Crea sito




Il Corano. Corano e dhimmi. Corano e jihad. La shari’a.

Religione islamica. Dervisci. Guerra santa. Sciiti.




Dervisci e ordini sufi

Sharia. Amministrazione della giustizia.


La scuola Salafiyya

jima (consensus) e ijtihad (independent reasoning) come fonti legali













Il Corano. Corano e dhimmi. Corano e jihad. La shari’a.


back to index


The muslim lunar calendar begins with the year of the Hijra (migration) in 622 d.C. when the Prophet moved from Mecca to Yatrib (Medina)

The strictly monotheistic  religion preached by the Prophet included  Jewish, Christian, and traditional Arabic elements together with some original additions. Islam, while  morally and ethically lofty, is theologically much simpler than other monotheistic creeds. Therefore, it was perfectly suited for the people to whom the prophet addressed his message. It was equally well suited then as it is now, for peoples who had reached a stage in civilization demanding a higher level of religious and metaphysical beliefs as well as a moral code regulating the activities of society, but who were not yet ready to cope with the theological difficulties and complications of either Judaism or Christianity. The Turks were such a people.

Mohammad recognized the common bond of monotheism between the religioin he preached and Christianity and Judaism. Vere 62, sura 2 of the Koran clearly links all monotheists in a common fate until and including the Day of the Last judgement: “Lo! those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee Muhammad), and thowe who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans – whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with the Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve”.

This recognition went beyond more statements. Muhammad was willing to use Christian and Jewish tribes as allies, and when his realm expanded he incorporated them in his Islamic state without demanding their conversion. We have several treaties dating from the time of his rule that spell this out quite clearly. One treaty with the city of Najran in Yemen, dating from 631, lists the obligations and taxes of the city and then states that “Najran and their followers have the protection of God and the dhimmah of Muhammad the prophet, the Messenger of God, for themselves, their community, their land, and their goods… and for their churches and services protection of God and dhimmah of the Prophet for ever, until God comes with his command, if they are loyal and perform their obligations well, not being burdened by wrong”. Il trattato dice ancora: “If any of them asks for a right, justice is among them (i.e. in their own hands) not doing wrong and not suffering wrong; it belongs to Najran”.

Invece i pagani non appartenenti ai popoli del libro “theoretically had to convert or die” Quindi la tolleranza religiosa era solo nei confronti di quasi-musulmani: gli altri dovevano addirittura morire.

Maometto intendeva usare ebrei e cristiani come tribù alleate nelle sue conquiste.

The Koran is considered to contain not the words of the prophet, but those of Allah. Therefore, it is neither subject to intepretation nor translatable because translations distort god’s meaning. The Koran contains everything a man must know to live righteously and save his soul.

It soon became clear that additional legislation was needed when the small muslim-arab community grew into a world-wide empire. First the community turned to the traditional sayings of the prophet, then to those of his immediate successors, and finally to the utterances of the first caliphs. Those statements that were considered genuine were collected and codified in the Hadiths (traditions). The Hadiths, together with the consensus of the learned (ijma’) and their rulings based on analogy (qijas), and naturally the Koran formed the Muslim law code, the shari’a.

The sharia also regulated marriages, divorces, inheritances – in general all relationships within the family and community

The splits that occurred in the muslim community stemmed from diverging views concerning  the acceptability of certain Hadiths, but the great majority of muslims followed the four so-called orthodox legal schools and were jointly known as the Sunnis. The Ottoman were sunnis and followed the shari’a.

The shari’a was not the only law. The second excerpt from the Najiran Treaty indicates quite clearly that local laws and customs were respected and even reconfirmed. Later, local laws were confirmed in ottoman-ruled part of Southeastern europe at the time of conquest. In addition c’erano i kanuns issued by the sultans for use in their provinces.

By definition inferior to the shari’a additional laws were based on urf, which is best translated as customary law. According to early jurisconsults this was the law that princes were to follow in regulating the affairs of the country. Closely related to urf  was  amme, general or public law, which regulated state-to-state and state-citizen relationships. After the turkish element became dominant in the eleventh century, the old Turkish principle of törü was added, which recognized the rights of the ruler to issue decrees. Because toru was closely related to the islamic urf concept, it was easily absorbed into the muslim legal tradition. These principles were the legal basis for the issuing of the numerous kanuns that became very important for the european people under ottoman rule. Most kanuns were nothing else but the old laws of any given region which the Ottomans confirmed in areas they conquered.

“Five pillars of Faith” (basic duties of a Muslim): Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, Pilgrimage, Profession of Faith.


  Espressioni coraniche che sono alla base della Jihad

(versi 190-93)

Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth no aggressors

And slay they wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers

But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful

And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let ghere be no hostility except against wrongdoers

Literally, these lines speak of defensive war, condemn aggression, and appear to address themselves to a religious group subject to persecutions. Only one line, “fight until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah”, can conceivably be read to mean the spreading of the word of God by the sword. Yet, on these lines was based the concept of jihad, holy war, against unbelievers. In its ottoman version, gaza, jihad became the official raison d’etre of the Ottoman Empire.

The extension of the realm of the dar al-Islam (the domain of Islam) at the expense of the dar al-harb (the domain of war, the domain of those who fought the islam) was the Ottomans’ duty. When the empire ceased to expand and especially when it began to shrink, the ottomans began to feel that they had failed in their divinely ordered mission.





Religione islamica. Dervisci. Guerra santa. Sciiti.

back to index


Formula di ammissione all’Islam

Anyone within the Muslim community who has professed to be a Muslim remains one. All that is required to become a Muslim is to say, with a sound mind and under no compulsion, three times, in front of witnesses, “I testify that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”.



Takfir is the act of declaring that a muslim has, by his or her actions, become an infidel or unbeliever (kafir). This is an extreme step because historically, anyone within the Muslim community who has professed to be a Muslim remains one. All that is required to become a Muslim is to say, with a sound mind and under no compulsion, three times, in front of witnesses, “I testify that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”. Since admission to the community of believers is a matter of individual conscience, there has also traditionally been a reluctance on the part fo the muslim community to censure individuals for their beliefs, and the community typically leaves it to God to punish anyone who has sinned. This attitude emerged as a response to the murder of Ali in 661 c.e. by a member of a muslim splinter group, called their opponents the Kharijiyya, or “those who break away”. Having broken away from the larger muslim community, the Kharijiyya held that they could judge who was a good muslim and claimed the right to kill anyone they judged to be an unbeliever for having strayed from the principles of Islam as they defined them. Because mainstream muslims feared the result of this extremist position, there were very few cases in the first centuries of Islam in which people were punished for what they wrote or said.

This reluctance to condemn a fellow muslim was challenged by Ahmad Taymiyya, who lived in Damascus in the early 14th century. He affirmed that it was  the duty of pious muslims to identify those who by their actions did not uphold islam and to declare them infidels. Because he stated that the rulers of the Mamluk Empire represented just this sort of “infidel”, ibn Taymiyya became one of the few Muslims up to that time to ben imprisoned for what he wrote. After his death in prison in 1327, the muslim scholarly community largely ignored ibn Taymiyya’s radical ideas. In the 18th century, however, another radical interpreter of Islam, Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab, revived the practice of takfir. He wrote that muslims who venerated Ali, worshipped Sufi saints, or claimed to be sultan but did not rule in strict accordance with islamic law, were all to be considered infidels by believing Muslims. According to ibn abd al-Wahhab, it was therefore legal for true muslims, as defined by him, to kill the unfaithful. This principle became the legal justification for the devastating 1801 attack on the Shii shrine city of Karbala by those who accepted the teaching of ibn abd al-Wahhab, commonly called Wahhabis. This group also justified their later occupation of Mecca and Medina based on the same principle.


Movimento Salafiyya

In the 21st century, Salafiyya is the name of an Islamic political ideology that seeks to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law in Muslim societies and that views Western cultures with suspicion. But in its origins at the end of the 19th century, the movement sought to reform islam so that muslim societies could modernize by adopting the knowledge and institutions of the West.


Ordine Naqshbandiyya

Il più conservatore e sunnita delle varie tradizioni sufi che fiorirono nell’Impero ottomano.

It was also one of the most politicized orders, as often took a leading role in organizing resistance to what they reagarded as western imperialist ventures in the muslim world.

