced to apostasize.
However, the more mundane cases illustrated by Constantelos are of equal significance in revealing the plight of Christians under Ottoman rule, through at least 1867:
Some were accused of insulting the Muslim faith or of throwing something against the wall of a mosque. Others were accused of sexual advances toward a Turk; still others of making a public confession such as “I will become a Turk” without meaning it.
The story of the neomartyrs indicates that there was no liberty of conscience in the Ottoman Empire and that religious persecution was never absent from the state. Justice was subject to the passions of judges as well as of the crowds, and it was applied with a double standard, lenient for Muslims and harsh for Christians and others. The view that the Ottoman Turks pursued a policy of religious toleration in order to promote a fusion of the Turks with the conquered populations is not sustained by the facts.
Those scholars who continue to adhere to the roseate narrative of Ottoman “tolerance,” the notion that an “easy-going tolerance, resting on an assumption not only of superior religion, but also of superior power,” which it is claimed, persisted in the Ottoman Empire until the end of the 17th century (i.e., after the Turks were repulsed at Vienna in 1683), must address certain basic questions. Why has the quite brutal Ottoman devshirme-janissary system, which, from the mid to late 14th, through early 18th centuries, enslaved and forcibly converted to Islam an estimated 500,000 to one million non-Muslim (primarily Balkan Christian) adolescent males, been characterized exclusively as a benign form of social advancement, jealously pined for by “ineligible” Ottoman Muslim families?
Scholars who have conducted serious, detailed studies of the devshirme-janissary system, do not share such hagiographic views of this Ottoman institution. Speros Vryonis, Jr. for example, makes these deliberately understated, but cogent observations:
in discussing the devshirme we are dealing with the large numbers of Christians who, in spite of the material advantages offered by conversion to Islam, chose to remain members of a religious society which was denied first class citizenship. Therefore the proposition advanced by some historians, that the Christians welcomed the devshirme as it opened up wonderful opportunities for their children, is inconsistent with the fact that these Christians had not chosen to become Muslims in the first instance but had remained Christians…
Vasiliki Papoulia highlights the continuous desperate, often violent struggle of the Christian populations against this forcefully imposed Ottoman levy:
It is obvious that the population strongly resented…this measure [and the levy] could be carried out only by force. Those who refused to surrender their sons- the healthiest, the handsomest and the most intelligent- were on the spot put to death by hanging. Nevertheless we have examples of armed resistance. In 1565 a revolt took place in Epirus and Albania. The inhabitants killed the recruiting officers and the revolt was put down only after the sultan sent five hundred janissaries in support of the local sanjak-bey. We are better informed, thanks to the historic archives of Yerroia, about the uprising in Naousa in 1705…Some of [the rebels] were later arrested and put to death..
Since there was no possibility of escaping [the levy] the population resorted to several subterfuges. Some left their villages and fled to certain cities that enjoyed exemption from the child levy or migrated to Venetian-held territories. The result was a depopulation of the countryside. Others had their children marry at an early age…Nicephorus Angelus…states that at times the children ran away on their own initiative, but when they heard that the authorities had arrested their parents and were torturing them to death, returned and gave themselves up. La Giulletiere cites the case of a young Athenian who returned from hiding in order to save his father’s life and then chose to die himself rather than abjure his faith. According to the evidence in Turkish sources, some parents even succeeded in abducting their children after they had been recruited. The most successful way of escaping recruitment was through bribery. That the latter was very widespread is evident from the large amounts of money confiscated by the sultan from corrupt…officials. Finally, in their desperation the parents even appealed to the Pope and the Western powers for help.
Papoulia concludes, “there is no doubt that this heavy burden was one of the hardest tribulations of the Christian population.”
Why did the Tanzimat reforms, designed to abrogate the Ottoman version of the system of dhimmitude, need to be imposed by European powers through treaties, as so-called “capitulations” following Ottoman military defeats, and why even then, were these reforms never implemented in any meaningful way from 1839, until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I ?
Edouard Engelhardt made these observations from his detailed analysis of the Tanzimat period, noting that a quarter century after the Crimean War (1853-56), and the second iteration of Tanzimat reforms, the same problems persisted:
Muslim society has not yet broken with the prejudices which make the conquered peoples subordinate…the raya [dhimmis] remain inferior to the Osmanlis; in fact he is not rehabilitated; the fanaticism of the early days has not relented…[even liberal Muslims rejected]…civil and political equality, that is to say, the assimilation of the conquered with the conquerors.
