THE DISTORTION AND DELIBERATE
MISREPRESENTATION OF THE SUBJECT
1. THE SUBJECT HAS BEEN DISTORTED AND
Before discussing the institutions of male and
female slavery in Islamic law, and their application and the Harem
in the Ottoman Empire, it is essential to know that these subjects
have been exploited by the enemies of Islam and the Ottomans.
Mistakes made by individuals have been made to appear general, as
though such situations always applied in Islam and in the Ottoman
Empire. Furthermore, in the first years of the Turkish Republic, in
addition to our external enemies, the discrediting of Islam was
adopted as one of the aims of general education, and certain groups
and publications in this country perpetuated the distortions and
deliberate misrepresentation, as though regretting the passing of
the publications of our external enemies. And these distortions
Anyone interested in seeing how the surgeon Cemil Pasha, who was a
doctor in the Palace, was compelled to comply with the established
practice in the Republican period of misrepresenting life in the
Palace, and to distort things that happened in Harem life, which he
had actually experienced, may refer to the section assigned to this
matter in Ayşe Osmanoğlus book My Father, Sultan Abdülhamid.
Unfortunately, since speaking ill of the Ottomans was a means of
reaping reward in the first years of the Republic, the Harem was a
rich source for those who made their pens a means to furthering
It should be stressed however, that the Ottoman state was a legal
entity made up of human beings. It is not possible to claim that all
the people making up the State were completely innocent and free of
sin. Of course they had faults and disabilities. But at the same
time, it did not consist entirely of sinful and faulty people as was
taught to us for years. It would be fairer to reach a conclusion by
weighing up and comparing its good points and evils.
I want now to give some examples of these distortions:
I. Distortions which Portray the Sultans as Infringing the
Prohibition on Alcoholic Drink and Pursuing Unlawful Pleasures
At the present time, forces representing certain circles with dark
interests attack the Ottoman Empire, which was the longest-lived
Islamic state, in two wings, like the wings of an army:
The First Wing are enemies of religion and history who do not
state their hostility to Islam openly, but attack it under the guise
of attacking the Ottomans. They display their hostility towards
Islam, which they cannot display openly, by criticising the Ottoman
state, which together with its faults endeavoured to practise Islam,
and make it practised, in every area of life. It is most striking
that the chief of this wing are members of the minorities, who are
non-Muslim, or certain dönmes.*
The Second Wing are simple-minded Muslims, who at that time became
a burden on the Ottoman state in its duty of spreading Islam, and
now due to their simple-mindedness are deceived by official
propaganda, which aims to uproot Islam, and who are uninformed about
their history. One of the most effective trumps that both these
wings play is the claim that the Ottoman Sultans completely
disregarded the prohibition of the Islamic religion on alcoholic
drink and were alcoholics. The question of the Harem too is
embellished with these claims and put before the people of this
It will be useful to bear in mind the following facts:
(a) The individuals making up the Ottoman state were not exempt from
sin and error. Just as among them were friends of God like Mehmed
the Conqueror and Abdülhamid II, so too there may have been
individuals who drank and committed similar sins. It is a fact that
some accepted all the rules of Islam and practised them, but it is
also a fact that some opposed them and did not practise them. It is
not possible to deny either of these. As with everything, there were
both good things in the Ottoman state and bad. But it is a fact that
for the six hundred years that it continued the good things
outweighed the bad, for Divine Determining bestowed on it the rank
of Standard-Bearer of Islam throughout that long period. When its
evils came to preponderate over its good, this elevated position was
taken from it, again at the decree of Divine Determining. The
millions of documents in the archives prove that even in their worst
times, it was not a question of opposing a clear injunction of Islam
like the prohibition on drinking alcohol, but that the Ottomans made
every effort to conform to the matters of the Sharia, even those
matters which were open to interpretation (ijtihâdi).
(b) Regretably some people want to interpret some of the terms used
in Ottoman history and literature as meaning that the drinking of
alcohol was entirely unrestricted during the Ottoman period. I want
to draw attention to some of these expressions. The chief of them is
êﬂ ü iﬂret, which appears in the histories in such phrases as
padişah, iş ü işreti severdi. This is given to mean the Sultan
loved drinking and carousing. Whereas the true meaning of iş is
life and especially a happy, luxurious, or jolly life; or the
pleasures of life, and işret is enjoyment or social enjoyment.
Enjoying life and taking pleasure can be within the bounds of the
licit, just as it can exceed them. Therefore, so long long as there
is no other evidence to the contrary, it can only be the result of
prejudice to interpret the phrase as referring to illicit activities.
Nevertheless, if there is clear evidence that some rulers like
Yıldırım Bayezid (791/1389-805/1403) drank intoxicating beverages,
it would not be right to put any other interpretation on it.
Another word the meaning of which is distorted is sâki. The word
denotes a person who distributes glasses of drinks on social
occasions. However, a person who distributes sherbet at a religious
recitation is called sâki the same as one who distributes wine in a
tavern. Again it is only the result of prejudice to always give the
words meaning as one who dispenses glasses of intoxicating drinks.
There were certainly sâkis in the Ottoman court, but it is not fair
to say that they were people who served alcoholic beverages freely
The word şarâb (wine) is the same. Originally this referred to any
sort of beverage, but today it is used to signify wine, the drinking
of which is prohibited, and the Arabic word for which is hamr. In
Ottoman times, it referred to all beverages including water and
sherbets, for which in present-day Turkish the word meşrubat is used.
It would not have been possible for the officials who applied the
penalties of the Sharia, called hadd-i şirb, to those who infringed
the Islamic legal prohibition on intoxicating liquor, to themselves
openly infringe it.
(c) On becoming Muslim, in principle the Turks gave up completely
all their customs which were opposed to Islam. The clearest example
of this are the following lines from the Kutadgu Bilig, which was
inspired by Islam and written in the time of the Qarakhanid Dynasty
(10th century), which was the first Turkish Muslim state. It says:
The bey (lord) should not drink intoxicating liquor or cause
corruption; prosperity is lost as a result of these two activities.
If the beys of the world taste wine, the difficulties the country
and people suffer are indeed severe, for if the bey spends all his
time drinking and carousing, what opportunity remains for him to
think of the matters of state? The rulings of the Sharia in the
books of fıkh (jurisprudence) that the subsequent Turkish Muslim
dynasties accepted as their official legal codes, make clear their
attitude towards intoxicating drinks.
The Ottoman legal authorities adopted exactly the same principles
concerning intoxicating drinks as the Islamic authorities, and they
stated that foremost wine (hamr) and all intoxicating beverages, in
whatever amount, are prohibited, that is, definitely forbidden by
religion. However, different views emerged in the definition of what
constituted the offence of drinking intoxicants, which demands the
penalty known as hadd, which Islam had laid down. Imam-ı Azam, Abu
Hanifa, stated that drinking any amount of wine, or enough of other
intoxicating beverages to produce intoxication, were offences
demanding the hadd penalty. While other Islamic legal authorities
stated that any amount of every kind of intoxicating beverage
constituted an offence requiring the necessary penalty. Although Abu
Hanifa differentiated between wine (hamr) and other alcoholic drinks,
other authorities included them under the same ruling.
According to the former view, which was the one favoured by the
Ottomans, there are two elements in the offence of drinking
alcoholic beverages (which is called şirb): the first of these is
intoxication caused by drinking even a small amount of wine or other
liquors. That is to say, although there is consensus that all
intoxicating beverages are prohibited, there were minor differences
concerning what constituted the offence requiring the hadd penalty.