Il fondatore Baha al-Din Naqshband visse nell’Asia Centrale nel 14° secolo. Essi asserivano però che il vero fondatore fu Abubakr, il primo successore di Maometto. Questo  sancisce una identificazione con l’islam sunnita, and distinguishes it from most of the other sufi orders, many of which  cite Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, as their ultimate inspiration and see Abu Bakr as a usurper.

A differenza delle sette sufi essi recitano il dhikr silenziosamente, e ammettono l’ingresso di tutte le persone che si sentono spiritualmente pronte.

The Naqshbandi tradition received  a major boost from the teaching and writings of Sheikh Diya al-Din Khalid (d. 1827).


Gerusalemme come città santa islamica

For Sunni Muslims, Jerusalem was the third holiest site  after Mecca and Medina as it housed the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the city’s most important  mosque complex and the site from which the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven on his Night Journey.


Ghaza, ghazi

In recent times, the word ghaza has been understood in the west as meaning “Holy War against the infidels” and as referring to religiously inspired military actions taken by the early ottomansagainst their Christian neighbors. Despite being commonly used in this way, however, the meaning of this term has come to be widely contested by scholars. The early ottoman military activity described as ghaza is now thought to have been a much more fluid undertaking, sometimes referring to actions that were nothing more than raids, sometimes meaning a deliberate holy war, but most often combining a mixture of these elements.

L’interpretazione tradizionale del termine venne da Wittek, The rise of the ottoman empire (1938), che dà credito al cronista Ahmedi (fine 1300), che definisce e spiegò ghaza according to the sharia and transformed the early raiders, known in contemporary sources as akincis, into ghazis, or holy warriors, deploring all those who pursued ghaza for booty. By the reign of Bayezid II (1481-1512) Ahmedi’s view had become the official version of the early ottoman raids and campaigns

Other ottoman chroniclers present a rather different view of the terms. Aşikpaşazade (1484) and Oruç (1500) who in the latter part of the 15th century lived among the akincis or frontier warriors of otoman europe, also portayed the early ottoman sultans as ghazi-heroes. However, in their works,the arabic ghaza (holy war) and the turkish akin (raid, without any religious connotation) appear as interchangeable terms. These texts not only reflect the reality along the empire’s 15th century european frontiers, they are also closer to the nature of the early ottoman military ventures which were often no more than pure raids without any religious motivation.

Recent scholarship also shows that many of the early ghazas of the ottomans were in fact predatory raids, directed against both muslim and non-muslim neighbors. In these raids muslims and christians often  joined forces and shared in the booty. Indeed, the history of conflicts in western anatolia and the balkans in the early decades of the 14th century offers numerous examples of temporary alliances and joint military  undertakings between the various muslim-turkic principalities of beyliks and their christian adversaries (Catalans, Byzantines, Genoese). Between 1303 and 1307 catholic catalan mercenaries, who iriginally arrived in Asia Minor to fight against various Rurkic forces, fought both against and alongside muslim turks and habitually raided the frontier of the rival orthodoxchristian byzantine empire. In fact it was in 1305 that hrks from asia minor first crossed to europe as auxiliary forces in catalan service. Also in 1305 a detachment of catalan mercenaries joined the ottomans.

Similarly, as has been pointed out by historian Heath Lowry, the closest comrades and fellow-fighters of the first two ottoman rulers Osman I (d. 1324) and Orhan Ghazi (1324-62), included several  orthodox christian greeks and recent christian converts to Islam. Köse Mihal first fought at the side of Osman ghazi as a greek christian, later converted to Islam, and in 1326 as an ottoman commander negotiated the surrender of Byzantine Bursa with the Byzantine emperor’s chief minister, Saroz (who after the surrender also sided with the Ottomans). Ghazi Evrenos Bey, another famous Ottoman commander, was a converted Muslim of perhaps aragonese of catalan origin. The descendants of Köse Mihal and Ghazi Evrenos, the Mihaloğullari and Evrenosoğullari represent the two best-known families of the 15th century ottoman frontier warrior nobility.

However, this does not mean the the Turks of western Anatolia did not go willingly to war against their christian neighbors to seek booty and glory alike. A 14th century cext on the meaning and ways of ghaza (Hikayet-i Ghazi), probably composed n the Karasi principality in northwestern Anatolia, demonstrates that the spirit of the holy war was very much alive on the Turco-byzantine frontier. Located in the vicinity of Byzantium, the capital of the Byzantine empire and the seat of eastern christianity, the ottoman turks were stategically positioned to wage war against the christian “infidels” and the ottoman principality served as a magnet for the mighty warriors of the neighboring Turco-muslim emirates. However, the nature of these early raids and campaigns was complex, and the ideology of the ghaza was only one factor.

The 14th century also witnessed ottoman campaigns against fellow turks and muslims, as well as the subjugation  and annexation of the neighboring Turkic emirates (Karasi, Saruhan, Garmiyan, Hamid) by the Ottomans. In accordance with their portrayal of the early ottomans as ghazi warriors, 15th century ottoman chroniclers often ignored these conflicts (along with the ottomans’ alliances with Christians), claiming that the Ottomans acquired the territories of the neighboring Turkic principalities through peaceful means (purchase and/or marriage). When they did mention  the wars between the Ottomans and their Turkic and Muslim neighbors, Ottoman chroniclers tried to legitimize these conquests by claiming that the Ottomans either acted in self-defense or were forced to fight because the hostile policies of these Turkic principalities hindered the Ottomans’ holy wars against the infidels.


Hajj (pellegrinaggio alla Mecca)

Un musulmano che ne aveva i mezzi doveva fare il pellegrinaggio alla Mecca almeno una volta nella vita. Il pellegrinaggio era una importante fonte di legittimazione politica per i sorani ottomani, che mancavano di un lignaggio legato al Profeta. Loro costante preoccupazione era il buon andamento del pellegrinaggio annuale e la salvaguardia delle carovane dagli onnipresenti attacchi dei beduini. I pellegrini provenienti da ovest erano riuniti a Damasco o al Cairo da dove iniziava la carovana di 40 giorni nel deserto. Alla Mecca c’erano molti acquisti e vendite, e pure l’economia di Damasco era florida per la presenza di 10-20.000 pellegrini che comperavano di tutto e tornavano per scambiare beni indiani e caffè.

Fino al 17° secolo le carovane dal Cairo e Damasco per la Mecca non erano particolarmente molestate, ma nel 17° secolo gli ufficiali locali ottomani trascurarono di coltivare la pace con le tribù beduine e tribù più bellicose (Beduini Anaza e Shammar) emigrarono dall’Arabia cominciando ad occupare il deserto siriano. Non avevano scrupoli ad attaccare le carovane da Damasco. Raids became increasingly frequent i the second half of the 17th century. In response, the ottoman sultans shifted the responsibilities of the official designated to ensure the safety of the pilgrims (called the amir al-hajj or commander of the hajj) from a local military officer to the governor of Damascus, as it was felt a man with greater economic and military resources was needed. La famiglia al-Azm divenne importante in Damasco in questo ruolo. Ma anche così, nel 1757 i beduini distrussero la carovana da Damasco uccidendo 20.000 pellegrini





back to index


The plural of the arabic word alim (“man of knowledge”) in the ottoman empire the term ulema referred to those who were trained in the islamic religious sciences (such as the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, and islamic jurisprudence), and were members of the ottoman religious establishment, the ilmiye hierarchy. The ottomans divided their society into two main groups: the taxpaying subjects or reaya, and the privileged askeri  class. Wthin the latter, they distinguished the “men of the sword” (soldiers) , eht “men of the pen” (bureaucrats), and the “men of the ilm” (religious sciences/knowledge), that is,members of the religious establishment.

Religious sciences were taught in madrasas, or colleges. Between the 14th and the 16th centuries the ottomans established some 350 madrasas, more than half of them (189) in the 16th century. In addition, especially in the early period of the ottoman state, theulema of the empire were trained in the major centers of Islamic learning. Those who wanted to study quranic exegesist (tafsir) or jurisprudence (fiqh), for example, went to Etypt or Iran.

