Turkish Jews in the late Ottoman period

People of different religions and ethnic groups lived peacefully for centuries under the Ottoman rule. The historian Karen Armstrong wrote: “The sultan did not impose uniformity on his subjects nor did he try to force the disparate elements of his empire into one huge party. The government merely enabled the different groups — Christians, Jews, Arabs, Turks, Berbers, merchants...and trade guilds — to live together peacefully, each making its own contribution, and following its own beliefs and customs. The empire was thus a collection of communities, each which claimed the immediate loyalty of its members.”

Muslim leaders have traditionally tolerated people from other faiths living in their territories. Under Islamic rule and Islamic law, Jews and Christians lived with Muslims in relative harmony, and were allowed to practice their religion and run their own affairs as long as they met certain obligations, namely paying a poll tax, which Muslims did not have to meet. In some places many, Jews had their own legal system and social services and Christians had their own religious authorities. Under the millet system, Christians were tried under their own laws. Millets were groups with their own legal codes and places of worship.

The Ottoman Empire had Turkish origins and Islamic foundations, but from the start it was a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups and religious creeds. Ethnicity was determined solely by religious affiliation. Non-Muslim peoples, including Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, were recognized as millets and were granted communal autonomy. Such groups were allowed to operate schools, religious establishments, and courts based on their own customary law.*

Armenians, Jews and Greeks made up a large part f the intellectual and financial communities in the Ottoman Empire. Still they were often resented by the Turks because thye were better educated, wealthier and more Westernized. Homosexuals, Sufis and women who resisted traditional gender roles and some minorities were persecuted in the Ottoman Empire.

Under the Ottomans, Jews, Christians and other “protected” minorities were obliged to follow Ottoman law and keep a low profile. They were required to show deference to Muslims and had to pay special taxes and could not build conspicuous places of worship. In return minority communities were given considerable autonomy. For internal matters they were under the authority of religious leaders.

The Circassians are Sunni Muslims and speak Arabic. They live in Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. They are few in number but have kept their identity, culture and shared sense of history alive. Some Circassians are descendants of refugees who fled to the Middle East from the Caucasus in the 19th century . Others were brought in by the Ottomans and resettled in buffer zones in hard-to-administer Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire.

Doctors and long distance traders were often Jews. In Egypt, the financial services were dominated by Coptic Christians. Armenians were heavily involved in the silk trade. Syrian Christians were major players in the Middle East caravan trade.

Websites and Resources: Ottoman Empire and Turks: The ; Ottoman Text Archive Project – University of Washington ; Wikipedia article on the Ottoman Empire Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on the Ottoman Empire ; American Travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th Century Shapell Manuscript Foundation ; Ottoman Empire and Turk Resources – University of Michigan ; Turkey in Asia, 1920 ; Wikipedia article on the Turkish People Wikipedia ; Turkish Studies, Turkic republics, regions, and peoples at University of Michigan ; Türkçestan Orientaal's links to Turkic languages ; Turkish Culture Portal ; ATON, the Uysal-Walker Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative at Texas Tech University ; The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

Ottoman Empire and Sephardic Jews

Turkish Jews

In 1492, the same year Columbus discovered America, 150,000 Jews known as Sephardim were stripped of their possessions during the Spanish Inquisition and kicked out of the Spain. Some 100,000 of these refugees were welcomed to Istanbul by the Ottoman Sultan Bayazit II, who dispatched the Ottoman navy to rescue many Jews.

"The exiled Sephardim," wrote journalist Melanie Menagh, "brought with them the glories of Spain's golden age and made major contributions to Turkish life. Many were physicians and they introduced modern European medical techniques to the court.”

By the the 16th century a large portion of the population of Istanbul was made up of Spanish-speaking Jews. The first printing press in the Ottoman empire was established by two Spanish-Jewish refugees. Sephardist prudence was so highly regarded by the sultans that many Ottoman diplomats were Jews. The Sephardim language, Judeo-Spanish or “Ladino”, was thought to be especially melodic and lent itself to poetry and sacred and secular songs. Ancestors of the Sephardim still live in Istanbul and Ladino is still spoken in some neighborhoods.

Jews who were expelled from Hungary in 1376, from Sicily in the the 15th century, from Bavaria in 1470, from Bohemia in 1542, and from Russia in 1881, 1891, 1897 and 1903 also were provided with sanctuary by the Ottomans. During World War II, Turkey accepted some Jews who were fleeing Nazism.

