THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE

‘Third time lucky,’ The Economist Feb 16th 2019, p4 of a Special report on Islam in the West

The Ottoman empire started in what is now Turkey and at its height dominated parts of central and south-eastern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul), the seat of eastern Christianity. They were not beyond turning churches into mosques and forcibly converting Christians. But they also presided over another era of pluralism. Muslims and Jews fleeing Catholic Spain found refuge in the east, as did many Christians deemed heretics by the pope.

In much of the Ottoman empire Muslims were a minority. The sultan delegated authority over non-Muslim communities to their religious leaders in a system of government called the millet. Mosques, churches and synagogues in Ottoman cities were built side by side. And while Christians were fighting religious wars elsewhere in Europe, the Ottomans preserved a remarkable peace among different faiths in territories now regarded as seething with religious strife. The Ottomans ruled their European possessions for longer than they did their Middle Eastern ones. They gave Austria its coffeehouses and, legend has it, France its croissants (from the Islamic crescent on the Ottoman flag).

The Ottomans twice laid siege to Vienna, in 1529 and 1683, and lost both times. Thereafter the Muslim tide retreated. Christian nationalists from Athens to Budapest re-enacted the Reconquista, levelling hundreds of mosques and expelling millions of Europe’s Muslims. Meanwhile across the Atlantic Muslim slaves were baptised by their owners and given Christian names. By the eve of the first world war, Muslim life in the West had all but come to an end.