The most important part of islamic education was the teacher (müderris) and not the institution. It was his expertise that detrmined, in accordance with the founder’s intent (expressed in the foundation document of the madrasa), the subjects and books that were taught in the madrasa. Nonetheless, there was a strict hierarchy of madrasas, the highest-ranking being those in the capital, Istanbul: the Fatih madrasas – that is, the colleges built by Fatih (the Conqueror) Mehmed II (1444-46; 1451-81), also known as the Sahn.i Seman (Eifht Courtyards) or Semaniye madrasas – and the Süleymaniye madrasas established by Süleyman I (1520-66). While Islamic religious sciences (tafsir, fiqh, or hadith, that is, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) dominated the curriculum, medicine and astronomy also were taught. Upon mastering a given subject or tet, the student received an icazet (ijaza), or certificate, from his teacher. This both confirmed the pupul’s mastery of the specified text of rubject and authorized him to teach it to others. In addition to the necessary training in the religious sciences,thepatronage (intisab) of influential persons in and around the government was also essential for a career within the ulema.

The graduates of the main istanbul madrasas had two career choices. They either pursued a life as professors  or became judges (kadi) and jurisconsults (mufti), and thus members of the ottoman administration. In the Ottoman empire there was a firm hierarchy within the ulema and strict rules regulated promotion. Madrasa graduates seeking employment with the state either as teachers or as judges were reigistered in the government day-books of state appointees and waited until a position became available for which their education qualified them. For instance, a müderrises of lower-level madrasas and graduates of the Semaniye madrasas were eligible for judgeships in smaller towns, earning between  50 t0 150 akçes per day, whereas the Janissaries earned 5 to 6 akçes  per day). Holders of seniro judgeships earned 300 akçes or more daily and could become defterdars (finance ministers) of the imperial Council. The müderrises of the Smainye madrasas could also become judges in Istanbul and, later, kadiaskers (military of chief judges). This shows that the career paths to the secular bureaucracy were also open to the ulema, many of whom became viziers or even grand viziers, that is, the sultans’ deputies and heads of the government.

The head of the ottoman ulema was the Şeyhülislam or chief mufti of the capital, appointed by the sultan from among the most distinguished scholars of the religious sciences. Unlike the kadiaskers, the şeyhülislam was not a member of the imperial council. However, when the two kadiaskers of Anatolia and Rumelia who represented the ulema in the imperial concil, disagreed or sought a religious opinion, it was the şeyhulislam’s written legal opinion (fatwa) that helped them decide the matter. His fatwas were also crucial in legitimizing disputed sultanic decisions, such as campaigns against Muslim neighbors. Since the seyhulislam represented islamic sacred law, the sharia, in principle, he was not part of the government. However, when, under sultan suleyman I, he was givern the right and obligation to appoint judges, who were arms of the executive branch of the government,the independence of the seyhulislam ended. Indeed, theinstitutionalization of the ottoman ulema and its close association with the government was unprecedented in other islamic polities. In the long run, this significantly reduced their ability to act as mediators between the ruler and the ruled and as guardians of islamic sacred law, functions that had traditionally been associated with the ulema.

In history books on the ottomans, the ottoman ulema from the mid-16th century on is often portrayed as a reactionary force that rejected the reforms needed to strengthen the empire in the face of western encroachment. While it is true that the coalition of the ulema and the Janissaries opposed the military  reforms of Sultan Selim III (1789-1807) and led to the sultan’s deposition, the ulema of the 18th century was not homogeneous, and several members of the ilmiye hierarchy in fact supported the sultan to legitimize the reforms.






back to index


Karbala è la seconda città sacra dell’iraq per gli sciiti, dove fu martirizzato nel 1680 l’imam husayn, figlio dell’imam ali.

The differences between sunni islam and shia islam are largely products of historical developments. In terms of docrinal belief and practice, there are few disagreement between these two dominant interpretations of Islam. The schism between the two arose over who should properly lead the community of believers. The sunnis believe that a caliph should lead the islamic community and that this caliphate should have political authority as “Commandef of the Faithful”, but that religious authority should be left to the consensus of the community of religious scholars or Ulema. In contrast, the Shia believe that the head of the community is also rightly the imam, a leader with both religious and secular authority and to whom the obedience is due. Sunnis accept that tiela as well, but by imam they mean that the caliph is the leader of the community in prayer and on the hajj, or annual pilgrimage. For the Shia, the imamate is more. They believe it can only be held by a man descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s lineage through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali. For the Shia, theposition of imam is more than a political office as they hold that he has the infallible ability to interpret religious doctrine as well.

Although sunni islam  as intrpreted by the Hanafi Shool of law, was the state religion of the Ottoman Empire, there were sizeable Shii minorities in several of the Ottoman arab provinces, most notably in what wre today the countries of Iraw, Lebanon and Yemen. IN the first two, the Shia followed the Imami tradition. The dominant form of Islam in Iran todey, the Imami tradition is known to sone western scholars as “Twelver Shiism” as its believers hold that the 12th imam, who vanished in the ninth century c.e. will return at some future time to institute a reign of absolute justice on earth. IN Lebanon, the adherents of this community were known as the Mitwallis in the ottoman period, although it is not a name they use today to refer to themselves. Both  the Imami tradition and the Zaydi tradition followed by the Shia of Yemen trace the descent of their imams from the line of the sixth imam, Jaafar al-Sadiq (702-65), but the Imami trace their tradition through Sadiq’s son Musa al-Kazim while the Zaydi trace their tradition through his son Muhammad. In addition, the  Alawis of Syria and the Alevis of eatern anatolia also claim to be Shia although the shii clerty in Iran did not accept the Alawi claim until the 20th century.

Before the 16th century, the ottomans were relatively uninterested  in the differences bwtween Shii and Sunni Islam. The sufi orders which put Ali and the prophet descendants at the center of their  devotions, were much more popular in the earl ottoman empire. But in 1501 Shah Ismail I (1501-24) made Imami Shiism the religion of his court in Iran and began to persecute Sunni muslims in his realm. In addition, the Turkoman tribes of eastern anatolia rose in rebellion against the ottomans, proclaiming Shah Ismail to be the long-awaited imam  who would restore justice to the world. These rebels were known as the Kizilbas in Ottoman texts and were ruled as heretics by the ottoman sunni legal establishment, making it legally permissible for the ottoman army to kill them. The shii rebellion against the ottomans was termporarily ended by the battle of Caldiran in 1512. But the continued presence of a hostile shii iran played a significant role in bolstering the ottoman attachment to sunni islam. With the hostile “heretic” shia on their eastern borders and the ongoing anti-muslim challenges from the christian world,  the ottoman sultans were increasingly motivated to present themselves as the hpholders and defenders of what they regarded as the true faith of sunni islam.

The embrace of sunni orthodoxy by the ottomanpolitical and legal elite did not translate, however, into the persecution of those shiis in the empire who accepted ottoman rule peacefully, even if they held the view that such rule was illicit in the absence of the imam. This tolerance was especially  was espcially manifested in the ottoman  treatment of the shia of Iraw. When suleyman I (1520-66) conquered baghdad in 1535 or instance, he endowed shii shrines as well as sunni ones and hosted shii clergy along with their sunni counterparts. Subsequent ottoman governors extended this strategy of tolerance and even provided patronage to shii shrines and clergy. In part. This was due to a realization that it was best not to alienate the shii subjects of the sultan in iraq. But it also seems to have arisen out of a more general cultural practice of tolerance that the sultans extended to both non-sunnis and non-muslims.

Ironically, despite the ottoman dunasty’s devotion to sunni islam, the iraqu provinces of baghdad and basra became much kore dominated by shia islam during the centuries of ottoman rule than they had been at the time of their conquest. The province of baghdad contained many of shia islam’s holiest sites: ali’s tomb is in Najaf; his son Husayn was martyred and buried in Karbala; and the seventh imam, Musa al-Kazim is buried in Kazimiyya, to the north of Baghdad. Najaf and Karbala were established centers of shii learning before the ottoman period, but hoth centers grew substantially from 1732 to 1763, the period  during which the sunni nadir shah ruled in Iran. Nadir shah sought revenge on the shii clergy for their persecution of his sunni brethren during the rule of the safavid shahs; as a result of this persecution man of the leading shii clergy of traditionally shii iran fled to the relative safaty of the ottoman empire. In addition, with the rise of the shia-dominated principality of Oudh in northern India in the 18th century, students, pilgrims and money from there arrived in the two iraqu holy cities.