The second concerned intent and will. Enforced drinking of
intoxicating liquor did not demand the penalty. If one of these
elements was absent, the hadd penalty could not be applied, but the
tazir penalty, set by the state, would be applied. The hadd penalty
was the flogging of the offender with eighty strokes of a rod, with
no more and no less.
Until the last ten years of the Ottoman Empire the Islamic penalty
for drinking was applied to the letter in all Turkish Muslim
countries, as is testified to by the judicial (Shari) records and
the Ottoman Kânunnâmesi (statute books). Although a European lawyer
wrote that the Shari rulings connected with this matter were
enforced until 1810. It may be said that these rulings were applied
in theory, if not fully in practice, research has shown that
they were applied up to the last ten years of the Empire. However, a
law passed in the final years of the Empire, the Law for the
Prevention of Alcoholic Drinks, provided alternatives for penalties
for the drinking of alcoholic beverages, and gave the penalty of the
Sharia as one of these. This law led to much debate both inside and
outside the Empire.
With very few exceptions, the Ottoman Sultans complied both in
theory and practice with the Islamic prohibition on the drinking of
intoxicating beverages, and they took the legal steps necessary so
others would comply with it. I want to include here first the
simplified text, then a facsimile of the original, of a decree given
by Bayezid II (886/1481-918-1512), so that all aspects of this
question will become clear:
1. My Court was informed that wine is drunk openly in the cities,
towns, and villages in your sancak (a subdivision of a province), in
feasts, social gatherings, and on other occasions, and that various
intoxicating beverages are imbibed and every sort of disgraceful
behaviour perpetrated. It was said also that all Muslims and
particularly religious scholars and the righteous are disturbed by
the non-practice of the marks of Islam and the unlawful acts of the
2. If the situation is thus, since it is incumbent on us to enjoin
the good and restrain from evil, I have sent Hamza to attend to the
matter and given him the below instructions:
3. On receiving my command, you will pay great attention to the
matter. For you are Bey of the sub-province, and the Kadı(s), (governor
of a kaza). You will personally see to this matter and once again
enforce with threats the prohibition on the people in the cities,
towns, and villages of your kaza.
4. After this, nowhere will the depraved gather together and
perpetrate this wrongdoing openly; they will conform to the
practices of Islam.
5. You are the Bey of a sub-province; you will supervise this
matter, and on the decision of the Kadı punish those who act
contrary to my command, and ensure the injunctions of the Sharia
and my commands are enforced.
6. The police superintendents of these lands and their assistants
will assist the Kadıs in this matter. They will help the Kadıs to
abolish these unlawful practices, and not allow anyone to act
contrarily to the injunctions of Islam at social gatherings and
feasts. Those who do so, they will send to the courts and enforce
their punishment as a result of trial.
7. For you are all Kadıs; you will have this ferman (decree) copied
in the rolls of the Sharia and you will always have it enacted. You
will not neglect the matter nor be lenient in it. If it is heard
that you do neglect it or are tolerant, you will not only be removed
from your posts, you will suffer grievous penalties. You will inform
me by means of the servant charged with the duty that this written
decree of mine has reached you.
You will know it to be thus and will trust in the illustrious
How can it be thought in the face of this scrupulous compliance of
the Ottoman Sultans with the Sharia, and these prohibitions, that
they openly infringed the rulings of the Sharia? It may be
understood from this example that the accusations of the Sultans
being drunkards and having depraved private lives are total
calumnies based on no documentary evidence.
II. Misrepresentations of the Court Pages (içoğlan)
This subject is discussed again later when it occurs. But because it
forms a striking example of the lies, I want here to summarize the
question and draw attention to the misrepresentations.
(1) The Distortion of the Words Meanings
As is well-known, everyone sees the world in his own mirror.
Comparing them to themselves, some columnists and writers have
imagined that the Ottoman Sultans indulged in perverted
relationships and have repeatedly brought up the subject of the
court pages, which has been studied at length by Ottoman historians.
The term içoğlan refers to the boy servants who had been recruited
according to the devşirme system,* and who worked in the Enderun,
that is, Inner Palace, one of the three parts of Topkapı Palace. In
other words, they were the Inner Palace servants, or in the language
of today, the staff serving in the head of states residence. The
same term was used for certain members of the Janissaries. Those
interested may consult İsmail Uzunçarşılıs book Kapıkulu
It is necessary at this point to reply briefly to those who attach
disgraceful meanings to the term court page, and offer the readers
an example of their distortions.
Certain writers have shamelessly asserted that the Sultans kept
beautiful youths in the Inner Palace, called içoğlan, with whom they
had illicit relations, even making some of the veil their faces due
to their jealousy, and that some of the Sultans had a passion for
men only. The things they claim about the Kabusnâme are complete
nonsense like this.
Here, as evidence for this, I want to quote some lines from a letter
written by the daughter of Yavuz Sultan Selim, Fatma Sultan, to her
father about her husband Mustafa Pasha, which is taken from the
Kâbusnâme, thus showing to readers how those who make the above
claims distort them, and that they make other distortions similar to
They state that in addition to all the warped relationships in the
Ottoman Harem, the Sultans and people of the Inner Palace had
deviant relationships with both men and the boy pages known as
içoğlan, and that Murad IV was one of these. Since illustrating
falsehood leads simple minds astray, rather than reiterating their
assertions, I want to reply to them. One of the principal proofs
they put forward to support what they claim is this:
It is a sentence taken from the work entitled the Kâbusnâme, which
was written in the style of the Nasihatnâme, which was written by
Emir Kaykavus of the Ziyarids in 475/1082 for his son. They claim
that one of the pieces of advice in the book, which was accepted as
authoritative by the Ottoman Sultans, is the following, which is in
fact about sexual relations with women: In summer incline to women,
and in winter to boys, then health and well-being will be found. For
the bodies of boys are hot, and if two hot bodies come together in
the summer it is detrimental to the health. And womens bodies are
cold, and if two cold bodies come together in the winter, it dries
up the body. They state that it is recorded that foremost Murad
IV and some other Sultans resorted with women in the summer and boys
in the winter. They accept, however, that the Kabusnâme was
translated by Mercimek Ahmed during the time of Murad II, Mehmed the
Conquerors father, and that the idioms of that period are used.
They go even further, saying that it is known that these activities
were practised also by the sons-in-law of the Sultans and that
Yavuzs daughter Fatma Sultan made complaints about this in
connection with her first husband, the Bey of the Antalya Sancak,
Mustafa Pasha. They try to prove these claims with a sentence they
quote from a letter written by Fatma Sultan, to according to them an
unknown correspondent. The sentence is this: My Illustrious Father.
I have no peace of mind. I have ended up with a person who does not
regard me even as a dog. He wrongfully seizes youths (oğlan) from
their parents, and immediately sets about them. They claim that
these sentences refer to the Ottoman Beys and prove their relations
with males. However, they agree that this letter was written in the
15th century, and we know from dictionaries that at that time the
word oğlan referred to both boys and girls.
Here I have to state that it is very meaningful that at the
beginning of the relevant distorted passage, one writer quotes the
Quranic verse, For you practise your lusts on men in preference to
Now, to explain the matter:
Firstly, a further matter should be explained: the Quranic verse
quoted above is part of what Lot said about his own people, who
practised sodomy. The whole passage is: He also (sent) Lut. He said
to his people: Do you commit lewdness such as no people in creation
(ever) committed before? * For you practise your lusts on men in
preference to women; you are indeed a people transgressing beyond
bounds. Following this the Quran states that Lots people
made moves to drive him out of the country and that God Almighty
meted out a terrible chastisement on them for their excesses in
committing the sin of sodomy. It may be seen clearly that there is
no connection between these verses and the matter under discussion.