Millet System and Dhimmis

Non-Muslim communities were organised according to the millet system, which gave minority religious/ethnic/geographical communities a limited amount of power to regulate their own affairs - under the overall supremacy of the Ottoman administration. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

“The first Orthodox Christian millet was established in 1454. This brought Orthodox Christians into a single community under the leadership of the Patriarch who had considerable authority given to him by the Sultan. Armenian Christian, Jewish and other millets followed in due course. |::|

Some millets paid tax to the state as dhimmis, while others were exempted because they were seen to be performing services of value to the state. A dhimmi is a non-Muslim living in an Islamic state who is not a slave, but does not have the same rights as a Muslim living in the same state. The notion of the "dhimma", or "protected person" dates back to Muhammad’s time. Although dhimmis were required to pay an extra tax, they were generally otherwise unmolested. They were as rule treated better than non-Christians in Christian Europe.

Rules of the Millet System

Shaikh ar-Ramli (d. 1596), a great Cairo legal authority supported by Shaikh al-Islam, the Muslim religious authority in Constantinople said: "It is forbidden to the tolerated peoples living on Muslim territory to clothe themselves in the same manner as the chiefs, the scholars, and the nobles. They should not be allowed to clothe themselves in costly fabrics which have been cut in the modes which are forbidden to them, in order that they may not offend the sensibilities of poor Muslims and in order that their faith in their religion should not be shaken by this. [Poor Muslims may regret their faith when they see how well-dressed the Christians and Jews are.] [Source: The Answer Of The Shaikh Hasan Al Kafrawi, The Shafiite [Professor of canon law in Cairo, d. 1788 CE]

"They should not be permitted to employ mounts like the Muslims. They must use neither saddles, nor iron-stirrups, in order to be distinguished from the true believers. They must under no circumstance ride horses because of the noble character of this animal. The Most-High has said [Qu'ran 8:62]: 'And through powerful squadrons [of horses] through which you will strike terror into your own and God's enemies.' [A verse of the Qu'ran makes a good support for a law. Verses may even be torn out of their context.]

"They should not be permitted to take Muslims into their service because God has glorified the people of Islam. He has given them His aid and has given them a guarantee by these words [Qu'ran 3:140]: 'Surely God will never give preeminence to unbelievers over the true believers.' Now this is just what is happening today, for their servants are Muslims taken from among men of a mature age or from those who are still young. This is one of the greatest scandals to which the guardians of authority must put an end. It is wrong to greet them even with a simple 'how-do-you-do'; to serve them, even for wages, at the baths or in what relates to their riding animals; and it is forbidden to accept anything from their hand, for that would be an act of debasement by the faithful. They are forbidden while going through the streets to ape the manners of the Muslims, and still less those of the cities of the religion. They shall only walk single-file, and in narrow lanes they must withdraw even more into the most cramped part of the road.

"One may read that which follows in Bukhari and Muslim [religious authorities of the ninth century]: 'Jews and Christians shall never begin a greeting; if you encounter one of them on the road, push him into the narrowest and tightest spot.' The absence of every mark of consideration toward them is obligatory for us; we ought never to give them the place of honor in an assembly when a Muslim is present. This is in order to humble them and to honor the true believers. They should under no circumstances acquire Muslim slaves, white or black. Therefore they should get rid of the slaves which they now have for the), have no right to own them. If one of their slaves who was formerly an infidel, becomes a Muslim, he shall be removed from them, and his master, willingly or unwillingly, shall be compelled to sell him and to accept the price for him.

Restrictions on Christians and Jews According to the Millet System

Ottoman Christians in traditional costumes

Shaikh ar-Ramli (d. 1596) went on to say: "It is no longer permitted them to put themselves, with respect to their houses, on an equal footing with the dwellings of their Muslim neighbors, and still less to build their buildings higher. If they are of the same height, or higher, it is incumbent upon us to pull them down to a size a little less than the houses of the true believers. This conforms to the word of the Prophet: 'Islam rules, and nothing shall raise itself above it.' This is also in order to hinder them from knowing where our weak spots are and in order to make a distinction between their dwellings and ours. They are forbidden to build new churches, chapels, or monasteries in any Muslim land. We should destroy everything that is of new construction in every place, such as Cairo, for instance, founded under the Muslim religion, for it is said in a tradition of Umar: 'No church shall be built in Islam.' They shall no longer be permitted to repair the parts of these [post-Islamic] buildings which are in ruins. However, the old buildings [of pre-Islamic times] which are found in a land whose population had embraced Islam need not be destroyed. They shall not, however, be enlarged by means of repairs or otherwise. In case the tolerated peoples [Jews, Christians, etc.] act contrary to these provisions we will be obliged to destroy everything that has been added to the original size of the building. [Only pre-Islamic churches and synagogues may be repaired; new ones must be torn down.] [Source: The Answer Of The Shaikh Hasan Al Kafrawi, The Shafiite [Professor of canon law in Cairo, d. 1788 CE]