While the ottomans practiced religious tolerance, however,many groups within the empire decried such movement in Arabia viewed the veneration of the imams’ tombs as especially un-islamic and in 1801, Wahhabi tribesmen captured the town of Karbala and destroyed the tomb of Imam Husayn. Regarded as an outrage by the Shii clerics in Najaf and Karbala, these religious leaders cultivated the Badouin tribes of Iraq as a defense atainst future Wahhabi attacks, a policy that worked, since 1806. As the shii clergy increased their missionary work among the tribes, many of the badouins inabiting baghdad and Basra provinces declared their allegiance to the shii interpretation of Islam. This led to a greater presence of arabic-speakers in the religious schools of iraq and these gradually displaced most of the persians who had dominated shii religious offices in the holy cities in the 18th century.

The success in winning theonce nominally sunni besouins to shia islam created a concern locally among sunni clergy and ottoman officials stationed in iraq. But it was not until 1895 that the ottoman government opened sunni religious schools in baghdad pcrovince in an attempt to train sunni clergy who could countr the very active mission of the Shia. The fear of Shia Ialam that startled the regime of Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909) into this action seeimngly dissipated after the Young Turks revolution in 1908 as sunni and shii clergy in iraq increasingly worked together to resist British colonial ambitions in Iraq.

In Lebanon, the Shii communities dominated ghe Jabal Amil region in what is today the south of the countrh and the Bekaa Valley in the east. In both regions, peasant farmers made up the majority of the shii community, although  those in Jabal Amil produced some religious scholars of note. Some of these scholars went to Iran in the 16th century to help guide the implementation of shia islam as the religion of state under the rule of the safavid synasty of shahs. The shii harfush clan controlled the political fate of the Baka Valley from the ottoman conquest of the region in 1516 until the early 19th century, but elsewhere Shii clans were under the control of their more powerful druze or sunni neighbors and their had to seek political alliances with them.






back to index


All muslim practice either sunni or Shia islam. Approximately 85% of the world’s muslims are sunni and the rest are shiis. The origins  of the two sects lie in the early division over who would lead the community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. Some felt that it should be Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son–in-law andd the father of his only surviving grandchildren. But the majority chose Abu Bakr as the Prophet’s successor or caliph. Abu Bakr was an earlyconvert to Islam, a close confidant of the Prophet, and his Father-in-law. He was also much older than Ali and the majority of the community felt that his maturity would be necessary to help steer the new community after the unexpected death of the Prophet. The rift caused by this decision was not healed, however, and when a group of disgruntled soldiers murdered the third caliph, Uthman, in 656, the rift opened into civil war.  Following these hostilities, the majority of the community chose Ali as caliph but Uthman’s kinsmen (parenti), the clan of the Bany Umayya (Umayyads), rejected Ali’s leadership as they said his hands were stained with Uthman’s blood.

The two sides prepared for battle in 661 but Ali, who did not want to plunge the community into further violence, agreed to arbitration of the dispute. A splinter group (gruppo scissionista) of his supporters, angry at his attempt at compromise, assassinated Ali in the same year and civil war ensued. In 680 the forces of the Banu Umayya slaughtered Ali’s son Husayn at Karbala, in present-day Iraq. This action created the historical basis for the cleavage of the two sects of Islam, the Shia maintaining that the caliphate rightly belonged to Ali’s descendants while the Sunnis accepted the leadership of the Banu Umayya, under caliph Yazid (d. 683) and later the abbasid caliphate (750-1528)

The name Sunni derives from the phrase “ahl al-sunna” which refers to the people who follow he righteous path established by the Prophet Muhammad. In truth, there is very little doctrinal difference between the Sunni and the Shia. But over time the Shia developed a hierarchy in the ranks of their clergy that was noticeably absent in the Sunni tradition until the Ottoman Empire. They also believed in the eventual return of the “hidden imam”, the 12th imama who vanished in the ninth century but whose return will bring a reign of absolute justice. In contrast, the Sunnis emphasized the legal training of their clerics, creating a system wherein the quality of training and scholarship determined prestige. There was no single religious authority that all Sunni clergy were compelled to bey.  While the Shia rejected the political authority of the caliphs after Ali, the Sunni clergy worked within the system as the caliph’s advisers. This compromise was fully articulated during the Abbasid Caliphate when the caliphsagreed to let the Sunni clergy administer the law of their state in return for the clergy’s acknowledgement of the caliphs’ sovereignty over political affairs.

In the 11th century, Shia dynasties seemed on the verge of ruling most of the muslim world as they seized political control of Egypt, most of north africa and iran. These were all areas that had previously been under the rule of the sunni abbasid. In Baghdad, however the turkish seljuk family sponsored a revival of sunni islam through the establishment of religious schools and the sponsorship of religious scholars, thus establishing a link between sunni islam and the various thrkish dynasties that emerged in the middle east from the 11th through the 14th centuries during the period of the crusades. Although devotion to Ali and his descendants was strong among the Turks in Anatolia, almost all of them were niminally Sunni Muslims who followed the Hanafi school of legal interpretation. The Hanafi school was one of four in sunni islam; the others are the shafii, Maliki, and the Hanbali. As the Hanafi school had developed in the caliph’s court in Baghdad during the abbasid period, it was particularly attuned to the political needs of a muslim state.


  The Hanafi school

Starting with sultan Orhan (r. 1324-62) ottoman sultans promoted the Hanafi version of sunni islam, although they did not make it mandatory. In egypt, the shafii school continued to dominate in nonofficial life, and the Maliki school persisted in north africa. However, the chief judges appointed to any of the ottoman provincial capitals had to be graduates of the ottoman legal schools, the madrasas, and administer the law according th Hanafi interpretations. The sultans lavishly supported thelegal schools; after the conquest of constantinople in 1453, they established an imperial hierarchy for the clergy. Direct state control over the training and licensing of the clergy was an ottoman innovation, as no other sunni state had attempted to enter so directly into their subjects’ spiritual lives. The Ottoman state treasury also paid all the leading clergy’s salaries. At the top of the clerical hierarchy was the Şeyhülislam, or chief judge of the empire, who approved the appointments of the judges to the provincial centers and who, along with his immediate subordinates,the chief judge of Rumelia (european provinces) and the chief judge of Anatolia (Asian provinces), sat with the sultan when he conducted the imperial council (Divan-i Hümayun).


  The Ottomans and Sunni Islam

The connection between the ottoman ruling house and Sunni Islam intensified in the 16th century after the revolt of the Shia Kizilbaş. This group regarded Shah Ismail I (r. 1501-1524) of Iran as the long-awaited imam who the Shia believed would restore justice to the world, and they supported his uprising against the Ottomans. For the next three centuries the Iranian shahs espoused Shia Islam as the state religion and did not permit other forms of worship in their territories, including that belonging to the Sunni tradition. While the Ottoman sultans promoted Sunni Islam as the empire’s official faith, they did not retaliate against the Iranian shahs by taking any action against the peaceful Shia in their realm, whose freedom of worship was allowed to continue. At the same time, the ottoman adherence to Sunni Islam became one of the legitimating factors for the regime in the eyes of the sultan’s sunni subjects.

In the 17th century, a sunni reform movement known as the Kadizadeler gained strength in the empire. It promoted the teachings of Birgili Mehmed (d. 1573) and his disciple Kadizade Mehmed (d. 1635). Their doctrines were very strict and rigid, resembling those  of the later Wahhabis. IN particular, the kadizadeler movement opposed sufism and the prominent role that the ottoman state played in training the sunni clergy and providing them with salaries. In short, whey saw as sinful anyghing they considered an innovation from the practice of the Muslim community at the time of the Prophet’s death. Among the things they considered sins were singing, dancing, illustrated manuscripts and miniature paintings, the drinking of coffee, and the smoking of tobacco. Sultan Murad IV (1623-40) sought to placate the movement by banning alcohol, coffee and tobacco in Istanbul, inaugurating an era of extreme religious purity. After his death, the movement lost much of its appeal, but it remained an intellectual current present in religious debates among the empire’s sunnis through the start of the 20th century.


