The readings considered here present five focuses of warfare in Islamic texts and remarks on the Ottoman Empire in particular. This prompts two questions, one regarding the role of these focuses in Ottoman warfare, and the other regarding the uniqueness of this warfare versus its embeddedness in Islamic tradition. Both issues are best addressed by considering the five focuses one by one.
Islam does promote a theory of just war. While their definition differs from others, particularly the classic articulation of Thomas Aquinas, it nonetheless finds similarities with the tradition of just war theory. In one sense, the Ottoman warfare does reflect a sense of Islamic just war. They did declare battle in defensive situations, for example, rather than simply fighting whenever and however they wished. This demonstrates some guidelines or regulations that resemble the Muslim standards of just war. On the other hand, certain less prudent, even unjust, acts of violence by the Ottoman Empire show an incomplete dependence on such a theory.
Typology of Conflict
Islamic constructed a series of categories, explaining different types of conflict. These usually depend on the context and the nature of the opposition or violation of Islamic law. In this case, it seems that the Ottoman Empire is quite unique rather than Islamic, as it becomes hard to distinguish the different types of conflict that ensued (Aksan 1999). Most importantly, the relation of this typology to the Quran and the intentions of the Ottoman armies remains quite elusive. According to Aboul-Enein and Sherifa (2004), “Some Western readers will probably find the Islamic rulings on war to be contradictory. It may not be clear whether they promote war or peace. Muslims believe the Quran to be divinely revealed, and Quran experts hold that the text must be understood in the spirit of its entirety” (2). This also articulates the challenge of Islamic typology and its relation to the Ottoman Empire.
Treatment of the Vanquished
At times the Ottomans seemed to treat the vanquished with mercy, and at other times seemed relentless. This resembles the contrasting modes of thought in the Quran. As Aboul-Enein and Sherifa commented above, there appears a contradiction or paradox. Islam teaches patience and mercy for the vanquished yet at other times commands complete annihilation. Such polarities appear in the Ottoman history and suggest a dependence on Islamic focuses.
Division of Spoils
The elites of the Ottoman Empire at times took many spoils from war. The wealth and luxury of the Empire attests to such practices. Yet there seems to be a lack of offering or alms giving among many of the population. This shows the lack of Islamic influence on the Empire and their warfare.
Upholding of Islamic Law
Upholding the Islamic law constitutes the fundamental issue of Islam. This focus is the focus, in my judgment and I believe the judgment of Muslims. However, the Ottoman Empire shows such a change in attitude and practice over time that I hesitate to attribute an overriding Islamic influence on the matter of law keeping. It depends of course what we mean by Islamic law, for it extends to each and every part of life. But in warfare, it seems concessions are made by the Ottomans. In conclusion, it seems that the Ottoman Empire does reflect the five focuses of Islam, even in the inconsistency of some of these focuses. However, some points, such as the law, do not appear to so prominently play a role. Thus, the uniqueness of the Ottoman Empire does not overshadow its dependence on Islam, which I conclude is the prime factor in warfare.
- Aboul-Enein, Youssef and Zuhur Sherifa. Islamic Rulings on Warfare. 2004. Electronic.
- Aksan, Virginia. “Locating the Ottomans Among Early Modern Empires.” JEMH 3.2 (1999): 103-134. Electronic.