"Entrance into Muslim territory by infidels of foreign lands under the pact guaranteeing protection to the tolerated peoples is permitted only for the time necessary to settle their business affairs. If they exceed this period, their safe-conduct having expired, they will be put to death or be subject to the payment of the head-tax. [Jews and Christians of foreign lands must pay a special head-tax if they wish to remain permanently in Muslim lands.] As to those with whom the ruler may have signed treaties, and with whom he, for whatever motive, may have granted a temporary truce, they form only the smallest fraction. But they, too, must not pass the fixed limit of more than four months [without paying the tax], particularly if this occurs at a time when Islam is prosperous and flourishing. The Most-High has said [Qu'ran 2: 2341: 'They should wait four months,' and he has again said [47:37]: 'Do not show any cowardice, and do not at all invite the unbelievers to a peace when you have the upper-hand and may God be with you.'

"Their men and women are ordered to wear garments different from those of the Muslims in order to be distinguished from them. They are forbidden to exhibit anything which might scandalize us, as, for instance, their fermented liquors, and if they do not conceal these from us, we are obliged to pour them into the street."

Muslim Objections to Rights Given Non-Muslims

female Christian slave

In 1772, one Egyptian wrote: “What do you say of the innovations introduced by the cursed unbelievers [Jewish and Christian] into Cairo, into the city of al-Muizz [founder of Cairo, 969] which by its splendor in legal and philosophic studies sparkles in the first rank of Muslim cities? “Among other changes they have put themselves on a footing of equality with the chiefs, scholars, and nobles, wearing, like them, costly garments of cloth of India, expensive silk and cashmere fabrics, and they imitate them even in the cut of these very garments.

“In addition, whether through necessity or otherwise, they ride on saddles which are of the same type as those of chiefs, scholars, and officers, with servants at their right, at their left, and behind them, scattering and pushing back Muslims for whom they thus block the streets. They carry small batons in their hands just like the chiefs. They buy Muslim slaves, the offspring of Negro, Abyssinian, and even white slaves; this has become so common and so frequent among them that they no longer consider this offensive. They even buy slaves publicly, just like the Muslims.

“They have become the owners of houses and build new ones of a solidity, durability, and height possessed by neither the houses nor mosques of the Muslims themselves. This state of affairs is spreading and is extending beyond all proportions. They contribute for the extension of their churches and convents; they seek to raise them higher and to give them a strength and a durability which even the mosques and the monasteries themselves do not have.

“Christian foreigners, foes who solicit our tolerance, settle in the country for more than a year without submitting themselves thereby to taxation and without renewing their treaties of protection. The women of the tolerated non-Muslim natives liken themselves to our women in that they deck themselves in a garment of black silk and cover their faces with a veil of white muslin with the result that in the streets they are treated with the consideration due only to respectable Muslim women.

“Ought one to allow these things to the unbelievers, to the enemies of the faith? Ought one to allow them to dwell among believers under such conditions? Or, indeed, is it not the duty of every Muslim prince and of every magistrate to ask the scholars of the holy law to express their legal opinion, and to call for the advice of wise and enlightened men in order to put an end to these revolting innovations and to these reprehensible acts? Ought one not compel the unbelievers to stick to their pact [of Umar]; ought one not keep them in servitude and prevent them from going beyond the bounds and the limits of their tolerated status in order that there may result from this the greatest glory of God, of His Prophet, and of all Muslims, and likewise of that which is said in the Qu'ran?