  Sultans as Caliphs

Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) promoted the idea that the sultan of the ottoman empire was rightfully the caliph of all sunni muslims. Although some muslim scholars challenged the legitimacy of that claim because the sultans were not descended from the family of the Prophet Muhammad, others, especially those in India and the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia), saw that claim as a potential weapon against the Europeans who ruled their homelands. Jama, al-Din al-Afghani, who was perhaps the most influential muslim intellectual in the late 19th century, was an ardent promoter of this claim becaue it bolstered his belief that the ottomanempire remained the last hope of the muslim world reetaining its independence in the face of european imperial ambitions. When World War I broke out in 1914, Ottoman sultan Mehmed V (1909-1918), claiming to be caliph, called all athe world’s muslims to holy war (iuhad) against the wetern allied Powers, but few muslims outside the ottoman empire took the call seriously.





.Dervisci e ordini sufi

back to index


Western scholars refer to the mystical traditions in Islam, known in arabic as tasawwuf as sufism. Both the arabic and english terms are derived from the arabic sufi, meaning “mystic”. In ottoman turkish, the more commonly used word for a mystic was derviş or dervish. A wide array of traditions come under the umbrella of Sufism, but they  all agree on two basic tenets: to understand Islam requires an experiential relationship with God, amd thie can only be achieved through the guidance of a master who has already had such an experiene. Simply put, religious truth cannot be learned by study alone; it has to be experienced.

There is much debate over the origins of sufism. Western scholars have suggested that it represents either indian influences or traditions arising from the gnostic Christianity that existed in the Middle East at the time when Ialam emerged as a new religion. Muslims cite the Quran as the source of sufism, and many sufi traditionis attribute their traditions to Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muammad. Jesus, whom Muslims believe to have been a prophet, also figures in many Sufi traditionis as an originator of the sufi way.

In the earliest sufi writings of the eighth century c.e. the emphasis was on turning away from wordly pleasures, living simply, and devoting oneself to prayer and contemplation. The arabic word for wool is suf, and many muslim scholars claim that the name for the movement comes from the simple woolen garments its early adberents wore. Many of the early sufis were ascetics and some remained celibate, even though the Quran explicitly warns muslims not to imitate the practices of Christian monks in that regard. By the tenth century c.e., Sufis were beginning to profess that they could actually achieve a union with God wherein they lost any awareness of their own separate consciusness. They called this fana or “annihilation” and to experience it was to be in an altered state of consciousness, or hal. That experience of losing one’s self-consciousness while in God’s presence led some to make extreme claims that in those moments they had, in fact,become God. The Sufi saint al-Hallaj was executed in Baghdad in 922 for having said, “I am the Truth” which was one of God’s names. Orthodox Muslim theologians condemned such claims and viewed most Sufis with suspicion.

Such attitudes began to change with the circulation of the spiritual autobiography of Muhammad al-Ghazzali, who died in 1111. Al-Ghazzali was a teacher at the prestigious Nizamiyya school in Baghdad and was acknowledged as one of the leading Muslim scholars of his time, but he suffered a crisis of faith and left teaching. Through the practice of Sufism, however, he came to believe that Islam was the true faith ordained by God and that the Quran was the word of God, and he returned to teaching. His spiritual autobiography represented a great synthesis of the legal and the mystical traditions. AL-Ghazzali stated that one could not know that the Quran and sharia were true without the inner certainty that one gains from the Sufi path. But once having gained that wisdom, one must follow the path of orthodoxy in Islam. After al-Ghazzali, most muslim scholars accepted the principle that Sufism was permissible, and even desirable, for muslims, as long as sufi practices conformed outwardly to the letter of Muslim law.

In the centuries following al-Ghazzali, a number of individuals offered differing approaches to the goal of mystical union with God and out of their teachings different Sufi orders emerged. Almost all of these had a program consisting of a linear path of specific steps that must be followed by the seeker, guidd by a teacher. As such, the orders were called  tariwas, the arabic word for “path” that is also a pun on the word for Islamic law, sharia, which also means “path” or “way”. Some of the tariqas  were scrupulously orthodox, following the lead of al-Ghazzali. But others, takiing as their guide the ecstatic approach of al-Hallaj, claimed that the knowledge they had gained through the Sufi quest negated the strict codes imposed by Islamic law.

These contrary Sufi traditions had already developed before the rise of the Ottomans in the 14th century and were present as alternative voices for the duration of the empire. The Turks were widely influenced by various strains of Sufi practice as Sufi missionaries converted their ancestors to Islam in Central Asia by blending islamic beliefs and practices with the Turks’ shamanism. Mystic poets such as Yunus Emre and Hajji Bektaş composed their work in the vernacular turkish of those who were settling in Anatolia in the 13th century. They made Sufi beliefs accessible to large numbers of people in the form of songs that were passed from village to village by Sufi minstrel bards. Sufis also blended elements of Christianity into their practice, which appealed to Greek and Armenians peasants, thereby hastening their acceptance of Islam through the medium of the turkish language and culture.

The early ottoman sultans felt no apparent contradiction in practicing anislam that contained both orghodox and heterodox elements. Indeed, the foundation myth of the empire had Osman Gazi being ordained as a world conqueror by a Sufi sheikh whose daughter he then married. Once they had established their empire, the ottoman sultans had close relations to two sufi groups, the Mevlevi order and the baktaşi order, although these two could not be more different  in their religious outlook. The mevlevi order, founded by the son  of the 13th century poet Rumi, was the order   of ottoman intellectuals and attracted poets, musicians, and calligraphers. The order established convents or hostels (tekke) in various ottoman cities and these served as centers for the teaching of art and music as well as being places of spiritual retreat. The Baktasi order, by contrast, was the order of the Janissaries and its traditions were oral rather than literary. Although many of its practices were unorghodox, such as the drinking of wine, it too received official recognition from the sultans as a way of keeping the troops happy. The sultans and their families supported both orders financially by establishing some of their convents and bestowing lavish gifts on the orders’ sheikhs.

Despite sultanic support of some Sufi orders, Sufis also sometimes challenged the sultans’ authority by claiming they had access to a truth that could never be known by those who had not embarked on the pato of mysticism. In the aftermath of the defeat of sultan Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402) at Ankara in 1402, the Sufi Sheikh Bedrettin preached in favor of a social movement that sought to tear down the differences between classes and religions. His movement gained great popularity among the ordinary people of all religions and his disciple, Börlüce Mustafa, started a revolt against the Ottoman in 1416. The rebels had some initial success but the Ottoman army was finally able to defeat them and Bedrettin and thousands of his followers were executed. The Ottomans also faced other revolts led by radical Sufis in the 15th and 16th centuries. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges to the ottoman throne came from Shah Ismail, who headed an extremist Sufi order that believed him to be the long-awaited hidden imam.

Although ottoman legal scholars condemned popular sufi movements as heretical, they were generally tolerant of the intellectual Sufi orders that outwardly followed Islamic law. The exception to this was the Kadizadeli movement that emerged in the 17th century among ghe students of Birgivi Mehmed, a fundamentalist muslim scholar and preacher who died in 1573. This group condemned anything that it considered an innovation on the Islam practiced by the Prophet Muhammad and the first generation of Muslims, and it held that Sufism was such an innovation. IN this, the Kadizadelisforeshadowed the Wahhabis of the 18th century, a group that also refused to tolerate anything regarded as a deviation from the strictest adherence to foundational Islam.

In the second half of the 18th century a more austere and rigorous Sifu order, the Nawshandiyya order, answered some of the objections raised by the muslim fundamentalists to Sufism. The naqshbandis believe in a strict adherence to sharia and reject the notion of sainthood found in many other sufi orders, but they still hold that the understanding of God that can only be gained from a mystical experience is a vital, necessary part of Islam. The sober interpretation of mysticism offered by the Naqshbandiyya Order was popular among intellectuals within the Ottoman Empire  in the 18th and 19th centuries as it offered a compromise between mysticism and the interpretations of Islam that fundamentalists such as the Wahhabis were preaching. However, critics of Sufism still did not accept the Nawshbandiyya as being rooted in a proper understandinf of Islam.

