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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Turks and Islam

Part One

"You can divide the East and West in terms of their gardens. In the West, they are in the houses looking out at their gardens, while in the East they tend to be in their gardens looking towards the homes. Turks with that nomadic spirit, on the other hand, see the whole world as their garden - whether you want them in your garden or not."
Ali Yildirim (Read more quotes)

Khusrau Hunting, dated 1498 Page from a manuscript of the Khusrau and Shirin by Hatifi Turkey (probably Istanbul), Ottoman periodThe story of the Turks is one of migration by a warrior people on horseback from China eventually to the Balkans and although Islam is the religion of the majority of Turks, its importance came relatively late. The original Turcoman or Turkic tribes were nomads who originated in Asia; in over a thousand years of their recent history they moved to Iran, to eastern Anatolia and to western Anatolia, freely becoming Muslims on the way.

After colonising Persia and Anatolia, they set their sights on the Holy Roman Empire and five hundred years later the Turkish Ottoman Empire stood poised to crush Europe on behalf of Islam.

Even before Sultan Mehmed II[1] took Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman rulers had established themselves as the world's leading Islamic power. They seized Egypt and Syria, pushed into Hungary and Transylvania, and to the gates of Vienna. Mehmed's descendant Suleiman the Magnificent[2] drove the Christian warrior Knights of St. John out of Rhodes and then, in 1565, chased these last Crusaders to Malta. From the far side of Europe, Elizabeth I of England declared that in the siege of Malta the survival of Christian Europe was at stake from the Turks.

Origin of the Turks: Nomads from Central Asia

Although Turkic nomads have been around in Central Asia since the 5th century BC, it is thought that the first state known as "Turk", giving its name to the many states and peoples afterwards, was that of the Gökturk Empire or Kök-turk (gök meaning "blue" or "celestial", kök meaning "root") in the 6th century AD[3].

The main Turkic peoples that followed include the Karluks (or Qarluqs - mainly 8th century), Uyghurs and Oghuz Turks.

Before the vast majority joined known world religions, their ancient belief was Shamanistic in nature and known as Tengrism. It was surprisingly advanced and sophisticated, in essence monotheistic, with a strong code of laws known as Yasa[4], about society and crime and tough against adultery[5]. It nurtured a moral society that encouraged respect for the family unit. This was one of the factors that scholars suggest most Turkic populations on the whole converted freely to Islam, as the religion didn't really conflict with their beliefs, lifestyle or culture.

First Contact with Islam

Before the majority of Turkic tribes began to adopt Islam, the Karluks had already accepted Christian missionaries, whilst a Turkic tribe known as the Khazars had already converted to Judaism[6].

The first serious contact between Turkic peoples and Islam was in the 8th century AD, when an Arab-Islamic army allied with Christian Karluk mercenaries against the Chinese in the Battle of Talas, and won.

It is suggested that conversion began at this point, but it was gradual. The Karluk Turks, for example, remained in the Christian faith until the 14th century. Some academics believe that Turks may have converted to Islam, because to them it had once signified military success.

The first important Turkish conversion to Islam was reputedly to come from a soldier out of the Khazar ranks. Originally from the Oghuz tribe, a warrior Turk named Seljuk converted to Islam in the 10th century and founded the first important Turkish Islamic Empire, a loose confederation of kingdoms known as the Seljuk Dynastic Empire.

The top picture is called "Khusrau Hunting", dated 1498 AD. Page from a manuscript of the Khusrau and Shirin by Hatifi, Turkey (probably Istanbul), Ottoman period. The Art of the Ottomans before 1600 AD (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

End of part one | Part two

Main Index | Intro | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5


1. It is also claimed that the prophet of Islam, Mohammad, mentioned the prospective conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) with the quote "They will conquer Kostantinaya (Constantinople). Hail to the prince and the army to whom that good fortune will be given." Babinger, Franz (1978). Mehmed the Conqueror and his Time. Princeton University Press, 85. ISBN 0-691-01078-1. Go back

2. The Sultan was named after Solomon, who was described as the perfect ruler in the Islamic holy book, the Koran. Like the legendary king of the Jews, Suleiman was seen as just and wise, and a worthy follower of his namesake. He is therefore called the second Solomon by many Islamic scholars, although he was the first of that name among the Ottomans. Like the Solomon of old, this ruler was surrounded by splendour and mystery, and his time is remembered as the zenith of his people - "magnificent to the west and the lawgiver to the east"."Not In My Name" Part 1 (Religious Tolerance by Richard Dixon) Go back

3. Some suggest the name Gökturk indicates that these Turks saw themselves as the children of their celestial god Tengri (the derivative of the modern Turkish generic word for "god" Tanrı) - the father of the sky. Go back

4. The "Yasa" code of laws was never abandoned by the Turks in name. Today in Turkey, laws are called "yasa". Go back

5. The 10th century Muslim writer Ibn Fadlan's accounts of travelling through Oghuz Turk territory gives a vivid explanation of the Turkish view of adultery. As the guest of a powerful Turk in the region, by accident he sees the ruler's wife naked as she is changing clothes. It is written that Ibn Fadlan immediately looks to the floor, but the Turkish ruler laughs and says, "Don't worry, just don't touch". Fadlan is very suprised and shocked by this. The next day on a visit to another area, Fadlan describes witnessing a man with his left arm and leg tied to a tree on his left and his right arm and leg tied to a tree on the right, upon which they cut the two trees and split the man in half. Fadlan asks the reason for the punishment and the response is adultery. Go back

6. Also see, a Resource for Turkic and Jewish History in Russia and Ukraine. Go back

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