All Ottoman sultans were Sufi Muslims

The Islamization of Albania and Kosovo during the Ottoman Empire

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Ottoman Empire
2.1 Administration in the Ottoman Empire
2.2 Timar system
2.3 Millet system

3. Bektashi Order

4. Other reasons for Islamization

5. Interreligious Tolerance

6. Reform process within the Ottoman Empire

7. Conclusion

8. Literature and sources

1 Introduction

Albania and Kosovo were Christianized very early on. Already in the 6th century Albania was considered a Christian country and from today's Albanian areas, two popes came in the first centuries of the spread of the Christian religion. Pope Eleutherios (177-193) and Pope Innocent (401-417), (Musaj 2011: 25). Since the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Christian schism in the 11th century, into Catholic and Orthodox churches, the dividing line between the two churches has run in the region. The hostility was different over the centuries and the areas were alternately under Catholic and Orthodox influence. It may have been a reason why the Christian faith was not so deeply rooted and why the population developed a certain flexibility with religious changes. There were big differences between the cities and the rural regions. There the changes and missionaries of all kinds progressed very slowly. In the mountain areas of northern Albania, the Kanun, the traditional code of conduct, with the elements of the old customary law, which has been preserved up to modern times, still applied. The life of society with its extended families was regulated in the Kanun, often living under one roof for several generations under the leadership of the oldest man. It included topics such as law of obligations, marriage and inheritance law, criminal law as well as church, agricultural, fishing and hunting law, as well as blood revenge.

Albania offered stubborn resistance to Ottoman expansion for a long time, the southern part was not incorporated into the Ottoman sphere of influence until around 1420, northern Albania only formally.

In Kosovo, derived from the Serbian word for blackbird, ie "land of blackbirds", the famous battle on the blackbird field took place in 1389. It did not end in a catastrophic Serbian defeat, as is sometimes claimed, but instead led to a military tie between the Ottomans and the Christians. It was not until 1455 that the region became completely Ottoman (Frantz 2014: 43). In the centuries that followed, local migratory movements and Ottoman forced resettlements of Muslim population groups to the areas of what is now Kosovo resulted in multiple population shifts. Islam began to spread relatively quickly in Kosovo. As early as the second half of the 16th century, large parts of the urban population adopted Islam. Violent waves of Islamization resulted from a targeted conversion policy of the Ottomans since the end of the 17th century as a result of uprisings by Christian population groups and military defeats of the Ottomans (Frantz 2014: 43). Despite the strong will for freedom and countless uprisings, around 2/3 of the Albanians professed Islam by the end of Ottoman rule. It was similar in Kosovo, as the population there also consisted to a large extent of Albanians, who often migrated from northern Albania to the fertile plains in Kosovo (Frantz 2014: 61).

I will deal with the reasons that led to the sustainable Islamization.

2. Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans belonged to the Oghuz tribe Kayi and a member of this tribe, the presumed tribal leader, Suleyman Shah, is said to have moved westward to Eastern Anatolia with his people around the year 1221. (Matuz 2012: 28). One successor was Osman (1281? -1326), who led this insignificant tribe from the age of 30, but, unlike his predecessors, was an active warrior whose life goal was to spread Islam by force of arms (Matuz 2012: 29 ). Through his religious zeal, a skilful marriage policy and military success, Osman increased his sphere of influence considerably. He began building the Ottoman Empire, which was later continued under his successors. In 1353, under the leadership of Suleyman Pascha, a bridgehead was created for the first time on European soil with the capture of the city of Cympe (Cimenlik). Since the area of ​​dominion increased enormously, the state administration had to be reorganized. The office of vizier was introduced and the Diwan (Council of State) was a consultative body. Conquered cities were given to high military leaders, the Sanjakbegs, who now had other tasks in addition to the troop command and also in the non-military area, in the so-called Sanjaks, had to take care of maintaining order (Matuz 2012: 35). Kadis, who came exclusively from representatives of Islamic orthodoxy, were used to judge. The sphere of influence was expanded further and further west under Murat I. With the victory in the Blackbird Field, some sources say it was a military draw over the Serbian, Albanian, Bulgarian and Bosnian armed forces, the resistance collapsed. The previously powerful Serbia had to accept the role of a vassal state (Matuz 2012: 38). In order to keep this huge empire permanently under control and to drive the expansion further, an effective administration was necessary.