To come to the second matter: it is well-known that every era has
its own idiom and way of speaking. That is to say, words bear
different meanings in different ages. People from different regions
also use the same words to express different meanings.
In this way, the word oğlan (youth), which is used both in the
Kâbusnâme and in Fatma Sultans letter, is given the wrong meaning.
Its meaning in Turkish texts of the 14th and 15th centuries is
significantly different to its meaning today. From the sources we
understand that in those centuries the word oğlan had two basic
meanings. Firstly it referred to children and youths, both male and
female, and secondly it referred to male children.
There are numerous instances proving this, but the best evidence is
the following passage from a Turkish translation of One Hundred
Hadiths by Mustafa Darir of Erzurum, which was written in the 14th
century, the century the Kâbusnâme was translated into Turkish. It
says: The young girl (oğlan) should be fertile so that my community
may be numerous. For I take pride in the great numbers of my
community. Those who distort this matter cannot claim that at
the time of the Prophet (PBUH) young boys gave birth too!
A further point that corroborates what I say is that the translators
of both the Kâbusnâme and the One Hundred Hadiths lived in the same
century, that is, at the time of Murad II, the father of Sultan
Mehmed the Conqueror. In any event, chiefly the Tarama lexicon and
other philological sources confirm what I have said. However, I do
not have much else to say to those who want to slander history and
Islam using word games. What really makes me unhappy is a scholar
like Uluçay attaching any importance to the same baseless gossip and
in his work Harem Hayatının İç Yüzü (The True Face of Harem Life),
which he contradicted in his book Harem II, agreeing with it or
quoting from it.
Another piece that further clarifies the matter is the following:
If the child (oğlan) is a girl, they have it suckled by a woman
(avrat) who has given birth to a girl; or if it (oğlan) is a boy,
they have it suckled by a woman who has (previously) given birth to
a boy. Thus, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the word oğlan was
used for both boys and girls; and the word (avrat) for older women.
So too in the Persian original of the Kâbusnâme the word ghulâm, the
equivalent of oğlan, means a child and young; the period from birth
Having seen these explanations, the expressions in the Kâbusnâme and
Fatma Sultans letter are more readily understood:
As was stated above, the Kâbusnâme is a sort of Nasihatnâme; it
consists of a rulers advice to his sons, illustrated with Quranic
verses and Hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH) or the moral dicta of
former notable persons. The Fifteenth Book of the Kâbusnâme consists
of recommendations about marital relations. One of these recommends
the following to his son, who has more than one wife as well as
female slaves: In summer, incline to avret and in winter, to oğlan
so that you may find health. For oğlans bodies are hot, and if two
hot bodies come together in summer, it is detrimental to the body.
And avrets bodies are cold; if two cold bodies come together, it
dries the body. Vesselam.
That is to say, if you have more than one woman, be together with
the older ones in the summer and with the young ones in the winter,
so you will find health and well-being. For the bodies of young
women are warm, and if two warm bodies come together in the heat of
summer it is harmful. And the bodies of older women are cool, and if
two cool bodies come together in winter, it dries the bodies.
To distort this as meaning that he is advising his sons to have
relations with men points only to lack of scholarship and knowledge
As for Fatma Sultan, she was writing that her husband favoured the
young female slaves rather than herself. My Illustrious Sultan
Father, I have no peace of mind. My lot is a person who counts me
not even as a dog. He forcibly seizes the young girls from their
parents, and immediately expends all his energy on them. How can
her complaining thus to her father the Sultan be explained as her
husband having relations with other males?
The writers who make these claims also know that it was actually
forbidden for sons-in-law of the Sultan to take wives other than the
Sultans daughter while married to them, let alone having deviant
relations with men. This subject is discussed at greater length in
the section on the Sultans marriages. But those who have not
grasped the meaning of the above letter have tried to explain it as
they understand it.
(2) The Court Pages are a Subject about which has been Much
It now becomes necessary to reply briefly to the above assertions in
respect of the court pagess (içoğlan) position in the organization
of the Ottoman state.
Firstly, it is necessary to define the term içoğlan. The palace
servants who were carefully chosen to work in the Inner Palace were
called içoğlan. In Ottoman history, it describes the devşirmes (conscripts)
who were trained in the palaces of Topkapı, Galata, İbrahim Pasha,
and Edirne and in the course of time were employed in various
official duties. They were also called saray acemi oğlanları or
celeb. There were also Janissary recruits who even if they were
originally called içoğlan, were later called şadi in order to
differentiate them from those in the Palace.
Thus, içoğlan is merely a term. Oğlan does not necessarily mean a
young boy chosen with evil intent. It denotes the recruits selected
to work in the Inner Palace. The İç that is, Inner, refers to
their place of work. These recruits were also trained in the Palace
School (Enderun Mektebi), which at the same time fulfilled the
function of training state officials. Numerous high-ranking
officials were produced there, among whom were pashas, beylerbeys,
Secondly, the fact that some of the court pages who were trained to
work in the Inner Palace were good looking was not in order to
gratify the Sultans lusts, as some foreign travellers and
historians inimical to Islam have suggested. It was rather a
question of the careful choice of the staff who would work in the
Inner Palace, that is, in the centre of government of the Ottoman
Empire, which stretched at the time of its greatest extent over an
area measuring twenty-four million square kilometres. Those who
write these things know perfectly well that today even the staff
chosen to work in a prime ministers office or presidents palace
possess attributes different to those of employees in ordinary
government offices. Certainly, those employed in the Inner Palace
had to be discreet, of presentable appearance, honest, and not
inclined to treachery. In the Ottoman period there were various
sciences like physiognomy to ascertain the characters of the
candidates for the court pageship, just as today there are
criminology and similar sciences. They could ascertain accurately a
persons moral character according to his physical characteristics.
The court pages were chosen by people who were experts in this field.
Another reason they were called gilmân or içoğlan was that no female
staff were employed in this position, like today. This is discussed
in greater detail in the relevant section.
Thirdly, it may have been the case that since the court pages in the
Inner Palace were handsome youths, any striking ones among them were
commanded to veil their faces, not for the Sultan, but to forestall
any illicit situations arising among themselves. This was not
because the Sultan was jealous, but was the application of a ruling
of the Sharia concerning this matter. For there is a ruling in
Islamic law which says: A young teacher or tutor should not remain
too long alone with young boys, for mans instinctual soul prompts
him to evil. Such youths may veil their faces and are called şâbb-i
emred (beardless youths). Some of the Ottoman Sultans conformed
to this injunction with its extreme courtesy, ordering some of the
court pages to veil their faces. So is there any way this scrupulous
adherence to a Quranic command can be correlated with those totally
discourteous distortions, which conform only to the calumnies of
Christian historians like Hammer?
Fourthly, I want to draw attention to another matter. As is
described a little later, the court pages performed various duties,
some of which were the duties of the Privy Chamber (Has Oda). This
was not somewhere the Sultan could have indulged in any illicit
relations with the court pages. On learning what the Privy Chamber
consists of, it is not possible not to tremble at such a suggestion.
