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Islam in Europe: Exploring Differences Between Andalusian Spain and the Ottoman Empire

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Islam in Europe

Exploring differences between Andalusian Spain and the Ottoman Empire

Muslim "Andalusian" Spain and the Muslim Ottoman empire share several similarities; both hold true to, in essence, the same religion, both experienced explosively rapid expansion and domination in their particular theaters of operation, and most interestingly given the cultural climates in which they operated, both exhibited a certain respect and tolerance given to the other faith groups that resided in and around their empires. Of course this religious tolerance was not a mirror image of what we observe in our 21st century western culture, but given the practices of the nations surrounding them, they were both way ahead of the curve. It is important to note that these are two very different cultures and societies. Chronologically, the Ottoman Empire follows after the Andalusian Caliphate on the timeline but, it is important to note, their rule is not a continuation of that Caliphate and are active in the more eastern parts of Europe whereas the Andalusia was centered in the Iberian Peninsula. Another note to be made is that the way that these two different societies approached different faith groups was also significantly different.

Focusing first on Andalusian Spain; in this context, Muslim toleration of other religions boiled down to granting certain privileges to other "peoples of the book" meaning Christian and Jews, these protected peoples were known to their conquerors as dhimmi. Now, this toleration did not by any stretch of the imagination mean that they were treated as equals to their Muslim conquerors. In order to maintain their protected status, dhimmi were to comply with a certain set of rules. By today's standards, these rules and privileges would now be considered completely unethical but they were incredibly liberal according to the standards of the time. (Taken from the notes)

* They were not forced to live in ghettoes or other special locations

* They were not slaves

* They were not prevented from following their faith

* They were not forced to convert or die under Muslim rule

* They could work in the civil service of the Islamic rulers

* Jews and Christians were able to contribute to society and culture

In order to maintain these privileges, the dhimmi would have to comply with certain rules, including but not limited to:

* acknowledging Islamic superiority and accepting Islamic power

* paying a tax called the Jizya to the Muslim rulers and sometimes paying higher rates of other taxes and maybe even get slapped when they paid the tax

* They could not try to convert Muslims

* Restrictions on green clothing and the need to wear a special badge

* Restrictions on building synagogues and churches

* Not allowed to carry weapons

* Could not own a Muslim slave

* A dhimmi man could not marry a Muslim woman (but the reverse was acceptable)

* A dhimmi could not give evidence in an Islamic court

(List taken from my notes)

Of course, this is far from the age of toleration that we experience in Canada today but as was stated earlier, it was far beyond the religious persecution that was par-for-the-course in the Christian states of that historical context. (Notes)

In contrast to what I will call the "dhimmi system", the Ottomans operated under what has become known to history as the "millet system". The term "millet" is a word that means "nation" when translated literally. What this meant for religious toleration in the vast Ottoman Empire was that, in general terms, the Sultan would

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