The Ottoman Empire founded in the wake of the Seljuks ruled a wide expanse of territory for some 600 years and was one of the main shapers of global politics. For six centuries, it ruled over millions of members of the three faiths and of various schools and sects, with all their different languages, cultures, races, worldviews and beliefs. In addition, Ottoman rule was based not on oppression and compulsion, but on tolerance and social compromise. One of the main reasons for this behavior on the part of the Empire was the conception of justice and the ideal known as I’la al-Qalimatullah (Spreading the Word of Allah) adopted by the state’s rulers and administrators. One element of the culture and civilization of this great state, the protector of Muslims and standard-bearer of Islam down the centuries, that has survived down to the present is the joy of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a month of blessings and contains the Night of Power, described as “... better than a thousand months” in the Qur’an (Surat al-Qadr, 3), itself sent down as a guide for all mankind. Throughout this month, all the Muslims of the world fulfill their fasting obligations and give thanks to our Lord for all His blessings. In Surat al-Baqara, Allah tells us this about Ramadan:
The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance for mankind, with Clear Signs containing guidance and discrimination. Any of you who are resident for the month should fast it. But any of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days. Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire difficulty for you. You should complete the number of days and proclaim Allah’s greatness for the guidance He has given you so that hopefully you will be thankful. (Surat al-Baqara, 185)
The holy month of Ramadan is one of great joy and excitement in Turkey, just as it is in the rest of the Muslim world. Many customs and traditions inherited from the Ottomans still persist in Turkey today; these include the practice of stringing up lights between the minarets of mosques and spelling out messages, offering food for iftar and suhur to the poor and arranging large public banquets and social activities in which the public come together to reinforce the feelings of friendship among them.
Islamic Moral Values Formed the Basis of Ottoman Civilization
One of the small principalities that emerged following the collapse of the authority of the Seljuk Empire was that of the Ottomans. That Ottoman principality soon became one of the most highly developed and important states of the time. And it quickly grew into a world power harboring many nations with different faiths, languages, races and sects under its umbrella. The Ottoman nations represented an area where three continents came together: south-east Europe, North Africa and south-west Asia. At its greatest, it covered an area of 24 million square kilometers. South America covers approximately 21 million square kilometers, which gives an indication of the huge size of the Ottoman Empire at its peak. The Ottoman Empire was the last and longest-lived of the great civilizations founded in these lands over the course of history. The Empire maintained its borders at their fullest extent for 400 years out of its total 600, and even lost relatively little territory during the subsequent 200 years known as the period of Ottoman decline. The Ottomans maintained their power and influence right up until the dissolution in the beginning of the 20th century, and more than deserves the title of “world state.” Military strength alone is obviously insufficient to account for the long life of such a great state. It was mainly spiritual values, in other words the moral values of Islam, from which it drew its strength and which made it worthy of the name of world state.
The Ottoman Empire had no greater ambition than to be the standard-bearer of Islam and to spread Islamic justice and moral values across the world. For that reason, the Ottomans brought Islamic values to the territories they conquered with no compulsion or pressure being applied, just as commanded in the Qur’an itself. For the Ottomans, it was not just the well-being of Muslims and Turks that mattered, but that of all the Empire’s subjects, no matter what their faith or tongue. As Islamic moral values require, the Ottoman sultans largely assisted those who sought their help, whether these were believers or not, and were aware that this was one of their responsibilities before Allah.
The way that major modern states encourage research into Ottoman history and set aside special funds for the purpose indicates something very important. The Ottoman Empire had discovered the secret of being a great state, and maintained that secret over its 600 years of existence. What the West has been utterly unable to understand with regard to the Ottomans is that the Empire had a strategic vision known in modern political literature as “moral politics.” Imperialist powers, on the other hand, have always acted along the policy of realpolitik. For that reason, they had no compunctions about inflicting policies that would lead to long-term chaos and instability on a country for the sake of their own short-term interests. But the Ottomans never permitted any chaos or instability in the lands over which they ruled. They always sought to implement the climate of peace and security, justice and tolerance, commanded in the Qur’an.