2.1 Administration in the Ottoman Empire

After the death of Selim I in 1520, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful empires in the world. The extension was from Armenia to Belgrade, the Ukrainian steppe to Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula (Matuz 2012: 84). The main principles were expansion in the foreign policy area and the maintenance of internal order. A distinction was made between “war zone” and “Islamic country” (Matuz 2012: 84), whereby one was pragmatic in dealing with the monotheistic religions and preferred to take tribute than to be too strict and risk rebellions. The expansion was religiously motivated, but also economically necessary in order to generate additional income for the expensive military, in some cases up to 250,000 soldiers (Matuz 2012: 101). The highest office in the state was held by the sultan, an absolute ruler who was subject only to religious law. The relationship with the nobles was based on a kind of achievement principle. Offices and positions were assigned that could be withdrawn at any time. The central state administration was clearly separated from the Sultan's budget. The leadership of practical politics lay with the Grand Vizier, who, after the Sultan, had the second most important office in the state. The official seat of the Grand Vizier, or the seat of government, was called the "High Porte" in the Ottoman Empire. The term comes from the time when the reception ceremonies for foreign ambassadors and envoys were held at the gates in front of cities or rulers' palaces according to old oriental custom (http://www.eslam.de/begriffe/h/hohe_pforte.htm). There was also the Reichsrat (Divan) area with a purely advisory function, the financial administration and the religious area, which was in the hands of the Orthodox Ulemas (Matuz 2012: 92). This also included the judiciary. The Ottoman Empire can definitely be described as a constitutional state, taking into account the circumstances at that time. There were legal bases that everyone had to adhere to. There were price limits for food to avoid usury and torturing the subjects was severely punished (Matuz 2012: 85). This shows a completely different picture than was conveyed in Europe by the spread of propaganda. A picture of the cruel and bloodthirsty Ottomans was drawn there. The conquered peoples were treated relatively well and were able to preserve their traditions. The living conditions for the common people in the Ottoman Empire were therefore often better than in European feudal rule, in which they had to endure forced labor and lack of rights.

2.2 Timar system

The timar system is a form of land distribution as part of a land reform that influenced economic and social life in the Ottoman Empire for centuries. It helped make nomads settle down, making them easier to control. The timar system was used particularly frequently in the Balkans, where the former Christian landowners had fled the Ottoman conquest and where it could be converted into so-called prebendalland (timar) (Matuz 2012: 70). A timar was a fief that was assigned to higher civil servants in the military, and later also in the civil service, instead of a salary. It was important that there was no property, but the contract was for life. After the death of the beneficial owner, the timar reverted to the state, the surviving dependents received a kind of pension from the successor according to the size of the timar. The feudal lord, the so-called Timariot, leased the land to farmers and lived on the rent that was paid to him. The important thing about this model is that the tenants were not serfs. Usually both sides could live well with the timar system, so that even Christian religious farmers fled to Muslim areas because the living conditions were better there. Under Mehmet II (1451-1481) there was a land reform in the entire Ottoman Empire, according to which arable land was basically transferred to the Timar system. Only around 5-10 percent remained in private ownership (Matuz 2012: 104). Part of the reform had to be withdrawn because it included land that belonged to the dervishes. After the appropriate pressure, they got it back. It was a very successful system, but unfortunately it suffered decline over the centuries. In the middle of the 17th century, timars were given to their own servants or fictitious people, which could hardly be controlled. In fact, large landowners emerged who wanted to get the greatest possible profit from the land. The number of timars fell from 45,000 at the beginning of the 17th century to around 7,000-8,000 within about 20 years (Matuz 2012: 177). As a result, the living conditions of the farmers deteriorated. Even if this system had weaknesses, especially in the later phase of Ottoman rule, it was better for the peasants than the western, Christian feudal rule and was an advantage for the stability in the Ottoman Empire.