Despite the Kadizadeli movement’s criticism of Sufi beliefs and practices, Sufism remained a vibrant part of Islam as it was practiced in the Ottoman Empire through Worod War I. IN the aftermath of the war, Mustafa Kemal, better known as Ataturk, opened an aggressive campaign against Sufism which he considered a superstition that impeded modernity and westernization. IN 1925 ataturk banned  the Sufi orders, and their property in Turkey was confiscated. Sufism continued to be practiced in the former arab provinces of the empire but it suffered attacks from the Salafiyya, another group that strictly interprets Islamic Law and from theologians influenced by the Wahhabi tradition.


Rifaiyya order

The Rifaiyya order of sufism was one of the more unconventional sufi orders. Western travelers to the ottoman empire dubbed the order the “howling dervishes” due to the loud and boisterous dhikr, or prayer ceremony, they employed. Members fo the Rifaiyya Order further drew attention with public displays of eating glass dancing with snakes andpassing skewers (spiedi) throfugh their cheeks. The order claimed Ahmad al-Rafai, a mystic who lived in Iraq in the 12th century, as its foudner. The order was very opular in Egypt in the Mankuk Empire period, and after the ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, Rifaiyya disciples spread the order to Anatolia. In the moder period the Rifaiyya order’s practices included the public act of dawsa, or “trampling”, therein the sheikh of the order would ride his horse over the prostrate bodies of his followers. Such practices proved an embarrassment to modernizers in Egypt. Muhammad Abduh declared the order’s practices un-Islamic and Khedive Tawfiq banned the order altogether. Nell’impero ottomano invece sopravvisse, almeno fino all’inizio del Novecento.


  Shadhliyya order

The s. order of sufis was often termed the protestant order by western visitors to the ottoman empire because of the absence fo anyu formal ritual associated with s. practice. The order also avoided the elevation of individuals to sainthood and decried the visiting of sufi shrines as an ostentatious display that detracted from true spiritual  life. Gthe shadhliyya was an elite order that produced poets and commentators on religious texts, whose work had wide circulation in the arabic-speaking provinces of the empire, yet it was also one of the most popular sfi orders in egypt throughout the ottoman period. The founder of the order was Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, a 13th century moroccan mystic. Si stabilì ad Alessandria. The s. although not traditionally popular in anatolia, came to wider attention toward the end of the ottoman empire when sultan abdulhamid II (1876-1909) joined the order.

Unlike some other sufi orders, the s. held that asceticism and poverty were not a requirement, as god intended his creatures to live in this world and to take pleasure from his creation. The order tolerated the music and dancing considered illicit by many orthodox muslims, but otherwise kept its practice of ths sufi way within the boundaries set by conventional islam. Nevertheless, by the 18th century, the sunni religious establishment in cairo accused offshoots of the order of veering toward interpretations of the sufi state of hal, or communion with god which bordered on pantheism, and the order became suspect. In north africa and west africa the order was prominent in organizing muslim opposition to western colonialism.


Le hadith sono le oral traditions of the Prophet.

Death was not an end but rather the beginning of another form of life; the dead waited in the grave until the resurrection of judgment day when souls would be subjected to the final test and sent either to paradise or to hell.

One important principle was that of total submission to death, seen as the irrevocable will of god.

In the political theory prevalent in muslim lands before the 19th century, muslim rulers were believed to be under an injunction from the Quran to wage holy war (ghaza) against non-muslim rulers until their territories were conquered or they acknowledged their vassalage to a muslim overlord. For this reason, those parts of the world that were not under direct muslim rule were termed by muslim legal scholars as dar al-harb, meaning “house of war”.

During the ottoman period, sunni religious scholars at the sultan’s court ruled that Shii rulers such as the Safavid shahs were also in the “house of war” as they had strayed from muslim orthodoxy and had become rafidi (renegades) or Khariji (muslim extremists). The sultans therefore considered themselves justified in waging war against these groups until they  returned to sunni islam, the mainstream  or conventional form of the faith.

According to islamic legal theory, no true peace (salam) could be established between a muslim state and one in the “house of war”. But a truce (sulh) which was understood to be of limited duration, was permitted between the ottoman sultan and a non-muslim monarch. The territory of such a ruler was considered to be in the “house of truce” (dar al-sulh) and his subjects were allowed to visit, trade with, and even reside in the ottoman empire with a status known as istiman. This legal status provided the framework for the capitulations, which allowed european merchants to reside in the empire and provided the framework for diplomatic relations between the ottoman empire and various european powers.

In islamic legal theory as it was developed in the first enturies of muslim rule, territories governed in the first centuries of Muslim rule, territories governed by muslim rulers and where islamic law is in force constitute one monolithic entity known as the “house of Islam”, as differences between secular muslim rulers are not recognized as legally valid. This category invokes a historical time when there was a universal caliphate that ruled all muslims.  A desire for its return is in implicit in the discussions of the dar al-Islamby muslim legal scholars.

Even when a peace treaty with a non-muslim state does exist, other muslim states do not have to honor that treaty and the muslim state that entered into the treaty can abrogate it at any time.

When the ottoman sultans went to war against sunni rulers, such as the mamluk empire that ruled egypt and Ayria the 16th century, or against the 18th century iranian ruler Nadir Shah, in Istanbul jurists generally issued legal justifications for such actions, whatever their personal views of the legality of the campaigns, that stated that the war was necessary to secure the ottoman sultans’ position as the protectors of the Holy Places in Arabia and to defend Islam against its non-muslim enemies.  Away from the capital, muslim jurists were openly ambivalent about whether the sultans could transform regions that properly belonged in the dar al-islam into arenas of the dar al-harb.

The religious traditions of Muslims encouraged  beneficence to the weak and the poor. Giving alms (zakat) is required of all muslims who possess more than the minimum necessary for subsistence, and the Quran repeatedly reminds believers that prayer and almsgiving are fundamental aspects of belief. Alms are due from money earned in order to remove the taint ofprofit from the sum remaining. In addition, voluntary giving (sadawah) is recommended emphatically as a way for believers to approach God and to atone (espiare) for transgressions in the hopes of reaching Paradise after death. Traditions about the Prophet Muhammad (hadith) make it clear that anuone, even the poor, can give charity, if only by offering a blessing.

“Caliphate” (Enc. Ott. Emp.)

“Caliph” viene dall’espressione “Khalifat Rasul Allah”, “successore del Profeta di Dio”, che fu usato a preferenza di titoli come re o sheikh

The function and succession of teh caliph led to a split within islam and the rival traditions of sunni islam and shia islam. The sunni tradition held that any male member of the prophet’s tribe, the Quraysh, could rightfully be caliph if he were of sound mind and body. They held that the caliph’s only religious function was leading the Friday  prayer, and that the articulation and implementation of islamic law, sharia, shoud beleft to the religious scholars, or ulema. The shii tradition held the view that the caliph must have special insight into Holy Law and its interpretation that they called  ilm, literally “knowledge”, but by which they meant a specialized esoteric knowledge that only the descendants of Ali possessed. Therefore, for them, the caliph had to be one of those descendants, whom they called the imam, a title used by sunnis to mean the person who led the community in its Friday prayers.

Although the Muslim theory of government held that all Muslims had to owe their political allegiance to the caliph, over time independent muslim states arose.  The muslim legal scholars ruled that these were legal as long as they minted coins in the reigning caliph’s name and read his name aloud during the Friday prayers. With this diminution of the office the caliph had become the symbolic, rather than actual, head of the muslim community. Even this function was deemed unnecessary, however, with the murder of the last universally recognized caliph of the abbasid line, al-Mustasim, at the hands of the Mongols in 1258.

The question of the caliphate re-emerged with the ottoman dynasty. According to ottoman court historians of the 17th century, sultan Selim  I (1512-20) received the cloak of the caliphate – a symbol of the authority of the office in much the same way a crown symbolized the monarchy in Europe – from the last descendant of the Abbasids when he conquered Cairo in 1517. Before the 17th century  the sultans had simply stated that their legitimacy rested on their adherence to the Holy Law, their continuation of the jihad against Europe, and their role as protector of the Hajj and Arabia’s two holy cities, Mecca and Medina.

The appropriation of the title of caliph by the Ottomans was bitterly rejected by most sunni legal scholars outside istanbul, as the ottomans were not descended from the prophet’s tribe, the Quraysh. For Sunnis, this qualification remained an absolute requirement if a political ruler was to claim the title of caliph. Their opposition did not present a problem until 1876. Arab-spiaking muslim scholars almost universally rejected that claim.