In addition, unlike other nations, the Ottomans never occupied these lands in a spirit of colonialism, but sought to strengthen the Muslim world and spread their faith without resorting to any pressure or compulsion. Some European powers considered the peoples living in the lands they conquered as inferior, as second-class entities and adopted cruel and repressive policies towards them, but because of the Qur’anic moral values they espoused the Ottomans always treated members of all nations in a just, compassionate and tolerant manner.
Important Lessons for Today from Ottoman Civilization
Even as you read these lines wars are taking place all over the world, and people are dying, being expelled from their homes and generally being oppressed. In a great many parts of the world some people enjoy unjust earnings while others earn far less than they deserve. The cruel seek to use the means at their disposal to oppress the weak, while the needy are waiting for a helping hand to be extended to them. In short, injustice rules in many countries of the world. But why is justice not scrupulously enforced?
In order for there to be real justice, people have to adopt the moral values that will enable them to set aside their own interests for the sake of that justice. Those values are the values of the Qur’an, and apply to all mankind, discriminating between none, insisting that all means be shared on a fair basis, and aiming to create a world in which superiority lies not with the strong but with the honest. Justice can only prevail when people live fully in accordance with the moral values of the Qur’an. Indeed, the time of the Prophet (saas), that of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs who followed, and then the days of Ottoman rule are all striking examples of that fact.
Great efforts were made to ensure that justice prevailed in the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman sultans issued many edicts against officials who misused their power against the interests of the people, and even constructed a system the public would be content with, even if they did not personally witness its operation. One of the many edicts prohibiting state officials from acting in violation of justice and the law was that sent to the Semendere cadi. In that edict the sultan first issued a reminder that the public were entrusted by Allah to him and then stated that imperial officials’ treating the people unjustly was to be regarded as repression and to be strongly condemned. He ordered that those who ignored or failed to fully implement this provision were to be brought before the courts.
Thanks to this just administration that prevailed in the Empire, millions of people belonging to the three revealed faiths and various denominations thereof, with different languages and cultures, of many different races were able to live in peace, free from any oppression, in an area encompassing all the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. That is why Western scholars regard the tolerant and understanding administrative system brought about by the Ottomans as the ideal model.
U.S. and European scholars admit they are highly impressed by the Ottoman’s vision of justice, which is in fact an expression of the perfection of the moral values revealed in the Qur’an. That is because the way that the Ottoman system that refused to make any concessions when it came to justice and the truth never changed down the centuries stemmed from the conception imposed by those very values.
The World Will Be Filled with Justice in the Time of the Mahdi (as)
The justice that people are desperate for today will come about in the End Times, as we learn from the hadiths of the Prophet (saas). The situation on Earth at the time will come to an end with the emergence of the Mahdi (as), and a climate of justice the like of which has never been seen before will be established across the planet. The Prophet (saas) described this climate that will emerge in the time of the Mahdi (as):
“The younger ones wish they were grown-ups, while the adults wish they were younger... The good become even better, and even the wicked ones are treated well.” 1
“… He [the Mahdi] will fill the earth will equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny…” 2
“The earth fills with justice.” 3
“During the time of Mahdi, justice will prevail to such an extent that every possession taken by force will be returned to his owner; furthermore, some other person’s thing, even if it rests within one’s teeth, will be given back to its owner… Security will permeate all over Earth and even a few women will be able to fulfil their hajj without the company of men.” 4
As emphasized in the hadiths, in that time when the moral values of the Qur’an reign supreme, believers will live by true justice. Everyone will be able to make use of all available means, people will be given even more than they ask for, and the needy will be protected and watched over. Nobody will be allowed to suffer injustice, to be denied the rewards of their labor, to live in poverty or to have difficulty making ends meet. By Allah’s will, all injustice and oppression will be completely done away with.
1. Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-zaman, p. 17.
2. Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 36, Number 4272.
3. Imam Rabbani, Maktubat al-Rabbani, Vol. 1, No. 251.
4. Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, Al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar, p. 23.