The role of Sheikh-ul-Islam in the Ottoman Empire


In the Ottoman Empire were the two most important state positions - the Grand Vizier and Sheikhul-ul-Islam. The Grand Vizier ruled the country, and Sheikhul-ul-Islam was the leader of "the scientific community" (ilmie) whose members were primarily ulema. In the Ottoman Empire representatives of ilmie were involved in the education, legislative issues, held important bureaucratic positions in the state apparatus.

From the perspective of Western representatives at the yard Ottoman Sheikhul-ul-Islam was a shadowy figure in the political system of the empire, but at the same time possessed considerable power, as the scope of its activities are in the area of religion, of which foreigners had little idea. And the Grand Vizier and Sheikh-ul-Islam were directly appointed by the Sultan. At official ceremonies they were together. Some sultans put Sheikh-ul-Islam above the Grand Vizier.

The title of Sheikh-ul-Islam was assigned to those who had outstanding knowledge of Islam, its doctrine and its practical application. This title appeared in the 10th century and was used along with titles Kamal al-Islam and Shams-ul-Islam. Scientists, theologians, the Hanafi school of thought used honorary titles more than others and therefore by the time of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries on its territory were quite a lot of theologians with the title of Sheikh-ul-Islam.

First official Sheikh-ul-Islam, who led the religious leaders of Rumelia - the European part of the Ottoman Empire became the Mevlana Elvan Fakih. Title Sheikh-ul-Islam was above the title of mufti (theologian who had the right to interpret the laws of Islam and to make appropriate decisions) and served rather a kind of recognition of the achievements in the field of theology. Sheikh-ul-Islam had to issue religious rulings on various issues, indicating that certain actions are taken in accordance or contrary to Islamic doctrine.

Perhaps the position of Sheikh-ul-Islam at the court of Sultan existed until the reign of Mehmed Fatih (1451-1481), but at this time fall the most famous first religious decrees of the highest representatives of Islamic theology: the first of them says that killing their brothers, Sultan Mehmed did no sin, because his doing ensured the stability of the state. According to a second religious ruling (fatwa), he was entitled to the king's execution in Bosnia in 1463, despite the fact that the king surrendered to the winner and acknowledged himself a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. During his reign, Fatih appointed three Sheikh-ul-Islam.

Sheikh-ul-Islam have had their administration - Bab-i-meshihat and own staff, including the officer to maintain the connection with the great vizier, as well as a special servant who oversaw the work of the various funds under its supervision.

As in the Quran there are no indications on religious hierarchy, which de facto took place in the Ottoman Empire, for the existence of the title Sheikh-ul-Islam put forward various excuses.

In particular, it was explained by the necessity to decrees of the Sultan comply with Sharia. 

In theory, Sheikh-ul-Islam's power was even higher than the power of the Sultan, as he could declare this or that his decree is no relevant to Sharia. However, in practice the Sultan could shift who is not pleasing to him Sheikh-ul-Islam and appoint to this post more "negotiability" person. But in the eighteenth century by the weakening of the absolute authority of the Sultan Shekh-ul-Islam could in some cases gain support among the high officials, and the population of the capital, to defend their decisions to the head of state.

During the period of the Tanzimat, when the European system of governance was adopted, Sheikh-ul-Islam was a member of the Council of Ministers in the rank of a Cabinet minister.

Post of Sheikh-ul-Islam was abolished in 1924, when administration for religious Affairs was found in Turkey.

Ildar Mukhamedjanov

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