Devshirme System

Ağayeri, official in charge of Janissary recruitment (Devşirme)

According to the BBC: “Non-Muslims in parts of the empire had to hand over some of their children as a tax under the devshirme ('gathering') system introduced in the 14th century. Conquered Christian communities, especially in the Balkans, had to surrender twenty percent of their male children to the state. To the horror of their parents, and Western commentators, these children were converted to Islam and served as slaves. [Source: BBC, September 4, 2009 |::|]

“Although the forced removal from their families and conversion was certainly traumatic and out of line with modern ideas of human rights, the devshirme system was a rather privileged form of slavery for some (although others were undoubtedly ill-used). |::|

“Some of the youngsters were trained for government service, where they were able to reach very high ranks, even that of Grand Vezir. Many of the others served in the elite military corps of the Ottoman Empire, called the Janissaries, which was almost exclusively made up of forced converts from Christianity. |::|

“The devshirme played a key role in Mehmet's conquest of Constantinople, and from then on regularly held very senior posts in the imperial administration. Although members of the devshirme class were technically slaves, they were of great importance to the Sultan because they owed him their absolute loyalty and became vital to his power. This status enabled some of the 'slaves' to become both powerful and wealthy. Their status remained restricted, and their children were not permitted to inherit their wealth or follow in their footsteps. The devshirme system continued until the end of the seventeenth century.” |::|

Origin of the Janissaries

The scholar Eva March Tappan wrote: “About a century before the capture of Constantinople [1443], when Amurath I was on the throne, his vizier suggested to him that he had a right not only to one-fifth of the spoils of battle, but also to one-fifth of the captives. "Let officers be stationed at Gallipoli," he said, "and as the Christians pass by, let them choose the fairest and strongest of the Christian boys to become your soldiers." Thus was formed the famous corps of the Janizaries. To keep it up, the agents of the sultan went once in four years to all the Christian villages under Turkish control. Every boy between six and nine years of age must be brought before them, and the agents carried away one-fifth of the number, carefully selecting the strongest and most intelligent. [Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., “The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art,” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. VI: Russia, Austria-Hungary, The Balkan States, and Turkey, pp. 491-494, Internet Islamic History Sourcebook,]

Janissary peiks (halbardiers) to the sultan

“The advice of the vizier was followed; the edict was proclaimed; many thousands of the European captives were educated in the Muhammadan religion and arms, and the new militia was consecrated and named by a celebrated dervish. Standing in the front of their ranks, he stretched the sleeve of his gown over the head of the foremost soldier, and his blessing was delivered in the following words "Let them be called Janizaries [yingi-cheri--or "new soldiers"]; may their countenances be ever bright; their hand victorious; their swords keen; may their spear always hang over the heads of their enemies; and, wheresoever they go, may they return with a white face." White and black face are common and proverbial expressions of praise and reproach in the Turkish language. Such was the origin of these haughty troops, the terror of the nations.” [Ibid]

Janissaries in the 1550s

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq wrote in “The Turkish Letters, 1555-1562": At Buda I made my first acquaintance with the Janissaries; this is the name by which the Turks call the infantry of the royal guard. The Turkish state has 12,000 of these troops when the corps is at its full strength. They are scattered through every part of the empire, either to garrison the forts against the enemy, or to protect the Christians and Jews from the violence of the mob. There is no district with any considerable amount of population, no borough or city, which has not a detachment of Janissaries to protect the Christians, Jews, and other helpless people from outrage and wrong. [Source: C. T. Forster and F. H. B. Daniel, eds., “The Life and Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq,” vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, 1881), pp, 86-88, 153-155, 219-222, 287-290, 293. Busbecq, a Fleming, was the ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor at the Sublime Porte (the Turkish Sultan's court in Constantinople) from 1555-62. His letters provide important foreign accounts of the Ottoman state. Because Busbecq was trying to bring about reform at home, he did not dwell on the very real problems with Ottoman government]

“A garrison of Janissaries is always stationed in the citadel of Buda. The dress of these men consists of a robe reaching down to the ankles, while, to cover their heads, they employ a cowl which, by their account, was originally a cloak sleeve, part of which contains the head, while the remainder hangs down and flaps against the neck. On their forehead is placed a silver gilt cone of considerable height, studded with stones of no great value.

“These Janissaries generally came to me in pairs. When they were admitted to my dining room they first made a bow, and then came quickly up to me, all but running, and touched my dress or hand, as if they intended to kiss it. After this they would thrust into my hand a nosegay of' the hyacinth or narcissus; then they would run back to the door almost as quickly as they came, taking care not to turn their backs, for this, according to their code, would be a serious breach of etiquette. After reaching the door, they would stand respectfully with their arms crossed, and their eyes bent on the ground, looking more like monks than warriors. On receiving a few small coins (which was what they wanted) they bowed again, thanked me in loud tones, and went off blessing me for my kindness. To tell you the truth, if I had not been told beforehand that they were Janissaries, I should, without hesitation, have taken them for members of some order of Turkish monks, or brethren of some Moslem college. Yet these are the famous Janissaries, whose approach inspires terror everywhere.”

