Honored by the Glory of Islam: The Ottoman State, Non-Muslims, and Conversion to Islam in Late Seventeenth-Century Istanbul

Baer, Marc David, Ph.D. The University of Chicago, 2001. 380 pages. Adviser: Fleischer, Cornell H. Publication Number: AAT 3006473

This dissertation analyzes relations between the Ottoman state and its non-Muslim subjects in late seventeenth-century Istanbul and Rumelia through the conversion experiences of Christians and Jews. In some instances in Rumelia and in palace circles, Sultan Mehmed IV and his mother Hatice Turhan compelled Christians and Jews to become Muslims, and celebrated the conversion of hundreds of Christians in ceremonies. Yet in Istanbul, mainly slave females, a group in whose conversion the state was not interested, formed the largest group of converts. This demonstrates that while the circumstances in which some Christians and Jews converted in the period were unprecedented, conversion to Islam continued to be a voluntary path by which common people integrated in society and improved their life circumstances.

The first chapter focuses on the plural Istanbul society that came into being after 1453, its existence largely the result of a social experiment to repopulate the city with diverse peoples. The next two chapters examine how the late seventeenth century Ottoman elite and dynasty had a different vision concerning non-Muslims. The rise of the reformist movement and a turn to piety among the leading men and women of the administration and dynasty led to unprecedented views and policies concerning non-Muslims, particularly Jews. As a consequence, they decided to Islamize an important section of the city and compel some individuals to convert. The next two chapters analyze the conversion and post-conversion lives of children, men, and women who converted without any compulsion by the state in Istanbul. Although normatively, the prototypical convert was a Christian male who converted in the public sphere, in fact, Christian and Jewish females, most of whom were slaves, made up the bulk of converts in the city. The narrative of the conversion of Rabbi Sabbatai Tzevi, who is the subject of the final chapter, links all of the themes of the study: worsening relations between Ottomans and Jews, the decline of the  Jewish elite, the role of the sultan as a convert maker, and the cloaking of converts in Muslim dress. Yet the rabbi explained his conversion in a way that allowed him to assign it a different meaning than that narrated by Ottoman writers.

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