Social decline of Ottoman Empire
The Decline of the Ottoman Empire: Part 2 Islamic Decline
In we analyzed the political and economic aspects of this great empire’s decline. In history, nothing happens for only one reason. The decline of the Ottomans was the result of a great many factors. Among the most important reasons are the social and religious changes in the Ottoman realm. This post will analyze the Islamic changes in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s and how they helped bring the downfall of the empire in 1922.
Religious Changes – The Tanzimat
From the very beginning of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1300s, Islam had been the basis of the state. The Ottomans built on the Islamic government traditions of the Seljuk Empire of the Middle Ages which prided itself on being the defender of Islam in its time. The Ottomans saw themselves in the same light. As the empire grew and expanded through the centuries, the Ottomans formalized their position as the defenders of Islam, with the sultans taking on the title of khalifah (caliph) of the Muslim world. The law of the land was the Shariah, the religious laws of Islam passed down through Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in the deserts of Arabia in the 600s.
In the late Ottoman Empire, however, things began to change. With the political and economic rise of Europe in the face of Ottoman decline that was discussed in part 1, questions began to be asked about the direction of the Ottoman Empire. Many people within the government of the empire began to think that in order to become more powerful like the Europeans, the Ottoman Empire needs to become more like European nations.
These beliefs reached the level of the Ottoman sultan in the early 1800s. Soon, reforms meant to make the Ottoman Empire more European touched all aspects of Ottoman life. In 1826, sultan Mahmud II (reigned 1808-1839) instituted a clothing reform for all government officials. Instead of the traditional robes and turbans that sultans and government workers wore, they now dressed in European-style military clothes. Looking like the Europeans was not the only reform, however. Mahmud also abolished the ancient Janissaries, military troops that came from all parts of the empire. Instead, he began a new corps called the Nizam-ı cedid, which was recruited only from the empire’s Turkish citizens.
Mahmud II’s reforms only began the drastic changes that the Ottoman Empire would undergo in the turbulent 19th century. The changes would culminate in the Tanzimat reforms under sultans Abdülmecid in 1839 and 1856. “Tanzimat” means reorganization in Ottoman Turkish and that is exactly what these changes were: a complete reorganization of the Ottoman government. The Tanzimat were a series of laws that was meant to modernize the Ottoman Empire along European lines. The old system of a Shariah-based government was gone. Islamic laws and norms were gone from the government. The fair and equitable Islamic social structure of the empire was gone.
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