2.3 Millet system

The Millet system was also of great importance for the Ottoman Empire and the coexistence of the different religions under one rule. The term means religious community. The equivalent for “nation” in the Ottoman original was “millet”, which can be translated as nation, but also as religion or religious community, which reveals the relevance of religious affiliation here as well (Frantz 2014: 215). Recognized minorities were monotheistic religious communities, although there were only three faith nations recognized by the Ottomans up to the 19th century: the Jewish, the Armenian Apostolic and the Greek faith nation. This later became about Catholics, Protestants and several other, predominantly oriental, national churches. expanded. The non-Muslims, such as Catholics, Orthodox and Jews, were organized in the Millets according to their religious affiliation. This system granted the religious groups certain rights to celebrate festivals, to regulate internal justice and their own religious affairs. When dealing with Muslim issues, however, Islam always had priority. According to Islamic law, Jewish and Christian subjects were called “dhimmis”, i.e. those who were under protection and who had their own holy scriptures. The dhimmis paid a poll tax that Muslim residents did not have to pay.

From 1857 the poll tax was abolished and replaced by the military exemption tax that Christians normally had to pay (Frantz 2014: 107). Islamic law, the Sharia, applied to questions and disputes that affected both Muslim and Christian subjects. As long as there were no conflicts with the rulers, the minorities were able to preserve their religions and traditions, but were only second-class citizens. The Christians tried to avoid the poll tax by appearing as Muslims in public as crypto Christians and by practicing the Christian faith at home. The head of the family often converted to Islam, the rest of the family remained Christian. The use of two first names, the Muslim one for the authorities and the public, the Christian one for private purposes, was often used.

Despite all the tolerance in dealing with religious minorities, it should not be forgotten that pragmatic considerations played a role here and that the long-term goal of the Ottomans, religiously motivated, through a creeping Islamization, naturally had the goal of a common state religion for all subjects, Islam , to establish.

3. Bektashi Order

The syncretic-heterodox tendency of the Bektashi order played a special role in Islamization (Musaj 2011: 161). The dervish sect of the Bektashi comes from a medieval movement of Muslim Sufism (Riedel 2012: 17). This includes the Turkmen heterodoxy, the Kalendari movement of the 13th and 14th centuries, which was influenced by Persian and Indian mysticism. Furthermore, the Sufi melametism oriented towards the afterlife, the cult attitudes of the Futuwwa order in the Middle East and the Gnostic and Kabbalistic teachings of Persian Hurufism. In close contact with Shiite and Alevite Islam, and in the Balkans also with Christianity (Riedel 2012: 18). The order was founded by Hagi Bektas Wali, who lived in Anatolia in the 13th century. How and in what year the Bektashi Order came to Albania and Kosovo cannot be proven beyond doubt (Kissling 1962: 281).

The order penetrated during the Ottoman rule with its monasteries (Tekkes or Tege) and religious centers as far as Albania and Kosovo. The Albanians were very receptive to this belief, which was not so strict and contained both Christian and pre-Christian elements. Alcohol was allowed, there was no gender segregation at the festivals, prayers were only twice a day and prostration was not required. In addition to pork, turtles, dogs and snakes, especially rabbits were not allowed to be eaten. In the fasting month of Ramadan, only the first 10 days were fasted, in memory of Imam Husain, but liquids did not have to be dispensed with (Riedel 2012: 18). The Bektashi believe in Allah, and the caliph Ali is assigned a special role, as in Shiite Islam (Riedel 2012: 18). The people in Albania and Kosovo were able to come to terms with this mild form of Islam and the hurdle for converting to the order was not very high. The order became widespread under the rule of Ali Pasha Tepelena (1754-1822) when large parts of southern Albania converted to Bektashism (Musaj 2011: 162).

The adoption of the Doctrine of the Besktashi Order provided an opportunity to overcome the barriers between the different faiths of the Albanians. The Order gained political power after entering into an alliance with the Janissary troops. The Christian part in the doctrine of the faith created a critical distance from the Sunni faith and even went into opposition to the system of rule (Musaj 2011: 162).

After the death of Ali Pasha Tepelena, however, there were serious setbacks, from the dissolution of the Janissary Corps to the ban of the Bektashi order in the entire Ottoman state in 1826. In Albania, however, he was still very popular, especially because of the spread of the Albanian language in the Bektashi educational centers. In Albania, the order continued to be very influential politically and grew into an independent religious community (Musaj 2011: 163).

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