Religious minority groups living in the Ottoman Empire included Christians and Jews. The prevailing religion at the time was Islam. There is some conjecture as to how these minority groups were treated; some historians believe that Christian and Jews were discriminated against. Moshe Ma’Oz asserts that they were considered to be “inferior subjects or [treated] as illegitimate denominations” (qtd in Baraz.) However, it has been noted that it was the Christians of Europe who exaggerated the ill treatment of Christians and Jews under Ottoman rule (Masters, qtd in Baraz.) A comparison of the way that religious minority groups were treated under Ottoman rule reveals that, while they may have not enjoyed the same privileges and status as their Islamic counterparts, they were protected by the state and thus enjoyed more religious freedom and had greater protection than religious minorities living in Europe at the same time.
Jews and Muslims living in Europe were actively persecuted. These people had no protection under religious law. Indeed, the Jews had been evicted from England under King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion. Therefore, it could be argued that the Ottoman Empire was more benevolent and less invasive towards religious minorities than their European contemporaries; they were left to practice their religion unmolested and had access to education (Baraz.)
These differences can be accounted for by the individual interpretation of Islamic and Christian doctrine. In Islam, for example, the Jewish and Christian prophets are accepted. Mohammed, conversely, is not accepted by Christians as a prophet. Therefore, the religious teachings of the Ottoman Turks made it permissible for them to tolerate Christians and Jews, whereas the Christian teachings that held sway over Europe at that time did not extend this tolerance to Muslims. The fact that Jews were treated with such contempt and fear in medieval Europe was centred around their ability to act as money-lenders; to do so and charge interest was outlawed as an act of usury. This is why King Edward I had them completely expelled from England.
- Baraz, Yevgeniya. “The position of Jews and Christians in the Ottoman Empire.” (2010.) Inquiries. http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/242/the-position-of-jews-and-christians-in-the-ottoman-empire. Accessed 26 January 2017.