Janissaries: The Tribute of Children

Greek youths being converted to Islam

James M. Ludlow wrote in “The Tribute of Children” (1493): “They are kept up by continual additions from the sultan's share of the captives, and by recruits, raised every five years, from the children of the Christian subjects. Small parties of soldiers, each under a leader, and each provided with a particular firman, go from place to place. Wherever they come, the protogeros assembled the inhabitants with their sons. The leader of the soldiers have the right to take away all the youth who are distinguished by beauty or strength, activity or talent, above the age of seven. He carries them to the court of the grand seignior, a tithe, as it is, of the subjects. The captives taken in war by the pashas, and presented by them to the sultan, include Poles, Bohemians, Russians, Italians, and Germans. [Source: James M. Ludlow: The Tribute of Children, 1493 From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. VI: Russia, Austria-Hungary, The Balkan States, and Turkey, pp. 491-494, Internet Islamic History Sourcebook,]

“These recruits are divided into two classes. Those who compose the one, are sent to Anatolia, where they are trained to agricultural labor, and instructed in the Mussulman faith; or they are retained about the seraglio, where they carry wood and water, and are employed in the gardens, in the boats, or upon the public buildings, always under the direction of an overseer, who with a stick compels them to work. The others, in whom traces of a higher character are discernible, are placed in one of the four seraglios of Adrianople or Galata, or the old or new one at Constantinople. Here they are lightly clad in linen or in cloth of Saloniki, with caps of Prusa cloth. Teachers come every morning, who remain with them until evening, and teach them to read and write. Those who have performed hard labor are made Janizaries. Those who are educated in the seraglios become spahis or higher officers of state.

“Both classes are kept under a strict discipline. The former especially are accustomed to privation of food, drink, and comfortable clothing and to hard labor. They are exercised in shooting with the bow and arquebuse by day, and spend the night in a long, lighted hall, with an overseer, who walks up and down, and permits no one to stir. When they are received into the corps of the Janizaries, they are placed in cloister-like barracks, in which the different odas or ortas live so entirely in common that the military dignitaries are called from their soups and kitchens. Here not only the younger continue to obey the elders in silence and submission, but all are governed with such strictness that no one is permitted to spend the night abroad, and whoever is punished is compelled to kiss the hand of him who inflicts the punishment.

Meccan merchant and his Circassian slave

“The younger portion, in the seraglios, are kept not less strictly, every ten being committed to the care of an inexorable attendant. They are employed in similar exercises, but likewise in study. The grand seignior permitted them to leave the seraglio every three years. Those who choose to remain, ascend, according to their age in the immediate service of their master, from chamber to chamber, and to constantly greater pay, till they attain, perhaps, to one of the four great posts of the innermost chamber, from which the way to the dignity of a beglerbeg, or a capitan deiri (that is, an admiral), or even of a vizier, is open. Those, on the contrary, who take advantage of this permission, enters, each one according to his previous rank, into the four first corps of the paid spahis, who are in the immediate service of the sultan, and in whom he confides more than in his other bodyguards.”

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire

Bernard Lewis wrote in “Race and Slavery in the Middle East”: “By Ottoman times, the first for which we have extensive documentation, the pattern of importation had changed. At first, the expanding Ottoman Empire, like the expanding Arab Empire of earlier times, recruited its slaves by conquest and capture, and great numbers of Balkan Christians were forcibly brought into Ottoman service. The distinctively Ottoman institution of the devsirme, the levy of boys from the Christian village population, made it possible, contrary to previous Islamic law and practice, to recruit slaves from the subject peoples of the conquered provinces. The devsirme slaves were not servants or menials, however, but were groomed for the service of the state in military and civil capacities. For a long time, most of the grand viziers and military commanders of the Ottoman forces were recruited in this way. In the early seventeenth century, the devsirme was abandoned; by the end of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman advance into Europe had been decisively halted and reversed. Sea raiders operating out of North African ports continued to bring European captives, but these did not significantly add to the slave populations. Pretty girls disappeared into the harem; men often had the choice of being ransomed or joining their captors -- a choice of which many availed themselves. The less fortunate, like the Muslim captives who fell to the European maritime powers, served in the galleys. [Source: Bernard Lewis, “Race and Slavery in the Middle East,” Chapter 1 Slavery, Oxford University Press 1994 |]