Although in islam all believers are held to be equal before god, those believers who can trace their descent back to the prophet (called ashraf) are given special recognition. Diritto di portare un turbante verde, titoli onorifici prima del nome etc.


Il wahhabismo

I Wahhabis erano una confederazione di tribù beduine che seguivano una forma estremista di Islam. Questa confederazione conferì il ruolo di leader politico alla famiglia che poteva far risalire la sua genealogia ad uno dei fondatori della confederazione, Muhammad ibn abd al-saud.

Nel 1803 i Wahhabis occupied Mecca. They allowed the pilgrimage to continue under their control but required proper dress and behaviour. Il pellegrinaggio divenne difficile per gli ottomani e impossibile per gli sciiti. Nel 1812-13 il governatore dell’Egitto, su richiesta del sultano, riprese Mecca e Medina, anche se il potere della famiglia ibn Saud, che guidava la confederazione Wahhabi was not completely broken by the Egyptian expedition.


I Bektaşi

Setta sufi popolare tra i contadini dell’Anatolia e nei balcani. Ancor oggi ha simpatizzanti tra i musulmani albanesi. The order, however had little appeal for muslim intellectuals and other urban sunnis who viewed it as a religion for peasants with beliefs verging on heresy.

La sua interpretazione dell’Islam fu abbracciata dai giannizzeri.

Fondato da Hajji Bektaş in Anatolia nel 13° secolo, la sua cosmologia e pratiche fondevano elementi dell’Islam con sciamanismo turco. I Bektaşi credevano che all living things, human, animal or vegetable, share a common soul and can be communicated with by shamans.

In the late 14th century members of the order began serving as chaplains and spiritual guides to the Janissary corps, and by the 16th century it was established practice that all members of those elite military unitss were induucted into the order as the founder of the order, Hajji Bektaş, was viewed as the guiding spirit of the Janissaries, not unlike a patron saint in Christian belief. So while  not all adherents to Bektaşi Sufism were Janissaries, all Janissaries were expected to take vows of obedience to the Bektaşi sheiks, or spiritual guides. Questo durò fino alla soppressione dei Giannizzeri nel 1826

The Bektaşi order also has practices that resemble those of Christianity. They offer communion of bread and wine in their religious services and encourage celibacy for those men and women who reside in their lodges. Historians have suggested  that just as the Bektaşis blended shamanistic practices to appeal to the Turkoman tribesmen, these elements were added to appeal Christian peasants in Anatolia and the Balkans. In point of fact, these Bektaşi practices did have wide appeal to christians in the empire and scholars credit the conversion of many christians in the Balkans to Islam to the missionary work of the Bektaşis. The order provided former christians with the political benefits of becoming muslim while allowing them to participate in religious ceremonies that seemed similar to those of their former faith.

Probabilmente i Bektaşi non sarebbero sopravvissuti se non si fossero legati al potente corpo dei Giannizzeri





Sharia. Amministrazione della giustizia.

back to index


Many of the early sufis were ascetics and some remained celibate, even though the Quran explicitly warns muslims not to imitate the practices of Christian monks in that regard.

In the centuries following al-Ghazzali, a number of individuals offered differing approaches to the goal of mystical union with God and out of their teachings different Sufi orders emerged. Almost all of these had a program consisting of a linear path of specific steps that must be followed by the seeker, guidd by a teacher. As such, the orders were called  tariwas, the arabic word for “path” that is also a pun on the word for Islamic law, sharia, which also means “path” or “way”. Some of the tariqas 






back to index


Islamic law, or sharia (şeriat in ottoman turkish), does not consist of a code of rules that are immutable or even fully written down. Rather, it is an organic system that is grounded in two sources, the Quran and the sunna. The Quran is the primary scripture of Islam, which for Muslims is God’s word unmediated by human intervention.  As such, any rule that is explicitly articulated in the Quran is accepted by all schools of Muslim legal thought as binding on believers. The sunna, literally translated as “the path”, refers to the reported tradition of the Prophet Muhammad’swords and actions and serves as a model for other muslims. IN terms of sharia, however,  the sunna is a more problematic source than the Quran, as some legal scholars held that it was the precedents of behavior, both religious ans secular, set by the original muslim community, while others held that the normative examples must be linked to the Prophet Muhammad himself. Either way, in the centuries following the Prophet’s death in 632 c.e. muslims collected sayings attributed to Muhammad and his close asociates about various issues not covered by Quranic injunctions. The collected stories and sayings, or hadith, became the written embodiment of the sunna. Even so, there is no consensus as to which sayings are binding and which are not, or even as to which collection of such sayings is authentic. Rather, there is consensus within each islamic school about the validity of certain sayings, leaving the interpretation of the finer points of the sharia to trained jurista, the faqihs.

Within sunni islam, there are four principal schools of legal interpretation, each named after a leading jurist whose formulation of the law provides the basis of his school’s approach to legal interpretation. These are the Shafii, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools. All four were founded between the eighth and ninth centuries c.e. The differences between the schools are relatively slight, however, and adherents of all four recognize the others as valid ways to interpret the law. The fonder of the school of law for Shia Islam was Jaafar al-Sadiq and his school is called the Jaafari school. Generally, Sunni scholars do not accept it as a legitimate approach to the sharia, as it is heavily influenced by sayings attributed to Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the father of the Prophets’ only grandsons.

The official school of the ottoman state was that of the hanafi sunni and all the judges appointed  by the sultan to the courts in his provincial centers belonged to that school. Local judges representing the other schools were also present at court, however, in places where an alternate school of law was preferred. This was especially true in Egypt and Kurdistan where local loyalties continued to lie with the Shafii school. At first, jurists in Syria also followed that school, but by the end of the 17th century most legal scholars there had switched their allegiance to the Hanafi interpretation of the law favored by the sultan.

As sharia is not a clearly established code written into a set of texts, the role of legal scholars was crucial for its articulation. Besides the judges who dealt with everyday cases, the system also included more senior scholars known as muftis who had the authority to issue fatwas, or judicial rulings on theoretical questions. In the ottoman empire, there were official muftis  who had received their training at the state-financed and state-monitored religious schools, the madrasas,. These men were usually appointed to major provincial centers and were ultilately responsible to the chief kufti of the Ottoman Empire, the seyhulislam. In addition, religious scholars in provincial centers away from the capital local might recognize local scholars as muftis and accept their rulings as valid. This was especially true in the arabic-speaking provinces where local traditions sometimes clashed with interpretations of the sharia as articulated in Istanbul.

According to the sharia, non-muslims did not have to use muslim courts unless they were involved in cases with muslims, or if all parties in a dispute agreed to approach a muslim judge for his intervention. Nevertheless, the records of the sharia courts show that christians and Jews frequently appealed to the muslim courts for justice. Western europeans living in the ottoman empire were initially required to use the muslim courts. But as they perceived them to be unjust and biased against them as non-muslims, they lobbied their governments to extend the capitulations, or agreements govenring the conditions under which europeans could live and work in the ottoman empire, so that they were free from the jurisdiction of muslim courts in most cased.





La scuola Salafiyya

back to index


In the 21st century, Salafiyya is the name of an Islamic political ideology that seeks to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law in Muslim societies and that views western cultures with suspicion. But in its origins at the end of the 19th century, the movement sought to reform islam so that muslim socieies could modernize by adopting the knowledge and institutions of the West. The reformers who spearheaded this movement felt that, over time, islamic scholars had obscured the true spirit and meaning of the Quran and the Sunna, or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, with superstition and irrelevancies. The reformers believed that Muslims needed to return to the sources of their religion and to understand them in the context of the society that had existed when the Prophet revealed God’s message.

For the reformers, the key to the rebirth of Islam lay in the revival of the legal practice known as ijtihad. Early muslim legal scholars had argued that the foundations of Islamic law, or Sharia, were the Quran and the Sunna. Additionally, if the community as a whole agreed on a practice, known as ijma or consensus, then that too was binding on the believers. Beyond that, qualified scholars could apply their independent reasoning (ijtihad) to those two sources to interpret what Muslims sholud properly do in cases where there was no clear guidance. The principle behind the use of ijtihad is not unlike the one that guides members of the U.S. Supreme Court, who use the text of the U.S. Constitution as a guideline to deal with problems that are not directly addressed by it. For american constitutional scholars the central question is “What did the original framers of the constitution mean?” The question for Muslim legal scholars is, “What was intended by a particular passage of the Quran?”.

