Treatment of Non-Muslim Communitites in Muslim Empires

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How are certain groups treated throughout history? There are different groups that would present itself during the history of the Islamic world. We see that there are Arab and Non-Arab people as well as Muslim and Non-Muslim people. But there are two different ways people categorize Islamic Empires; tolerant or intolerant, and people have a view or the Islamic Empires being “completely intolerant” or “an ideal picture of coexistence and mixing”. The reasons I believe this is seen is because there have been many changes within this region for many, many years, starting with the birth of Islam to the modern day. That is why it is important to look as the societies and how they structured their system of rule within these empires. Looking at these societies, they can often become complex since governing bodies would dictate rule by their race or religion just to name a few. Since there are many different factors of how Non-Muslims were to be ruled, it can be very difficult to figure out how they were ruled in general.

Think about how our ancestors may have lived, in times where the things we currently take advantage of were not available to them. If one really had to think, religion would be of the utmost importance during those times. Religion becomes a very interesting aspect within the lives of those who lived during these times. It brought people together in ways that would give them a sense of community. These people would have grouped themselves together, thus making them easier to discern. Non-Muslims and Muslims following different traditions had different experiences, and there is a lot of debate about whether non-Muslims treated bad or good within these empires. For the most part, Non-Muslims were able to practice their religions and were able to govern their own internal affairs. There was a protected class within the Islamic world, this group first consisted of Jews and Christians in the area. This protected class was called dhimmi, this class was afforded these freedoms if they paid a tax called the jizya or head tax.

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When we also look at the Non-Muslims we can see that they did not have the right of others in the land. Even thought they had freedoms in certain aspects there was still limitations on the things that they were accustomed to within their culture. They had to adhere the customs of the land, even though they paid a tax to stay within the empire. They would often be held to restrictions on their religion, clothing, animals they could ride and places of worship. Although they would hold these laws and restrictions against these people, the rulers of these lands would often failed to follow through with consistency, but they would start enforcing the restrictions on these people when there was social or political discourse. But as with all things that happen within societies, over time, the dhimmi’s would be able to integrate themselves within certain parts of the government and scientific institutions. As time would go on, we would start to see that these people would have the ear of those in power and would have certain right afforded to them that they might not have gained under other circumstances. For some of these reasons, we would also start to see the people starting to convert to Islam. Some people would start to convert in order to avoid the taxes and the many types of discrimination that followed the people that believed in other religions. People would also convert in order to gain higher status within the community and ruling class. But this is not to say that all people converted for these reasons. I believe that some people would convert because they truly believed in the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad.

These were ways to show the social mobility of peoples in this area. For instance, we have the Mamluks, who were slave soldiers that would convert to Islam and served Muslim Caliphs. As they were a sort of hired mercenaries in the time of The Middle Ages, but over time they would become a force as they would gain lands for themselves. These slave soldiers were converted to Islam for what I believe to be a militaristic reason, as Non-Muslims were not allowed to join the military ranks of the Islamic empire, and while also being slaves they were not under the same rules as we think when we bring up modern slavery. These slaves were trained, and the Mamluks spent their time being trained as cavalry military units. Another instance of social mobility is the devshirme system. These was another system of forced conversion, as they would take young boys from Christian families as a sort of blood or human tax and convert them to Islam in order to serve the Ottomans. These young boys would be taken to special schools where they would learn multiple languages and skills so they would better suit the Ottoman Empire. “They would study the Qur’an and the various religious sciences; becoming fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish; and engaged in Physical training such as wrestling, archery, and horsemanship”. Having this system was of great importance to the Ottomans as they were in need of people to serve their great and vast empire. The Ottomans found value in this system as they would be used to gain skills that normal Muslims would not partake in. The skills they would take in would be to translate between various languages of the empire and even those that are not within the empire, such as, European lands, these people were known as dragomans.

There isn’t a whole lot of information on women within society in early Islamic history, but the limited information we do have belongs to the elite women in these societies. But as we move through the Ottomans early history we start to see the differences between free women in this society and women in the past. I feel that the influences of the free Christian women within the empire helped move forward the freedoms of Muslim women during this time. Women for the most part were shut in away from society. Men would house their wives and not allow them to leave, and those that were allowed to leave would have to make sure they were covered from head to toe as to not show off their features. Although they did not hold any legal power, they would find ways to position themselves to greatly influence those that did have power, such as the wives of sultans who had the ears of their sons.

Women of all classes would begin to enjoy of financial independence which was uncommon in other cultures at the time. Women were able to manage independent wealth, make investments, engage in trade, initiate divorce, and inherit assets. While Islamic scripture and tradition set up moral principles for women and families, the way these principles were applied fluctuated in different political contexts. In early Islamic societies, pre-Islamic Arab culture was still very influential; the family was organized around a patriarchal clan with a common male ancestor. Families were led by the eldest male family member. However, centuries later, during Mamluk rule, society was organized very differently, with individuals exerting more power. Women in this context were able to move through society more independently.

As we look back on the various Non-Muslim groups within the Islamic world we can see that there are many differences when one dives into the history itself. Non-Muslims have been treated in many different ways and depending on how you choose to look at it they are may or may not have been treated very favorable. But in my opinion I would say that it all depends on how the various empires formed themselves and who was actually leading at the time. Although there were very Islamic themes, it’s the rulers of the time that dictated how Non-Muslims were to be treated. Religion was a powerful tool of the time, and it was used to forge empires and deconstruct them as well. It’s very easy to look back at this time in history with eyes of the present and look down upon those that made the decisions of the time. But, when one puts themselves in the shoes of a ruler, these ideas may not have come with such a swift and powerful hand as most laws weren’t forcefully kept. The empires would continue to grow and outside influences would integrate into the empires cultures themselves. So, in a time where we might think they were being oppressive, they could’ve been one of the most progressive empires if one might look at where they came from.

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