Originally, the Privy Chamber complex had been the most esteemed
place in the Inner Palace, and had been built by Mehmed the
Conqueror. Thirty of his pages lived here. The complex, which was
not in the Harem but in the Inner Palace, was subsequently enlarged
by other Sultans. The Mantle of the Prophet PBUH (Hırka-i Şerif) and
other sacred relics were later housed there. The duties of the Privy
Chamber pages were cleaning the rooms where the Mantle and other
relics were kept, sprinkling them with rose-water and sweet scents
on special occasions, reciting the Quran, and attending to the
needs of the Sultan; that is, they were the Sultans personal
servants inside the Palace.
So what possible relation is there between this and the calumnies
mentioned above. To suggest that the servants employed in such
elevated duties were the Sultans sexual partners is a slander not
even the Devil could accept!
III. Some Distorted Facts about the Ottoman Sultans
With effect from the Tanzimat, both because they feared to proclaim
it openly and because they feared our people, Islams enemies within
Turkey and outside it embarked on attempts to manifest their enmity
through enmity towards the Ottomans. These efforts were centred on
preventing our people learning their true history and as far as
possible inculcating them with distorted history. The main means of
increasing hatred of the Ottomans was the Ottoman Sultans private
livesin the words particular to Ottoman history, the life of the
Harem. It is very striking that the great majority of those who
tried to show the life of the Harem to be one of dissipation and
unlawful pleasure were Jews, Armenians or Dönmes, who all played an
important role in the breaking up of the Ottoman Empire.
Unfortunately the books they wrote are printed in fine editions, and
continue to be translated into various languages and to adorn the
windows of booksellers both in our own country and abroad. And some
well-intentioned academics and the people who read these
publications merely add fuel to the fire.
It should be stressed that the Ottoman Sultans were Muslims and at
least as much as the Muslims of this century, respectfully and
scrupulously obeyed Almighty Gods commands and prohibitions. It is
said there were many saints among them, but of course they were not
free of fault. Some of them committed misdemeanours, and this is a
bitter fact. Nevertheless, up to the beginning of the 19th century,
female slavery was an institution included in almost all legal
systems just as it was in Islamic lawthough bound by particular
conditions; yet no one reasonable can claim that any Ottoman Sultan
openly committed depravities like adultery or drunken orgies. There
may have been Sultans who abused the institution of female slavery,
but it cannot be said that any Sultan openly infringed the Sharia
rulings by holding illicit orgies and other debaucheries. This
question is studied in greater detail in other sections of the book,
so here we cut the discussion short. However, I want to show
together with documentary evidence how the facts in one source
describing the Ottoman Sultans private lives has been distorted and
what the original was.
1. The Distortion of İdris-i Bitlisis Writings
İdris-i Bitlisi was an important Islamic scholar and Ottoman
historian, and was a close advisor of Yavuz Sultan Selim
(918/1512-926/1520). Benefiting from a work called Siyâset-i Şeriye
by some Islamic jurisprudents, he composed a work entitled the
Kânun-ı Şehinşâhi, which studies the political, moral, and family
lives of the Caliphs and Sultans. According to one view, he
dedicated the work to the august Sultan Yavuz, while according to
another, on Yavuzs early death, he dedicated it to Sultan Süleyman
the Magnificent. What interests us here are the mistranslation and
corruptions of passages connected with the Ottoman Sultans private
A scholar of Iranian extraction translates the heading of the
relevant passage: Fourth Rule: the organization of social
gatherings and of banquets for wine drinking, enjoyment and good
company. Another academic summarizes this passage as Here,
permission to indulge in pleasure (wine, women, and song) is given
to the Sultan, on condition it does not exceed the bounds.
Anyone seeing these quotes would suppose that the Ottoman Sultans
held drinking parties with women and that these were lawful.
However, the true meaning is this: This is about the organizing of
social gatherings for conversation and enjoyment, excursions, and
assemblies for polite company. As is known, işret means social
enjoyment and a pleasurable life; this may be within the bounds of
the licit, or it may exceed those bounds. It is quite wrong to
translate this as meaning a drinking party. For the piece then
dwells on the fact, supported by Quranic verses and Hadiths, that
what is lawful is sufficient and the Sultans should content
themselves with taking pleasure within the bounds of the licit. So
how can gatherings for conversation and enjoyment be thought of as
being Pleasure-seeking with wine, women, and song, so long as they
are not excessive.
It will be useful here to quote İdris-i Bitlisis explanations of
the subject in order to understand better the difference between the
two and the rules the Ottoman Sultans had to conform to in their
marital relations. In this way we may learn from the pen of a
qualified religious scholar the basic principles of this matter.
2. İdris-i Bitlisis Advice Concerning the Sultans Private Lives
In the Fiftieth Matter of the treatise, entitled Kânun-ı Şehinşâhi,
which in all probability he dedicated to Yavuz Sultan Selim, he
summarizes as follows the rules for the Sultans private lives:
50th. Fourth Principle: This is about the organization of social
gatherings for conversation and enjoyment, and excursions and
assemblies for polite company. All the reasonable agree that it is
essential that just Sultans hold social gatherings for conversation
and enjoyment, both public and private. The holding of private
family gatherings are necessary so that the Sultan may air his
private views and relieve his mind, that is, express what he has
within him. The ordering of physical life in a seemly and lawful way,
and the administration of the household in orderly fashion are among
the laws and rules pertaining to the Sultan.
It is incumbent on everyone to do whatever is necessary in the most
suitable fashion for the continued existence of themselves and their
children. This is especially true for the person who is the means of
the order and smooth running of society; that is, the Sultan.
God Almighty says in connection with His setting up the palace
called man and the continuation of the human race: And [have We
not] created you in pairs, * And made your sleep for rest, * And
made the night as a covering? And alluding to this, the Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH) said: Doubtless, your self has rights over you.
Yes, if the body is not strengthened with food and drink, and the
soul is not restrained through licit marital relations, everything
comes to a standstill. The character is weakened, and as Adam (Upon
whom be peace) said: If the soul is over-forced, it becomes blind.
It is for this reason that Gods Messenger (PBUH) said: I love
three things in your world: fragrant smells, women, and my most
loved thing, the five daily prayers.
On occasion he prevented the people of Islam from continually
fasting, to preserve their strength. He said: A years fasting is
not fasting. And sometimes he called on people who practised
asceticism for the sake of their souls to be moderate, saying that
there are no monks and priests in Islam. For the Religion of
Muhammad is the religion of justice and moderation. Excess and
negligence are forbidden for Muslims.
The Sultans have been commanded to abstain from those things
forbidden by the Sharia in order to maintain their bodily health;
but in order to restrain their souls, they have to comply with those
things required by Divine wisdom. Excessive comfort and laxity is
not to be recommended in councils of state and social gatherings,
especially for Sultans. There has to be moderation in everything.
Other bounties and pleasures may be compared to this. It was the
practice of the Prophet (PBUH) to live an informal life and avoid
formalities and customs. A verse was revealed so that the Prophet
should not include the ordinary people in his private assemblies:
Enter not the Prophets houses until leave is given you. Today
the important matters concerning the people at large are bound to
particular customary procedures, and are in accordance with the laws
of tyrannical rulers like Caesar and Chosroes. Certainly at a time
such as this the Sultans have to have private councils and meetings
at which they may discuss private matters and state secrets.
It should be understood that in their private gatherings the
Sultans have to strictly avoid anything prohibited by the Sharia
and restrain themselves from doing anything forbidden. In the event
of the evil-commanding soul taking over the reins of the will from
the reason and the powers of animal passion and anger gaining the
upper hand, the very least a person should do is conceal opposition
to the prohibitions of the Sharia. Concealing opposition to the
Divine commands and prohibitions shows fear of God. While to commit
sins openly tells of obduracy and perversity, which in the Sultans
would be the cause of their subjects and army being insolently
disrespectful towards the Divine commands.