The use of ijthad allowed for flexibility in framing laws that would govern the vast community into which Islam had grown in the centuries following the prophet’s death in 632 c.e. But by the 13th century, Sunni Muslim legal scholars had become uneasy with what they felt were too liberal uses of independent reasoning by scholars and many called for the abandonment of the practice. The community of scholars gradually agreed with the dissenters and in the following centuries, Sunnis abandoned the use of ijtihad in making religious decisions. It remained an  option, however, for Shii clergy with the rank or mujtahis, that is,  a cleric recognized by his peers as having adequate training in sharia and its sources to allow him to exercise independent judicial reasoning in a specific case.

The reformers of the late 19th century were not the first to call for the return of ijtihad. The writings of Ahmad ibn Taymiyya, a muslim religious scholar who died in prison in Damascus in 1328, were the inspiration for many. Inb Taymiyya had castigated Sufism and the study of philosophy, both popular, as being un-islamic. He called upon the Muslim community to return to the spritual purity it had known in the days of the original muslims (salaf). If muslims understood Islam as well as did those original musims, he reasoned, there would be no danger of error should their scholars usa ijtihad.

Further inspiration for the Salafi reformers of the late 19th century was to be found in the writings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Deriving inspiration from ibn Taymiyya, ibn Abd al-Wahhab wrote in the 18th century that Islam had become a religion of superstition and unbelief, by which he meant that Muslims were practicing  an Islam that was clearly not sanctioned by the Quran. As a corrective, he advocated a return to the Quran as the sole source for Islamic law.




jima (consensus) e ijtihad (independent reasoning) come fonti legali

back to index


For the reformers, the key to the rebirth of Islam lay in the revival of the legal practice known as ijtihad. Early muslim legal scholars had argued that the foundations of Islamic law, or Sharia, were the Quran and the Sunna. Additionally, if the community as a whole agreed on a practice, known as ijma or consensus, then that too was binding on the believers. Beyond that, qualified scholars could apply their independent reasoning (ijtihad) to those two sources to interpret what Muslims sholud properly do in cases where there was no clear guidance. The principle behind the use of ijtihad is not unlike the one that guides members of the U.S. Supreme Court, who use the text of the U.S. Constitution as a guideline to deal with problems that are not directly addressed by it. For american constitutional scholars the central question is “What did the original framers of the constitution mean?” The question for Muslim legal scholars is, “What was intended by a particular passage of the Quran?”.

The use of ijthad allowed for flexibility in framing laws that would govern the vast community into which Islam had grown in the centuries following the prophet’s death in 632 c.e. But by the 13th century, Sunni Muslim legal scholars had become uneasy with what they felt were too liberal uses of independent reasoning by scholars and many called for the abandonment of the practice. The community of scholars gradually agreed with the dissenters and in the following centuries, Sunnis abandoned the use of ijtihad in making religious decisions. It remained an  option, however, for Shii clergy with the rank or mujtahis, that is,  a cleric recognized by his peers as having adequate training in sharia and its sources to allow him to exercise independent judicial reasoning in a specific case.





back to index


fetva in ottoman turkish refers to the issuing of a judicial ruling by a muslim religious scholar. In theory, any muslim scholarmay issue a fatwa on a hypotetical question that has been put to him by a plaintiff, but in practice, a fatwa is only issued by those religious scholars recognized by their peers as legal authorities or appointed by the sultan to the post of mufti. A fatwa ruling is based on the scholar’s understanding of islamic law, although the author of the ruling may cite the sources he used to reach his ruling. In the ottoman empire the most important fatwas were those issued by the seyhülislam, or chief justice of the empire. Such rulings were issued in response to specific legal queries that could be submitted by anyone in the empire. Once a ruling had been delivered, it could be entered as evidence in a court case upon which it had bearing and could serve as a legal precedent for future cases.

Typically, a plaintiff would construct the question so as to elicit a favorable response. The judge at the court where the case was being heard did not have to accept the fatwa of the şeyhülislam as definitive, but it was a rare judge who would risk incurring the wrath of the chief justice by ignoring his opinion. This was especially true in regions that were within the effective control of the state and where the judges were graduates of the imperial madrasas. Further afield – in Syria, Palestine and Egypt – the fatwas of the seyhulislam in Istanbul were not given the same regard. However, in the provincial courts local muftis were equally important in shaping the character of the law as practiced. The fatwas issued by prominent jurists were frequently copied and could be found in the personal libraries of religious scholars and members of the empire’s judiciary

Ebussuud Efendi (d. 1574) who served Suleyman I and Selim II between 1545 and 1574 was undoubtedly the most notable seyhulislam. Questo era in parte dovuto al fatto che l’età di solimano era vista come un’età di giustizia with Ebussuud regarded as the most judicious of men. Even centuries after his death, his fatwas continued to influence ottoman jurisprudence and the collection of his rulings helped to establish definitive opinions for the ottoman legal establishment.





back to index


The term seyhulislam, which emerged in the abbasid caliphate in the second half of the 10th century c.e., was a title of honor given to members of the religious establishment (ulema) who solved controversial legal problems arising among islamic jurists. After the foundation of the ottoman state around 1300 the title continued to be used as an honorific similar to that of mufti, a jurisconsult authorized to issue a written legal opinion or fatwa, based on islamic sacred law or sharia. While the ottoman ulema performed the duty of issuing fatwa (turkish fetwa) without an official affiliation to the state apparatus, the titles of mufti and seyhulislam began to be used as official titles after the reign of Sultan Murad II (1421-44, 1446-51). Moreover, the mufti of the capital held the title of seyhulislam, with authority over all other muftis in the empire.

In the first half of the 16th century, some other duties were also given to the seyhulislam. He held a professorship in the madrasa of sultan bayezid II (1481-1512) and supervised the sultan’s religious endowments, or waqfs. In the late 16th century the seyhuislam was also assigned to appoint and dismiss supreme judges (kadiaskers), high ranking college professors (miderris), judges (kadis), and heads of sufi orders. In the times of prestigious seyhulislams such as Zenbilli Ali Cemali Efendi (1445-1526), Ibn-i Kemal (Kemalpasazade) (1468-1533), and Ebussuud Efendi (1491-1574), the influence of the seyhulislam and his office reached its peak, with the office of the seyhulislam not only having authority over the ulema and their institutions but also widening its area of responsibility and employing a considerably increased staff.




Ulema (ottoman court)

back to index


The kadi was trained in an imperial madrasa.

Although it was possible to appeal a judgment there was no regular multi-staged court structure. In practice, however, the Divan, the Friday Court, the court of Kadiasker (the top judicial official in the empire) accepted and discussed appeals.

Ottoman judicial opinions were the sole purview (testo di legge, portata di una legge; intento, scopo; ambito, campo d’azione, limite) although they had assistants. The most important assistant was the clerk (katib). Another assistant the naib assisted the kadi in judging, took depositions during investigations out of court, and judged in the kadi’s stead if he was absent. In some courts, a vice-kadi (kassam) was in charge of the dividing up of inheritances. Kadis made decisions in their court regardles of the views of jurisconsults of muftis. Although the ottoman court system provided for trial observers, they merely watched the trial and did not give any opinions. Because they did not participate in the judging process their role should not be confused with that played by the jury in some western judicial systems.

In small settlements courthouses were not distinct structures. The judge presided either in a part of his house or in the mosque. Judgments were usually reached after one hearing, although certain trials required further investigation and a second hearing.

 The ottoman court also expanded its role depending on the need of the individual community. Where notary publics and municipalities did not exist, some transactions of purchases or marriages were finalized in court. Municipal duties – such as giving zoning permits, protecting the environment, the administration of religious foundations, and the protection of orphans and infants – were also sometimes handled by the court. All the works and transactions performed by the courts were recorded in court records or registers (sicil). These inventories help to illuminate the activities of the ottoman courts and contain valuable information regarding the social life, gender relations, and other aspects of the communities under the court’s jurisdiction.