The History of the Muslim World: From the Caliphate to the Ottoman Empire

Mehmed II
Gentile Bellini | Mehmed II

The Ottoman Empire is one of the greatest Muslim states in the history of mankind which encompassed practically all of the Muslim world of the East and was an incarnation of the idea of the universal Muslim state, the Caliphate (as it were, the Ottoman state did receive formal recognition as the Caliphate under Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) But unlike the Caliphate, it became the centre of the world, the connecting link between Europe and Asia, the Muslim Empire which dominated both the East and the West. It is this experience in world leadership that has so much value for the history of Muslim civilization.

Ottoman Turks were a tribe belonging to the Seljuk Turkish people. They were thus named after their leader Osman (or Othman) who built upon the wreckage of the Seljuk state in Anatolia a new and mighty state formation which grew into the greatest empire of all that lasted for six centuries.

The Seljuk Sultanate in Anatolia was founded in 1977 in the lands alienated from Byzantium by Suleiman ibn Qutulmish, the cousin of the most renowned Seljuk Sultan Malik-Shah I. Suleiman declared his independence from his cousin. His state with its capital Nicaea became to be known as the Sultanate of Rum (after the former lords of these lands the Romans alias the Byzantines) and was in existence for 200 years. While tumults and hostilities raved on in Arabia and Persia, the Sultanate of Rum stayed aloof and looked after its local concerns. The main one of these was rivalry with its neighbor Byzantium. This rivalry over world supremacy the Seljuks shall pass on to their heirs the Ottomans.

In 1230 there came to Anatolia a detachment of the Turkish tribe Kayi headed by Ertugrul. Ertugrul and his soldiers were the mercenaries of Khwarazm-Shah but had to fle from Mongol inroads. The Sultan Aladdin Kayqubad (under whom Anatolia reached the peak of its prosperity) took on Ertugrul to serve him and allocated him a small fief on the border of Byzantium with the commission to defend the precincts of the Sultanate from the Byzantines.

The cause of the father Ertugrul was continued by the son Osman. At first he served the Seljuk Sultan and in doing so he not simply defended Anatolia but made advances upon Byzantium and attached its territories to his own fief (when he seized in 1291 the Byzantine town of Melangia he immediately installed his residence there thus giving to understand to Byzantium and the rest of the world that his aim was conquest and acquisition). When in 1299 the Seljuk Sultanate of Anatolia was crumbling down under the onslaughts of the Mongols and inner dissent, Osman declared himself an independent ruler of his fief and sent back to the Sultan the tugh and drum, the symbols of power of a Seljuk bey. Thus sprinkled forth a tiny spring from which in half a century a mighty river would take its inception, which shall gain flow from century to century and shall flood all the land around it reaching from the boundaries of Europe at Budapest, Prague, Belgrade and Sofia to the outskirts of the Caliphate borders in Northern Africa and all the way to Hejaz with Mecca and Medina and to Baghdad and Persia.

This abundant water flow overwhelmed Constantinople which fell in 1453 battered by the army of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and was transformed from the Christian centre of the world into the Muslim capital. The janissaries of Sultan Selim outpowered the Egyptian Mamluks, took the Levant and the Hejaz. The warriors of Suleiman the Magnificent occupied Belgrade, Hungary, Transylvania, Walachia, conquered Baghdad, Persia, Mesopotamia. The whole world was being transformed into one big Ottoman Caliphate.

We shall venture a bold guess as to what the Ottomans owed their success to. Osman’s father and his soldiers worshipped pre-Islam deities while Osman assumed Islam and converted his subjects into the Muslim faith. For those with strength and potency of the soul who turn to Allah for help, these same strength and potency are multiplied tenfold and hundredfold. This unfailing rule is exactly what makes the guarantee of any victory. “Ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him. He will send rain from the sky upon you in showers and increase you in strength added to your strength.” [Quran, 11:52] “My success is not but through Allah . Upon him I have relied, and to Him I return.” [Quran, 11:88]