A further important point is the necessity of the Sultans
abstaining from intoxicating liquor and illicit amusements. For law
and order are dependent on their minds. Anyone who wants to be able
to distinguish between good and evil needs a clear mind. The Sultans
have to comprehend all their lands with their minds; they are bound
to do this. The least harmful of prohibited intoxicating beverages
is wine, if they are bold enough to indulge in this. Others are more
harmful even than drugs. Anyone with any sense knows that they are
detrimental to the faculties of reason and perception.
If the Sultans consume excessive wine in unlawful fashion, it will
open up the way to the destruction of their lands and empires; it
will leave religion and the people open to revolution. This is not
only agreed upon by religious scholars and good sense, but has been
proved by numerous crises and experiences. The non-Muslim rulers who
consistently drank caused the ruin of their own religions and lands.
Those who spend their lives indulging in illicit pleasures waste
their time. Also, there is no end to gambling. All these pleasures
are fleeting and life too goes for nothing. God Almighty says:
Intoxicants and gambling, [dedication of] stones, and [divination
by] arrows, are an abominationof Satans handiwork; eschew such [abomination],
that you may prosper. 
When it comes to relaxing by listening to the saz and similar
stringed instruments and to beautiful voices, this is in keeping
with the laws of Greek philosophy. The scholars of the Sharia also
have permitted certain sounds. The chief of these is the recitation
of the Quran with a fine voice. The Quran states: And recite the
Quran in slow, measured rhythmic tones. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
corroborated this with the Hadith: Anyone who does not recite the
Quran well is not one of us. It is also lawful to recite odes and
poetry. The Prophet permitted this too. Most of the authorities of
the Shafii School permitted certain instruments like the tambourine
and the flute. Some Shafii scholars stated that the u\d (lute) and
kânun (zither) were permissible (mubâh). This is stated in the books
of fetvâs. Some of the saints and the pious considered the semâ and
similar religious activities to be permissible. I personally have
written an article showing, with evidence, that certain musical
instruments like the lute and flute are permissible.
As for the Sultans marital relations and their restraining the
desires of the soul suitably to the verse Marry from among women
such as are lawful for you, two, or three, or four, this is
acceptable, lawful, and in conformity with nature. If this is
insufficient for them and they wish for young girls, the licit way
of this is female slaves. Examples of this lawful way are Solomon (Upon
whom be peace), who had numerous wives and female slaves, and David
(Upon whom be peace), who had nine wives and numerous female slaves.
Doubtless, the Sultans and Caliphs sitting and conversing with
their wives and daughters, and their retiring into privacy with
their lawful wives and slaves is necessary in order to curb the
appetites of the soul and satanic desires. But it would not be
appropriate for the Sultans to spend all their time with them and to
discuss with them the matters of state and religion and to consult
them on these. It would be to misuse their time to spend too much of
it with their lawful wives and slaves.
In regard to their satisfying the souls appetite for food, drink,
and pleasure, for sure all licit foods and drinks are permissible
within the bounds of moderation. All kinds of bounties may be
experienced, only wastefulness is forbidden, even if the bounties
are permissible. The reasonable condemn consuming food and drink in
excess of need. Divine wisdom requires that a person consumes less
food so that they may rise to lofty matters; it is therefore said:
Hunger is Divine food. The purpose of food is the continued
existence of the body. Excessive consumption of food and drink is
harmful for the body, opening up the way to all sorts of
indispositions. That is, it is harmful in regard to both worldly
life and religion.
In short, the Sultans hearts should be places for the remembrance
of God, where infinite effulgences are received. For this reason,
they should spend any free time on elevated matters like worship,
reading the Quran, mentioning Gods Names, prayer, and good works.
Their companions in private conversation should be saints and
scholars so that their souls may be purified, and they may benefit
from true knowledge and learn the conduct of the Sharia. Then they
may run the state and religion beneficially, and not waste their
time on frivolities.
It will be useful at this point to quote for those interested in
taking a look at the daily life of the Ottoman Sultans the following
pieces of advice from the Siyâsetnâme, which will also answer those
who say that they left aside the matters of state and immersed
themselves in pleasure:
The greater part of their daily lives is specified. Out of twenty-four
hours, it is appropriate that they spend three hours on worship and
recitation [of the Quran]; two hours reading books of history and
similar matters; four hours discussing matters of state with
ministers and other officials of sound reason and moderate
temperament; and six hours on hunting and other excursions that
will gladden the royal heart; and nine hours on leisure and sleep;
that is, with their wives and families.
3. Misrepresentations of the Sultans Private Lives, Made in the
Early Years of the Republic
The things we read in the history books at all stages of school and
even university and particularly what the history teacher taught us
untiringly in Gaziantep İmam Hatip High School (1974-5) as though
they were the principles of some holy religion, that everything to
do with the Republic was good and everything to do with the Ottoman
period was bad, always stuck in my mind in the form of doubts and
questions. They said the Ottoman Sultans handed over the country to
foreign powers while they themselves lived lives of pleasure. It was
especially and bitterly stressed that Sultan Vahideddin
(1336/1918-1341/1922) was a traitor. That Abdülhamid II
(1293/1876-1327/1909) had committed untold atrocities and acted
contrary to the Sharia was related enthusiastically as though
recounting some great victory. But the following questions started
bothering me: how was it that the Ottoman Sultans who for centuries
won victory after victory against the Byzantine and European states
and gained these sacred lands with the blood of martyrs leaving them
to us in trust, could suddenly sell this country, for which they had
sacrificed their lives for six hundred years and died defending it
on the battlefield? How could these people who had been exemplars of
virtue before the world suddenly come to lead a network of treachery?
Our reasons, hearts and minds shouted out that they could not be
traitors. But we were compelled to write what the teacher said in
order to obtain full marks.
The time came when I reached a level of cultural development whereat
I could consult the archives. I took a look at some of the
newspapers and magazines in the National Library, published in
Ankara and in the first years of the Republic. I saw that just like
our history teacher, these newspapers were full of news against the
Sultan in Istanbul and all the Ottomans. There was another source
that did what these newspapers were doing, supporting our history
teacher and the Ankara newspapers, and even outdoing them in their
insults against the Ottomans, and these were the European newspapers,
published in 1919 and 1920. The combined goal of all of these was to
inform public opinion of every sort of corruption the Ottomans had
perpetrated, and to impress upon the public mind that the Ottoman
Sultans were traitors and immoral.
See how the matter is distorted in a book called Abdülhamid ve Devr-i
Saltanatı, Hayât-ı Hususiyye ve Siyâsiyyesi (Abdülhamid and the
Period of His Rule, His Private and Political Life), which was
written on the orders of the Committee of Union and Progress, the
precursor of the Republican Peoples Party before the foundation of
the Republic. The books author was an officer sympathetic towards
the CUP called Osman Nuri. Let us read what he writes about
Abdülhamid II not performing the five daily prayers and what he was
doing even during the ceremony of the Friday Prayers, while the
people were praying:
While the Friday Prayers were going on, two guards waited at the
door of the sovereigns section of the mosque. On entering, the
Sultan would sit at the table (what was a table doing in a mosque?),
light a cigarette, and read the reports of his secret agents and
informers. When everyone thought he was praying, he was busy with
his own work, probably frightened of prostrating despite his
These are lies that would shame even Satan. Even the Devil could not
imagine that someone like Abdülhamid II, whom certain persons like
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi considered to be a sort of saint, would do
such a thing, and during the Friday Prayers.
