The Impact Of The Ottoman Empire On The Arab Countryside Essay Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Turkey, Middle East, Muslim, Ottoman, Empire, World War 1, Ottoman Empire, Islam

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2023/04/10

The impact of the Ottoman Empire on the Arab lands that it inhabited were many and varied, as the Empire was both long standing and powerful. The Ottomans influenced the Arabs’ religious lives, their understanding of and access to their lands, and their cultural understanding of themselves. A look at the impact of this time period is paramount to understanding the Arab countries today.
The religious experience of Arabs changed significantly during and after the Ottoman rule. While they had been Muslim previously, there was a shift in the nature of the people’s understanding during the Ottoman occupation that continued to evolve after it ended. The connection between the Ottoman rule and the evolution of the Islamic religion in the middle east is stronger than one might think. They are at least indirectly causal in their relationship.
Before the Turkish people adopted the Islamic faith, they practiced Shamanism. By 1514, the Turks as a whole had slowly converted to Islam. At that time, Selim I is quoted as saying, “the killing of one Alevi had as much otherworldly reward as killing 70 Christians.” (Jalal 1982) It was Selim who, took over Egypt, which at the time encompassed much of the Middle East. He would be the marker at which the Ottoman Empire was solidly acknowledged as an Islamic caliphate, despite a long history of claiming that title. This lasted until 1924, when Abdulmecid was exiled to France by the Turkish Grand National Assembly.
The Arabs were something of a collection of non-homogenous tribes before the expansion of the Ottoman Empire to include them. The Empire was multicultural and multiethnic, including not only Turks and Arabs, but also Greeks, Armenians, Persians, Serbs, Kurds and Bosnians. It functioned well in its diversity until the European influence began to introduce nationalism to the Ottomans. The Arab revolt is not the first instance of one of the Ottoman ethnic groups stepping outside the rule. In 1832, a Greek rebellion was supported by the British Empire and found success. A short time later, a Serbian rebellion was supported by the Russians, but was unsuccessful. But the non-majority groups were not the only ones to take notice of nationalism.
The Turks also began to gain some level of nationalism, by way of students sent to study in the west who came back with these European ideals. But the spread of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire was stalled by Abdulhamid II. He ruled from 1876 until 1908, and was a supporter of the idea that the Ottomans were joined by religious understanding rather than ethnicity. It was his contention that the Islamic state was more important than any ethnic heritage that any of the citizens might want to explore.
In 1908 Abdulhamid was over thrown by a group of his Army officers, who had been among the students who brought nationalism back east after their educations. They were known as the Young Turks, and upon ousting Abdulhamid their purpose was to create a Turkish nationalism within the Ottoman Empire. This had the effect of alienating other ethnicities in the Empire - including the Arab population.
At the same time this was happening, the Arab areas of the Empire were experiencing a similar nationalist drive. There were major cities inside the Arab regions that had exposure to western ideas, and in those places Arab nationalism started to take hold - in large part spurred on by American religious missionaries. They were not successful in converting the local Muslims to their western faith, but the education they were able to set up was invaluable to the cause of Arab nationalism, exactly as the Ottoman Empire was seeking to streamline a Turkish nationalism within itself.
These national identities were fairly limited in the beginning. It was mostly a matter addressed by those people who had been educated by westerners. They were not people looking to free themselves from the Ottoman Empire for the most part, but rather were interested in securing a situation that permitted them more independence but still within the Ottoman Empire. So, while there was a larger community seeking to be allowed their ethnic identities, the faction of it that was looking to separate from the Ottoman Empire was relatively small.
Because the Ottomans legal system did not acknowledge ethnicity, rather they were religiously divided, all Muslim citizens had the same rights, because of what’s called the Muslim Millet. The Muslim Millet was a special court that dealt with personal law. It was permitted to rule itself. In fact, after the Tanzimat reforms, it was the system by which those non-Muslim minorities in the Empire were protected. (Sachadina, 2001) Islamic Muslims began to separate from the Empire. By the time of the 17th century, the Ottoman empire had lost all but moderate control over the Maghreb regencies, and Egypt was nearly independent by the 19th century.
As the 19th century wore on, the teachings coming back to the Middle East from Europe were sparking reforms that were ousting Islamic leaders out of public offices, which obviously reduced the power they could exert over governing. After the jizya was done away with, the Islamic leaders were dying out. But the remaining leaders did seek to maintain a system that enforced Hanafi Islam because it was believed to be threatened by the current climate in the Empire.
In the midst of all this nationalist turmoil, we see a rise of what it called Ottomanism. It is the idea that instead of identifying themselves along ethnic lines, Ottomans would identify themselves along religious lines, much the way they had before the nationalist push. The social classes would be set up to identify Muslims and non-Muslims. This created a backlash of minority non-Muslim, who remembered being neglected previously, and led to a rebellion.
European powers correctly assumed that with the outbreak of World War I, there would be an increase in ethnic movements toward independence. With the Ottoman Empire in opposition to the major European powers, the westerners opted to use those national identities to their advantage. They supported the Arab uprising.