A systematic examination of the condition of the Christian rayas was conducted in the 1860s by British consuls stationed throughout the Ottoman Empire, yielding extensive primary source documentary evidence. Britain was then Turkey's most powerful ally, and it was in her strategic interest to see that oppression of the Christians was eliminated, to prevent direct, aggressive Russian or Austrian intervention. On July 22, 1860, Consul James Zohrab sent a lengthy report from Sarajevo to his ambassador in Constantinople, Sir Henry Bulwer, analyzing the administration of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, again, following the 1856 Tanzimat reforms. Referring to the reform efforts, Zohrab states:
The Hatti-humayoun, I can safely say, practically remains a dead letter…while [this] does not extend to permitting the Christians to be treated as they formerly were treated, is so far unbearable and unjust in that it permits the Mussulmans to despoil them with heavy exactions. False imprisonments (imprisonment under false accusation) are of daily occurence. A Christian has but a small chance of exculpating himself when his opponent is a Mussulman ...Christian evidence, as a rule, is still refused.
Throughout the Ottoman Empire, particularly within the Balkans, and later Anatolia itself, attempted emancipation of the dhimmi peoples provoked violent, bloody responses against those “infidels” daring to claim equality with local Muslims. The massacres of the Bulgarians (in 1876), and more extensive massacres of the Armenians (1894-96), culminating in a frank jihad genocide against the Armenians during World War I, epitomize these trends. Enforced abrogation of the laws of dhimmitude required the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. This finally occurred after the Balkan Wars of independence, and during the European Mandate period following World War I.
In concluding, let me highlight the observations made by Dr. Muqtedar Khan, a much-ballyhooed Muslim moderate from the U.S., after his recent trip to Belgium. While Khan admitted the largesse of Belgium’s welfare state towards its Muslims: “…the welfare check was normally 70 percent to 80 percent of the salary. For those [Muslims] who were married with children, welfare provided comfortable living and with low property values, even those on welfare could actually own homes,” he made the usual pro forma complaints of European racism, xenophobia, etc., consistent with a mindset that has become normative—asserting human rights for Muslim “immigrants” into Europe, only (welfare, housing jobs, etc.)—with no discussion of the rights, or even the capacities of the host countries. Indeed, American expatriate writer Bruce Bawer, living in Norway, has documented how Oslo imams preach brazenly that Muslims should expect these welfare benefits—and feel justified in supplementing them by stealing from stores—as a form of jizya extracted from their infidel “host” societies. These living archetypal Islamic worldviews are consistent with the doctrine expounded by the seminal 11th century Andalusian jurist Ibn Hazm who stated explicitly that non-Muslims were only bequeathed possessions to serve as booty for the Muslims.
Indeed such attitudes, whatever their origins, raise this larger basic question: why does the West continue to validate the raw, imbalanced bigotry that denies non-Muslims any access to Mecca and Medina—upon pain of imprisonment, torture, and death—while Muslims demand and are granted the ability to settle, with generous accommodations, within Europe or America?
In 1916, Snouck Hurgronje, the great Dutch scholar of Islam, underscored how the jihad doctrine of world conquest remained a potent force among the Muslim masses:
it would be a gross mistake to imagine that the idea of universal conquest may be considered as obliterated…the canonists and the vulgar still live in the illusion of the days of Islam’s greatness. The legists continue to ground their appreciation of every actual political condition on the law of the holy war, which war ought never be allowed to cease entirely until all mankind is reduced to the authority of Islam- the heathen by conversion, the adherents of acknowledged Scripture by submission. Even if they admit the improbability of this at present, they are comforted and encouraged by the recollection of the lengthy period of humiliation that the Prophet himself had to suffer before Allah bestowed victory upon his arms; and they fervently join with the Friday preacher, when he announces the prayer taken from the Qur’an: ‘Thou art our Master; grant us then to conquer the unbelievers.’ And the common people are willingly taught by the canonists and feed their hope…The conception of the Khalifate still exercises a fascinating influence, regarded in the light of a central point of union against the unfaithful.
More than 60-years later, in 1978, Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq wrote presciently that historical and cultural revisionism of the established legacy of jihad in Medieval Western Europe might precipitate a recurrence of “the upheaval carried out on our continent (i.e., Europe) by Islamic penetration more than a thousand years ago.”
It is a bitter, tragic irony that the foundational myth of “symbiotic” Andalusian ecumenism which was central to the genesis of the Eurabian pathology currently on display in Europe, is now also being invoked as a salvational fantasy, in the wake of the French riots. Denying any Islamic etiology for the major problems confronting Europe, thus begets more Islam as the “solution,” and accelerates Europe’s seemingly inevitable trajectory towards complete Islamization, with implementation of the Shari’a.Click Here to support Frontpagemag.com.