Although this abusive writer utters such calumnies about Abdülhamid,
he uses the following expressions about the Armenians, who were
trying to cause the breakup of the Ottoman Empire by planning to
kill Abdülhamid II, whom they considered to be an obstacle to their
designs, and hatching the assassination plot towards the last days
of his rule called the 9th July Bombing:
Finally, truth prevailed. It was understood that this heroic act
was carried out by our Armenian compatriots in order to save the
Ottoman people from Abdülhamids tyranny. The bomb had been prepared
with untold difficulties by our Armenian compatriots, Juris and his
comrades, and was brought to close by the mosque together with the
visitors carriages, who had come to watch Abdülhamid during the
ceremony of the Friday address....
One cannot imagine that even the Armenians, who were Ottoman
subjects, would have written such a thing. It is unthinkable that a
person should display so much enmity towards history and the past
due to political ambition.
A fair-minded journalist has summarized the common view of the
Haremthat is to say, the Sultans private livesover the past
seventy years, as follows, even if it is a little discourteous:
The Ottoman Palace was a forbidden city, in the most distant corner
of which was an army of beautiful virgins. Every night a mighty
Sultan whose shadow enveloped all Gods earth would summon to his
bed one of those ravishing beauties, or several...
Thus was the famous Ottoman Harem, which has never ceased to be
described in a wide variety of works from memoirs of Western origin
to serious historical studies, and from low-budget television series
to vast film productions studded with superstars. One fact emerges
despite the inadequacy of all the studies, the Harem was not an
institution established to gratify the Sultans unbridled sexual
appetites, as is supposed; there was no connection between the
setting up of the Harem and sexual desires.
IV. General Distortions about Male and Female Slavery
As will be realized from the relevant section, those who in reality
should be criticized in connection with male and female slavery are
those Europeans who never tire of spouting about the religion of
Islam and the Ottoman practices, and certain sycophants of Europe
here. But the question has been completely reversed. They bring up
the subject as though throughout history all European rulers and
statesmen have been chaste and honourable and there was not even a
whiff of slavery in Europe, let alone in America. It is exactly the
opposite. Slavery continued to be practised in America until the
1960s. And from the point of view of Blacks and Red Indians, so it
We may quote here a bitter memory related to this subject from Ahmed
Şefik Bey, who rose to the rank of Foreign Affairs Minister of the
Egyptian Khediviate, which gained partial independence in the final
years of the Ottoman Empire, and at the same time was a graduate of
the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Paris. He wrote:
By chance, in 1888 I was in the Church of Saint Supplice in Paris
and heard an address given by Cardinal la Vie. The cardinal was
describing to a large congregation the evils of the Central African
slave-trade. He then spoke of the evils of slavery in the Islamic
countries. The cardinal did not stop at blaming the Muslims, he said
that the religion of Islam was the cause of slavery and captivity.
Although these lies were completely baseless, the cardinals speech
was published in some of the newspapers in Brussels and London. On
seeing this, my love of truth drove me to study the injunctions on
slavery in the books of law (fik≥h). With Allahs grace, I was able
to prove that the matter was not as the cardinal had said and the
Quran did not look on slaves as animals, on the contrary, there
were numerous Quranic verses and Hadiths commanding that they
should be treated kindly, and freed.
Up to now this was unknown by Europeans and also by foreigners
residing in the East, and even if any did know, they were few and
In the 16th August 1888 number of the Brussels newspaper Ande
Pandans Bilj, the cardinals speech was quoted together with the
The cardinal could not restrain himself from saying that Muslims
considered it a religious duty to hunt male and female slaves.
Indeed, it is a right and duty for Muslims to hunt them, for they do
not consider the black races to be part of humanity, but to form a
class half-way between men and the animals. They even consider some
of them to be lower than the animals.
These lines make ones hair stand on end, even to read them. What is
the connection between them and the Hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH) we
mention below, and especially with the muezzin Bilal? The above
statements rather reflect the European standpoint, ever since the
time of Aristotle. But they believed these lies, and they made us
2. WESTERN WRITERS DISTORTIONS AND
MISREPRESENTATIONS OF THE HAREM
Regrettably, most of the articles and books written about the Harem
in Turkey after the foundation of the Republic, which mostly take
the form of fictional novels, have as their source the works on
Ottoman history by Western travellers, officials, and researchers,
which are mostly products of their imaginations. Western writers
have so distorted the question and so confused it with the private
lives of their own kings that the works they wrote outdo even the
most outrageous erotic novels published today.
It is necessary to examine what European writers wrote about the
Harem on two points:
I. Western Books about the Harem
The books Western writers have written about the Harem resemble
erotic novels and are full of scenes that are entirely fictitious.
Unfortunately, the first to write about the obtaining of female
slave-concubines for the Harem were Western writers. The first of
these, in the 17th century, was Thomas Dallan (1599), who described
the Harem women of Mehmed III. He was followed by the Venetian
Ambassador Ottaviano Bon (1606-9), Robert Withers (1650), Rico, Lady
Montagu (1717-18), and the French manufacturer Flachat (1745-55).
All subsequent Western writers unfortunately repeated the Venetian
envoy Bons extravagant descriptions of odalisks being presented to
the Sultans. I am ashamed to quote their lies, and none of extant
documents and memoirs confirms what they say.
To learn the truth of the matter and how Western writers have
distorted the matter one should read what Mualla Anhegger, the wife
of the French historian Robert Anhegger, wrote at the time of their
working together on the restoration of the Harem in the 1960s. She
I realized that the Harem had no connection whatsoever with what
Europeans had written about it for hundreds of years. The Harem was
not an institution that had been founded so that the Sultan could
sleep with whatever women he wished. It had not even been designed
architecturally for this. It was not possible for the Sultan to see
the female slaves and take those of his choice. The doors, rooms,
and passages were not planned according to this. The female slaves
slept in dormitories of twenty-five, under the strict supervision of
the kalfas on the upper floor The Sultans mother in her own
apartment, the Sultans wives in their apartments, and the Sultan in
his. The Sultans mother could choose his wives and present them to
him. If the Sultan had wanted to go to the slaves quarters, he
would have had to become a bird and flown there!
The Harem was conceived of as a university, with the female slaves
as students. Anyway, it was written over their door: O God! Open to
us all doors of good! And in accordance with this, most of them
were married off with the Sultan giving them their trousseaux. For
the cariyes were not slaves, let alone sex-slaves. In my opinion,
the best way of putting it is that the cariyes were the Sultans
adopted children. And truly, it is understood that like adopted
children, they were well-treated and well-educated. While planning
the lay-out of the Harem, the aim must have been that no one had
even a moment of spare time. Dancing, music, sewing, education... it
was as though the Harem was a military organization. I was
frequently aware of this military organization while restoring the
Harem. Finally, I so lost myself in it that when for unacceptable
reasons my wage was cut by the government I still continued to work
from dawn till dusk. To put it briefly, I did not gain anything
materially from restoring the Harem, but I succeeded in
understanding an institution that had remained obscure, even if only
by groping in the dark.
