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Emet m'Tsiyon

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Muslim Ottoman Subjects Resented the Equality Granted to Dhimmis, Non-Muslim Subjects of the Empire in 1856

The Ottoman Empire became clearly dependent on the military strength of the two main Western powers, Britain and France, in the mid-19th century. The Ottomans were threatened by rising Russian power to their northeast. Russia coveted Ottoman  territories and aspired to give the eastern Orthodox churches primacy over the Christian holy places in the Land of Israel. In this case, Russia would support the Greek Orthodox church of which the Russian Orthodox Church was an offshoot or branch.

Russia had already taken over vast territories under Ottoman suzerainty in the 18th century around 1774. These lands comprise the Crimea and  most of southern Ukraine of today. The effective rulers before the Russian conquest were the Crimean Tartars, under Ottoman suzerainty and loyal to the Ottoman sultan, who was also the Caliph of Islam.

The Crimean war of 1854-1855 focused on control of the Christian holy places, foremost among them the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, with Russia supporting Greek Orthodox dominance and  France supporting Roman Catholic claims to the same holy places. British policy was to prevent Russia from taking more land from the Ottoman Empire and thereby becoming a stronger rival empire to the British.

British and French forces defeated the Russians, preserving Ottoman territory for the Sultan and his government. Of course the British and French wanted to be rewarded. They were, and this caused the Sultan's government, called The Sublime Porte, to violate long-standing Islamic principles. One reward was to allow the building of new churches, a definitely forbidden act since the Arab-Muslim conquests of the 7th century. France was, inter alia given back the location where a Catholic church had stood during the Crusader period.

Most importantly, the Sublime Porte  issued a decree, the Hatt-i-Humayun, which 

"granted equality of civil status to Christian subjects, guaranteeing freedom of conscience and speech." [Tibawi, p 115]

This equality of dhimmis was a radical departure from past Islamic law and practice. Hence, it is no surprise that we are told by the Arab historian, A L Tibawi that

". . . the proclamation of the Hatti Humayun caused much resentment at Nabulus and Gaza ." [Tibawi, p 130]

Not only at Nablus and Gaza but among Ottoman Muslims generally. The Arab and other  Muslims [Tibawi was apparently a Christian] in the Empire hated this decree mightily. Sixty years later, during WW One, Ottoman Muslims slaughtered Armenians, fellow Ottoman subjects, some of whom were calling for Armenian autonomy or independence.  Muslims resented the demands for independence or merely autonomy among the non-Muslim subject   peoples.

Does this account, these facts, tell us any lessons for Israel.? Isn't Israel seen as an "uppity Jew" by the Arabs and other Muslims?

By the way, you can be sure that this decree was often honored more in the breach than in the observance.

A L Tibawi, British Interests in Palestine, 1800-1901 (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1961)

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