The British needed someone to lead the uprising, and for that purpose they found Sharif Hussein, who was the emir of Mecca and vying for the Prime Minister position. He was a descendant of Banu Hashim, making him of the same tribe as Muhammad, and had aspirations toward higher office. Hussein’s ethnic background as well as his willingness to support a rebellion made him the perfect candidate to lead the revolt against the Ottomans, so the British lured him with promises of support. During 1915 and 1916, they offered him money and military support in hopes that the beginning of a small rebellion would develop into a larger one. But when the rebellion started, there was nearly no support from the Arab community, and through that experience it became clear that Hussein had not been intent on seeing Arab nationalism take its place in the Middle East. Rather, he had clearly been primarily interested in forming an Arab state that he could lead. The British had been looking to create an Arab nationalism that they could ally with and enjoy the fruits of a large nation of people with whom diplomacy could be used. The placement of this people in the Middle East was of paramount importance.
Hussein’s revolt saw some success, regardless of the lack of support it endured. The level of British support helped him to take control of Hejaz except for Medina. Fakhri Pasha, the Ottoman commander, maintained control of Medina until after the war was over. This did have the effect of keeping Ottoman troops there instead of opposing them in Palestine and Iraq. Eventually, the British would take over most of what had been the Ottoman Empire’s Arab lands in the Middle East, leaving the Arabs out from under Ottoman rule, but having adopted British rule, and the promises made to Hussein became a problem.
Hussein had been promised the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, and Iraq, but the British opted to create something of a League of Nations out of the area, and rule it themselves - except for those areas that were given to France, such as Syria and Lebanon.
It is through this series of events that the influence of western thought came to so heavily rest in the Arab countryside. Hussein’s son, Feisal did take the throne of Syria in 1920, but when he attempted to gain an authority in his country that would outside of European rule, he was removed from power. In 1921, Feisal was given the throne of Iraq by the British as a means to maintain the strength of their existence there. His and then his descendants ruled with British support for 37 years until a rebellion came from inside the Iraqi military.
All the while, Sharif Hussein was still attempting to find a place to rule in the Hejaz. He tried to declare him self ruler a number of times, but was not supported beyond his own tribesmen, and eventually he died in 1924. His oldest son took up where his father had left off, but the control over Hejaz was ending anyway. In 1925, the Hejaz was taken by the Saudis and Saudi Arabia was born. The Hashemite maintained control in Jordan where Sharif Hussein had influenced the area most. In fact, the current king of Jordan, Abdullah, is a descendant of Hussein.
While the Arab revolt was not the level of happening that historians like to see it as, because the implications were far greater than the actuality, it does mark - if not cause - the end of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. That is largely due to the British support.
What we can identify in the Ottoman influence over the Arab population under their control is that the nationalism, which swept out of Europe, was more deeply seeded because of the presence of the Ottoman Empire. It created a situation in which ethnicity is the basis for the majority of revolts that happen today. Their religious ideals are not significantly different, but the understanding of how to align themselves into groups, which had been done along religious lines, came to mean creating ethnic groups to stand for themselves and having religion be a secondary issue.
Before the Ottoman Empire moved into the Middle East, farmers in the Arab lands were free to plant, grow, and harvest their land as they saw fit. There was no government involvement in their production. But the Ottomans eventually introduced the Timar system, in order to reward soldiers with conquered land because they did not pay them for their service. This drastically changed the land situation as the Timar system lasted from the 1300s to the 1500s. Primarily cavalrymen were given land grants from the lands taken over by the Ottoman Empire, but other groups were occasionally included - rarely, even women in the imperial family. (Reindl-Kiel, 154)
The intentions of the system were to alleviate the need for the Empire to pay soldiers while gaining new territory and routes of trade that should keep the Empire financially secure. (Ozel, 7) Eventually, the Ottoman empire would be centralized under the Sultan with the removal of the Feudal system and various aristocratic bastions that had been largely running the Empire. (Lewis, 239)
There is not a great deal of documentation of the Timar system early, because of the lack of record keeping during the time, but we do see it show back up in a strong way in 1413 with Mehmed I. A Timar system had been in place under Bayezid before the collapse in 1402. He had given his slaves land previously that they would retake ownership of when the Ottoman empire was reunited with the Sultan as the ultimate authority.
In the fifty years that followed, the system would be made uniform and spread through the Ottoman holdings. Then after the taking of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman method for expanding would revert back to conquest and we would see the Timar system again. (Inalcik, 1954) As the conquests progressed, the Ottomans began taking total control of the lands they conquered by way of dethroning the dynasties that inhabited them, and putting the Timar system in their place. (Inalcik, 126)


Jalāl Āl Aḥmad (1982). Plagued by the West. Translated by Paul Sprachman. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University.
Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein (2001). The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. Oxford University Press.
Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: H. Holt, 2001. 
Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Vol. 3. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1974. 
Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1991.
HAQUE, ZIAUL. “ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF OTTOMAN TIMAR SYSTEM: A Bibliographical Essay”. Islamic Studies 15.2 (1976).
Reindl-Kiel, Hedda. “A Woman Timar Holder in Ankara Province during the Second of the 16th Century.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 40 (1997).
Ozel, Oktay. “Limits of the Almighty: Mehmed II’s ‘Land Reform’ Revised.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 42 (1999)
Lewis, Bernard. “Ottoman Land Tenure and Taxation in Syria.” Studia Islamic. (1979)
Inalcik, Halil. “Ottoman Methods of conquest.” Studia Islamica. 2 (1954)
Inalcik, Halil. An Economic and Social history of the Ottoman Empire 1300–1914.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994

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