Term Paper: Ottoman Early American Relationships to Religious Hierarchy Caliph Church of England

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America and the Ottoman Empire

Currently, the United States and the Islamic world are at odds over many issues, and while the policy of the U.S. is to find ways of finding areas of agreement with Islamic countries, there are still basic differences between the two areas and the religions they support. Islam is a hierarchical religion, and to a great extent, the political and social realm in Islamic countries is also hierarchical. The U.S. is a democracy. One area of agreement is found I the origin of each society, for both came into existence as part of an effort to achieve religious freedom and to escape from religious oppression. The two have not always recognized this area of agreement, and in part have been at odds from the first precisely because they also represent different religious traditions. The West as a whole has been suspect in the Islamic world since the time of the Crusades, which were undertaken as a religious war against Islam as an infidel religion. The founders of the United States also had doubts about Islam and saw the Otoman Empire as a threat to be contained or eliminated. Many of these attitudes color relations to this day.

The Ottoman Empire

The history of Islam can be divided into distinct phases -- the period of emergence extended from 610 to 661; the period of classical elaboration, or the Golden Age, from 661 to 1258; and the era of repetition and scholastic fragmentation from 1258 to 1800, followed by a time of reactivation and political militancy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Arkoun 3). Islam began with Muhammad and the revelations he made to his followers and others. The first Muslim was Khadija, the Prophet's wife, and the second was either his freed slave or his teenage cousin. In a short time, he had about 40 converts. The new doctrine took shape in Mecca, and the number of converts rose to 100. A period of persecution followed, leading to the Hijra, or emigration to Medina. In time, the ideological struggle between the Meccans and the Muslims developed into an armed conflict, beginning when Mohammed raised a party of 300 to set an ambush at the well of Badr on the road to Syria:

The Battle of Badr is a landmark and had far reaching consequences. It sanctioned a concern for material existence and the use of force as a means of survival, and both were built into the foundations of Islam... The victory was interpreted by the Muslims as a sign that the city of Mecca would fall and that all Mohammed's opposition from Christians, Jews and pagans was in the wrong. Mohammed henceforth saw his task as overcoming all opposition. (Roberts 19)

At the beginning of the 7th Century, the Near and Middle East was divided between Byzantium and Persia, after some three centuries of struggle. After the death of Muhammad there was a sort of constitutional crisis that was solved by the imposition of Abu Bakr as sole successor to the Prophet. He was the head of the region, with executive powers and an army. He first countered military action among the tribes known as the Ridda, a word that means apostasy. The war with the Ridda developed into a war of conquest leading far beyond the boundaries of Arabia to Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Initially, each of these invasions constituted an expansion of the Arab nation, not of Islam. The role of religion in the conquests was overestimated by early writers. The Arabs took over only state lands and the lands of enemies of the regime. The Muslims did not interfere with the internal civil and religious administration of the conquered peoples. Islam was identified by this time with Arabism, and this was apparent as non-Arab Muslims flocked to the faith. During the reign of 'Uthman there was a breakdown, with Medina a center of opposition internally and Egypt attacking externally. 'Ali came to power in Medina and marched on Kufa, which he made his capital. The Caliph successfully undercut 'Ali's power, and Mu'awiya was named Caliph in Syria and was soon generally accepted all over the Empire (Lewis 92-94).

At the time of Muhammad, Mecca and environs was in a state of fermentation that was aggravated by social injustices resulting from discontent with the system of privilege benefiting those with the right connections. One of the unifying political structures that emerged from the rule of Muhammad and that would continue to be of vital importance during the Golden Age and beyond was the caliphate, and the first to follow the Prophet was, as noted, Abu Bakr. The caliph was a ruler and also the commander of the faithful and the imam, or guide, of the community:

The caliphate in its heyday was a powerful instrument working for the solidarity and coherence in Islam. The caliph enforced legal decisions, safeguarded the divinely revealed restrictive ordinances, maintained the armies and guarded the community of Islam from external attack, enforced order and security, meted out justice, received and distributed the zakah and other alms, maintained the Friday services and public institutions, decided between disputants, served as supreme judges in matters bearing legal claims, married minors who had no guardians, distributed booty gained in war, and generally catered to a variety of needs brought before him by the faithful. (Farah 155)

In the 'Abbasid period, from the ninth century on, the caliph became more withdrawn from public accessibility and was replaced by a bureaucratic machine, and the caliph was then relegated to the position of a ceremonial figure.

By the end of the tenth century, an Islamic world had come into existence that was united by a common religious culture expressed in the Arabic language and that was joined by human links forged by trade, migration, and pilgrimage. This world was divided into three broad areas, each with its own centers of power, and with three rulers claiming the title of caliph, in Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba. These and other political changes did not destroy the cultural unity of the Islamic world, which "grew deeper as more and more of the population became Muslims and the faith of Islam articulated itself into systems of thought and institutions" (Hourani 87).

In the period of expansion and growth, the majority of peoples coming under the sway of Islam accepted the new religion either because it had a simplicity that appealed to them or because they were taking the way of least resistance and accepting the faith in order to claim equality of status with the new rulers. Arabs and non-Arabs were thrown together in a new society which was completely different from what had existed before. Many of the civilizations that came into contact with Islam were ancient civilizations, and often the Muslims did not make any radical changes in these new territories. Indeed, these extant civilizations had an influence on the Islamic world so that soon there was not the unity there had originally been. Instead there were new sects within Islam:

The Arabs had their own traditions, their own outlook on life. The non-Arab Muslims had their own traditions and their own outlook on life. Between the two there was conflict, struggle, and tension. (Iqbal 82)

Afzal Iqbal emphasizes this tension as dividing the Muslim world, but in fact it also served to reinvigorate that world with an infusion of new ideas and with encouragement for inquiry into a variety of fields. The Islamic world in its developmental and expansionist phase during the Golden Age was open to ideas from outside just as it disseminated ideas to the outside world through open contacts. In the Islam of the time, scientific inquiries were encouraged as much as philosophic inquiries, and this had a basis in the Quran as that work persistently invites the faithful to examine the created world in order to appreciate the greatness and the power of God. Scientific knowledge of nature, the stars, the heavens, the earth, the flora, and the fauna therefore only reinforces the faith, and there was also a literature of mirabilia, or the miracles of nature, halfway between scientific observation and religious contemplation. The people of Islam developed mathematics, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and arithmetic; astronomy; botany; pharmacology; zoology; geography; physiognomy; and psychosomatics to a high degree, and the West was the beneficiary of this knowledge from the twelfth century on. The growth of this and other fields of learning within Islam, however, came to a halt as Islam retreated:

As in the case of philosophy, this great scientific movement came to a halt not as a result of theological supervision comparable to that exercised by the Christian establishment in the West but rather because of the new social and political environments for knowledge that developed in the whole of the Muslim world starting in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (Arkoun 79)

Against the Reconquista in Spain, the Crusades in Palestine, and the Turkish and Mongol hordes in Iran and Iraq,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Ottoman Early American Relationships to Religious Hierarchy Caliph Church of England.  (2008, April 28).  Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ottoman-early-american-relationships/11950

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