The women in the Harem were extremely well-trained and educated,
intelligent and capable. Those that were not only beautiful but also
clever wanted to rise through the government ranks. I dont see
anything extraordinary or wrong in this. Like self-confident men,
the women of the Harem played their hands to the last. Contrary to
what is thought, there is no need to be beautiful in order to rise
in the world. Those that took best advantage of their education, who
wrote well and spoke well, started this race with an advantage. It
is for this reason that in some periods the Harem laid its hands on
political power, which was quite natural. Certainly some pitiless
and ambitious Sultans emerged from the Harem. But I see the women of
the Harem to be people who tried to create chances for themselves,
and just like men, sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, and
when conditions demanded could be as pitiless as men.
It would have been possible to make the above passage the summary of
this book. Truly, The works foreigners have written are mostly the
products of imagination. They are nothing other than the written and
pictorial representation of hearsay. None of these works has
delivered the Harem from its being a dark and mysterious world of
the imagination. There are various reasons for this, the chief of
which may be explained by our Muslim women avoiding men, being
veiled out of doors, and not taking part in mixed company. There are
numerous pictures, statues, and writings about the lives, dress, and
appearance of the wives and daughters of European rulers, yet with
the exception of a few ambassadresses meetings in palaces and
pictures of them, there are no such sources for our women here.
II. Pictures of Naked Women Asserted to be of the Harem
Pictures of naked women published in books and magazines as
illustrations of the Harem also have absolutely no basis in truth;
they too are the product of Western writers imaginations. For some
Western writers employed artists to depict the life of the Harem as
they imagined it, and published these pictures with complete
disregard for whether they were lawful or unlawful. Especially
pictures of the Sultan bathing in milk surrounded by a bevy of naked
câriyes, they are entirely the product of fancy. The clearest
such picture extant in Ottoman sources is that included in the
Hubâbnâme depicting the scene at a birth. In any event, so long as
it remained in the private circle, it was not unlawful.
At this point we should listen to what an expert has to say on the
question of these pictures of the Harem:
The fact that most of the travellers who visited Turkey did not
know Turkish, and spent all their time with the minorities since
they were Christian, and did not in any way verify the information
they gave them, which most of the time was inaccurate, led them to
make gross errors. You can estimate to what degree the judgements
passed on us by the foreign travellers and artists would be correct,
and the pictures they drew and books they wrote, for they could not
converse with Turkish men, let alone Turkish women. You think and
Does this not force us to consider whether or not the various
portraits of Hurrem Sultan and her daughter Mihrimah Sultan, and
Gülnuş Sultan in the picture gallery in Topkapı Palace are authentic?
All the unlawful pictures in books about the Harem of the Republican
period, or which form their covers, are the fruits of Western
artists imaginations. For example, the picture of a naked woman on
the cover of Meral Altındals book Osmanlıda Harem (The Ottoman
Harem) is by Karl Bruillov, while that on the cover of her book
Osmanlıda Kadın (Women in the Ottoman Empire) is by Camille Rogier.
The Western writers who cast aspersions on the Ottoman Sultans with
these fanciful pictures know perfectly well how their own kings and
emperors acted unlawfully and they make analogies between them and
the Sultans. For instance, what I saw on visiting the Imperial
Palace in Vienna truly astonished me. For the emperors who inhabited
it had erected on the parapet of the palace roofs the statues of
their various women. That is to say, the proof of the shameful lives
the emperors lived in the palace is not fanciful pictures like those
of the Harem, but the concrete statues of the women on the palace
roof, which are still to be seen there. I want to include a picture
of these as evidence, so long as it is not contrary to good manners.
§ 3. THE TWO SORTS OF INJUNCTIONS IN ISLAMIC LAW
A further point which is the cause of confusion is that Islam is
attacked as though there was no slavery, male or female, before
Islam, and Islam introduced it. However, there are two sorts of
injunctions in Islamic law:
The First are injunctions which, not existing in previous legal
systems, Islam laid down as principles for the first time; that is,
Islam established them, like zekât and the shares of inheritance.
Islamic scholars state that these are one hundred percent for the
benefit of mankind. They also contain many instances of wisdom and
purposes, even if people are not aware of them.
The Second are injunctions which Islam did not introduce; they were
already existent and Islam modified them. That is, Islam did not lay
these down for the first time, rather, they were part of the law
systems of other societies and were applied in savage form. Since it
would have been contrary to human nature to suddenly completely
abolish injunctions of this kind, it modified them, changing them
from a barbaric into a civilized form.
Polygamy is one of the injunctions Islam modified. Islam did not
introduce this when it was non-existent. Polygamy was practised
before Islam, and in a barbaric form. Islam put this into civilized
form. That is, Islamic law did not raise the number of possible
wives from one to four, but reduced the number to four from eight or
nine. It introduced particular conditions which if not met, demanded
certain penalties. The verse Then marry from among women such as
are lawful to you two, or three, or four; but if you have reason
to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness,
then (only) one  states this.
After the revelation of this verse those of the Companions of the
Prophet (PBUH) who had more than four wives were ordered to choose
four and divorce the rest. For example, Gaylan b. Umayya chose four
out of his ten wives and divorced the remainder. And Harith b. Qays,
who had eight wives, did the same thing.
The same is true for slavery. Islam did not introduce slavery when
it was non-existent in other societies; it rather accepted it and
I have tried to summarize here what Bediuzzaman wrote, and because
of its importance, below is quoted a piece in question and answer
form which he wrote on the subject:
Some foreigners raise questions like polygamy, captives, and slaves,
and cause doubts about Islam in respect of civilization?
The injunctions of Islam are of two sorts.
One, the Sharia established [for the first time], and this sort is
pure, true good.
The second, the Sharia modified. That is, it took this sort from
being in an extremely savage and cruel form and made it into a form
that was the lesser of two evils, amended, and in conformity with
human nature and with time and place, so that [in time] it might
take on a form that was pure good. For suddenly to abolish something
that completely dominates mans nature means completely changing his
nature. Thus, the Sharia did not establish captivity slavery, it
rather modified it from being in a most savage form to a form which
might lead to freedom.
Truly, when Islam appeared, nearly half the people in the Arabian
Peninsula were slaves. Nearly half the people of every household
were slaves. If Islam had suddenly abolished slavery, it would have
caused grave difficulties both for the slave owners and for the
slaves themselves. It would have been as difficult for the masters
to suddenly give up keeping slaves, which they had done for
centuries, as it would have been difficult to change their very
natures. It might well have given rise to objections to Islam, as
well as to cruelty. And since most of the slaves had no families or
family life, they would have been like abandoned orphans. It would
have meant social and economic disaster.
As will be seen in Part Three, in Ahmed Cevdet Pashas words: To
own slaves in Islam is to be a slave.
What should be realized here is that Islam did not introduce slavery.
So how was slavery practised in other societies and religions? How
did other religions and peoples act towards slaves? Since
Everything is known through it opposites, it is essential to know
this in order to understand male and female slavery in Islamic law
and the Harem in Ottoman society.
Here, I want to mention a Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) which
expounds the Quranic verse about the agreement for ransoming slaveswhich
is discussed later and comprises and very important truth:
The Prophets (PBUH) reply to the question of why Islamic law did
not abolish slavery at one go since its aim was to abolish this and
similar institutions in the course of time, has much importance from
the socio-economic point of view. In the verse, the condition for
the ransoming of slaves is If you know it will be good for them.
The Prophet explained this as meaning Make the agreement if they
have a craft or skill and can secure their own livelihoods. Do not
otherwise set them free on the people like wild dogs.
That is to say, to free slaves whether by agreement on a set price
or by other means is not always beneficial. Think of a society fifty
percent of which are slaves. Imagine if they had all been set free
and were wandering empty-handed in the streets. The life of society
would come to a standstill. If people who for years and perhaps
whose forefathers for centuries had worked for others and never
experienced an independent life are suddenly left to their own
devices, it would mean only that they are being driven to social and
economic disaster. One of the most important instances of wisdom in
the gradual abolition of slavery is this.