“The slave needs of the Ottoman Empire were now met from new sources. One of these was the Caucasians -- the Georgians, Circassians, and related peoples, famous for providing beautiful women and brave and handsome men. The former figured prominently in the harems, the latter in the armies and administrations of the Ottoman and also the Persian states. The supply of these was reduced but not terminated by the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the early years of the nineteenth century. Another source of supply was the Tatar khanate of the Crimea, whose raiders every year rode far and wide in Central and Eastern Europe, carrying off great numbers of male and female slaves. These were brought to the Crimea and shipped thence to the slave markets in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. This trade came to an end with the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 1783 and the extinction of Tatar independence. |

“Deprived of most of their sources of white slaves, the Ottomans turned more and more to Africa, which in the course of the nineteenth century came to provide the overwhelming majority of slaves used in Muslim countries from Morocco to Asia. According to a German report published in 1860, "the black slaves, at that time, were recruited mainly by raiding and kidnapping from Sennaar, Kordofan, Darfur, Nubia, and other places in inner Africa; the white mostly through voluntary sale on the part of their relatives in the independent lands of the Caucasus (Lesghi, Daghestani, and Georgian women, rarely men). Those offered for sale were already previously of servile status or were slave children by birth." |

Reliance on Black Military Slaves in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century

Bernard Lewis wrote in “Race and Slavery in the Middle East”: “Blacks were occasionally recruited into the mamluk forces in Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century. "When the supply [of white slaves] proves insufficient," says a contemporary observer, W. G. Browne, "or many have been expended, black slaves from the interior of Africa are substituted, and if found docile, are armed and accoutred like the rest." This is confirmed by Louis Frank, a medical officer with Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt, who wrote an important memoir on the Negro slave trade in Cairo. [Source: Bernard Lewis, “Race and Slavery in the Middle East,”Chapter 9 Slaves in Arms, Oxford University Press 1994 |]

“In the nineteenth century, black military slaves reappeared in Egypt in considerable numbers; their recruitment was indeed one of the main purposes of the Egyptian advance up the Nile under Muhammad 'Ali Pasha (reigned 1805-49) and his successors. Collected by annual razzias (raids) from Darfur and Kordofan, they constituted an important part of the Khedivial armies and incidentally furnished the bulk of the Egyptian expeditionary force which Sa'id Pasha sent to Mexico in 1863, in support of the French. An English traveler writing in 1825 had this to say about black soldiers in the Egyptian army: |

black eunuch

“"When the negro troops were first brought down to Alexandria, nothing could exceed their insubordination and wild demeanour; but they learned the military evolutions in half the time of the Arabs; and I always observed they went through the manoeuvres with ten times the adroitness of the others. It is the fashion here, as well as in our colonies, to consider the negroes as the last link in the chain of humanity, between the monkey tribe and man in intellect; and I do not suffer the eloquence of the slave driver to convince me that the negro is so stultified as to be unfit for freedom. |

“Even in Turkey, liberated black slaves were sometimes recruited into the armed forces, often as a means to prevent their reenslavement. Some of these reached of ficer rank. A British naval report, dated January 25,1858, speaks of black marines serving with the Turkish navy: "They are from the class of freed slaves or slaves abandoned by merchants unable to sell them. There are always many such at Tripoli. I believe the government acquainted the Porte with the embarrassment caused by their numbers and irregularities, and this mode of relief was adopted. Those brought by the Faizi Bari, about 70 in number, were on their arrival enrolled as a Black company in the marine corps. They are in exactly the same position with respect to pay, quarters, rations, and clothing as the Turkish marines, and will equally receive their discharge at the expiration of the allotted term of service. They are in short on the books of the navy. They have received very kind treatment here, lodged in warm rooms with charcoal burning in them day and night. A negro Mulazim [lieutenant] and some negro tchiaoushes [sergeants], already in the service have been appointed to look after and instruct them. They have drilled in the manual exercise in their warm quarters, and have not been set to do any duty on account of the weather. They should not have been sent here in winter. Those among them unwell on their arrival were sent at once to the naval hospital. Two only have died of the whole number. The men in the barracks are healthy and appear contented. No amount of ingenuity can conjure up any conncxion between their condition and the condition of slavery." |

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History “ by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples “ by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures“ edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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