Let us therefore take a brief look at the position of slaves in
other societies, for everything is known through its opposites is
a universal rule. Because some works about male and female slavery
in Ottoman history give the idea that no such thing existed in
Europe or in other societies.
 Yusuf Has Hacib, Kutadgu Bilig (trans. Reþid Rahmeti Arat),
 Quran, 5:90; Molla Hüsrev, Dürer ve Gurer, ii, 69-70.
 BOA, YEE, 14-1540, pp.53-4.
 Cin and Akgündüz, Türk Hukuk Tarihi, Konya 1989, i, 267-8.
 Original of Ferman, Bursa Şeriyye Sicilleri, A 33/21, Vrk.
 Uzunçarşılı, Kapıkulu Ocakları, i-ii.
* For the devþirme system, readers may refer to Part Four of the
present work. [Tr.]
 For example, see, Altındal, Meral, Osmanlıda Harem, İstanbul
 Altındal, Osmanlıda Harem, 163; see also, 37-40.
 Altındal, Osmanlıda Harem, 37-40, 163-4.
 See, Uluçay, Osmanlı Saraylarında Harem Hayatının İç Yüzü,
Istanbul 1959, 76-8; Altındal, Osmanlıda Harem, 37-40. See also,
 Quran, 7:80-1.
 The complete text of the Hadith as translated into Turkish in
the stated century is according to the narration of the Companion
Maqil b. Yasar, and contains many words proving what we say: A
person came to the Messenger (Blessings and peace be upon him) and
said: Rasulallah! I have found a woman (avret) who is both pretty
and sweet-tempered, but who cannot have children (oğlan). Should I
marry her? What do you say? Gods Messenger said: Do not take the
woman. Some time later the same person came and again asked:
Should I marry the girl, O Messenger of God? He again did not give
permission. The person later came a third time and asked: Should I
marry the girl? This time Gods Messenger said:
Marry those women (avret) who will not leave their husbands; the
girl (oğlan) should be fertile, so that tomorrow on the Day of
Resurrection I may take pride in the large numbers of my Community.
Mustafa Darır bin Yusuf, Yüz Hadis Tercümesi, Millet Kütüphânesi,
Ali Emiri, Şerîyye Bölümü, No: 1287/1, Vrk. 24/B-25/A; Tarama
Sözlüğü, Türk Dil Kurumu, v, 2923-6.
 Eşref bin Mehmed, Hazainüs-Saadat, Topkapı Sarayı
Kütüphanesi, iii. Ahmed, No: 557, Vrk. 10/B; Tarama Sözlüğü, Türk
Dil Kurumu, v, 2923-6.
 Agha Sayyid Muhammad Ali, Farhang-i Nizam, iii, Haydarabad
 Emir Keykaus, Kabusnâme (Trans. Mercimek Ahmed at the command
of Murad II, prep. for publ. Orham Şaik Gökyay), Ankara 1974, 112-3.
 See, Uluçay, M. Çağatay, Padişahların Kadınları ve Kızları, 31.
Unfortunately, although Uluçay studied the Harem in depth, he made
the same error and described Fatma Sultans husband, Mustafa Pasha,
as a sexual pervert. Whereas in fact they separated because Mustafa
Pasha spent his time with young slave girls and neglected her.
Uluçay, Osmanlı Saraylarında Harem Hayatının İç Yüzü, 49 ff. See
also, Altındal, Osmanlıda Harem, 37-40, 163-4.
 See, Uluçay, Osmanlı Saraylarında Harem Hayatının İç Yüzü, 49
 Sertoğlu, Osmanlı Tarih Lügati, İstanbul 1986, 159;
Uzunçarşılı, Saray Teşkilatı, 297 ff.
 See, Ibn al-Abidin, Radd al-Mukhtar, Cairo 1967-8, Karahiyya
wa İstihsan, vi, 382.
 Abdurrahman Şeref, Topkapı Saray-ı Hümâyunu, Tarih-i Osmani
Encümeni Mec-muası, fasc. 7, 393 ff.; Sertoğlu, Osmanlı Tarih
Lügati, 142-3; Uzunçarşılı, Saray Teşkilatı, Ankara, TTK, 1984,
22. Tavakkolî, Hasan, İdris-i Bitlisînin Kanun-ı
Şehinþâhîsinin Tenkidli Neþri ve Türkçeye Tercümesi, İstanbul Üniv.
EF-DT. No: X37, 105.
23. Uğur, Ahmet, Osmanlı Siyâsetnâmeleri, İstanbul n.d., 101.
24. Akgündüz, Ahmed, Osmanlı Kanunnâmeleri, İstanbul 1990-4,
25. It is unfortunate that Hasan Tavakkolî and some other
academics who have followed him have translated Meclis-i İşret as
a drinking party, and have completely falsified the meaning of
 Quran, 78:8-10.
 Quran, 33:53.
 Quran, 5:90.
 Quran, 73:4.
 Quran, 4:3.
 Akgündüz, Osmanlı Kanunnâmeleri, iii, 77.
 Akgündüz, Osmanlı Kanunnâmeleri, viii, Hırzül-Mülûk, 36-7.
 Osman Nuri, Abdülhamid ve Devr-i Saltanatı, Hayat-ı Hususiyye
ve Siyasiyyesi, İstanbul 1327, ii, 493.
 Ibid., iii, 1135.
 Nokta Dergisi, 2 Nisan 1989, cover story, 49-50.
 Ahmed Şefik Beğ, Er-Rıkku fil-İslâm, İstanbul 1314, 4-6.
 See, for example, Penzer, N.M., The Harem, 178-182; Lady
Montagu, Şark Mektupları (Turk. trans. Ahmed Refik), İstanbul 1933;
Withers, Robert, A Description of the Grand Signiors Seraglio,
London 1650, 42-3; Uluçay, Harem II, 26-9.
 Nokta Dergisi, 2 Nisan 1989, cover story, 52-3; Mualla Anhegger
is also the author of Topkapı Sarayında Padişah Evi, about the
Harem. Like her, I describe the Harem as the Sultans home
 Uluçay, Haremden Mektuplar, 10.
 Nokta Dergisi, 2 Nisan 1989, cover picture; Tempo, 10-16 Kasım
1994, No: 175. The subject matter of virtually all the pictures in
the latter is pure fantasy, taken from the books of Western writers.
 Uluçay, Harem II, picture 25.
 Uluçay, Haremden Mektuplar, 11. For a striking example, see,
Hans Dernschwam, İstanbul ve Anadoluya Seyâhat Günlüğü (Trans.
Yaþar Önen), Ankara 1992, 59, 82, 83, 88, 89, 93 ff., 184. This book
was published by the Turkish Ministry of Culture as part of its
World Literature Series; even in the parts that were not censored
and were published, the author attacks the Turks and Muslims,
offering explicit examples of the distortions mentioned.
 Altındal, Osmanlıda Kadın, İstanbul 1994, 2; Altındal,
Osmanlıda Harem, 2.
 Quran, 4:3.
 Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jami li Ahkam al-Quran, Beirut
 Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, Münâzarât, İstanbul 1977, 68-9.
 Miras, Kâmil, Tecrîd-i Sarih (Sahih-i Buhari Muhtasarı
Tercümesi) vii, 465-7.
 Qasani, al-Badai al-Sanai, iv, 134.