Turkish Genocides: A change in Muslim practices
The practices in the Islamic empire used to vary quite a bit from caliph to caliph. They would follow the Islamic law Sharia the example of the prophet Muhammad and the Sunna, which however contains many contradictory elements. According to the Quran it is permissible to conquer the land of the infidels and take booty. It is also permissible, even mandatory, that the subdued, in case they are not Muslims, must pay war tax to the Muslims, which would in turn finance further wars. The laws about spoils of war and war tax are clearly set out in the Quran:
Spoils of war: The entire Sura 8, entitled “Spoils of war”. Sura 33:27: “And he (Allah) gave you their (the infidels’) land, their houses and fortunes to inherit, and land that you have not yet set foot upon. Allah has power over all things.” Sura 8:1: “They ask you about the spoils of war. Say that the spoils of war belongs to Allah and the messenger. Fear thus Allah and let there be peace among you (when you distribute it) and obey Allah and his messenger when you are believers.” The exact rules for distributing the spoils are given in Sura 8, Sura 48:20, Sura 59:7 and Sura 6:11.
Tax of war: This revelation obligate non-Muslims to pay a special tax to the Muslims in those area where Islam has the power. Sura 9:29: “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and his Messenger (Muhammad) (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Something less clear is how exactly to treat the subdued people. This has been very variable in practice, due in part to the great variation the prophet himself applied to the tribes he subdued. Some tribes were merely requested to hand over their property to the prophet. Others were exiled after having delivered their land and their property. And in some cases all men were executed while women and children were distributed as loot or sold into slavery.
The Muhammad biography by Ibn Ishaq, written by request of caliph Mansour in Baghdad, shows in detail the practices applied by the prophet. Muhammad initially would use the rigorous approach of practically eliminating non-Muslim tribes. Later he realized that there was greater economical benefit in subduing the tribes and forcing them into the Islamic system, take ownership of the land and let the non-Muslims farm the land in return for paying war tax to the prophet. In the following we shall look closer at the practices of the prophet: (Ibn Ishaq: The Life of Muhammad p. 437-445: The deportation of the B. al-Nadir AH 4)
The prophet went out with his men and attacked Banu Nadir (a Jewish tribe, who previously had entered a treaty with him). He laid siege to them for six days. Then came the revelation of the wine ban. The Jews barricaded themselves in their fortified houses. But when the prophet commanded to cut down their palm trees and burn them, they shouted to him: “Oh, Muhammad! You have yourself forbidden this kind of destruction and reprimanded those who did so. Why do you cut down our palms and burn them?”
Of the tribe Banu Auf were some men, among them the enemy of Allah Ibn Ibajj and others, who had given this message to the Jews of Banu Nadir: “Hold your ground and defend yourselves. We shall not forsake you. If they fight you, we shall fight with you, if they deport you, we shall go with you.” Now the Nadir tribe expected the help that had been promised, but it did not come. Then Allah filled their hearts with terror, and they begged the prophet to let him exile them from their houses and lands, but to let them keep their lives and as much of their property as their camels could carry, except for their weapons. The prophet agreed to this. And they carried away as much as their camels could bear.
Another practice taken up in the Osmannic Empire was exemplified by the prophet by his treatment of the Jewish tribe Banu Quraiza. Here was a detailed prescription for the behaviour of a devoted Muslim when he was to show his power. This quote also from Ibn Ishaq: Life of Muhammad, p. 461-469:
Zuhri told that during the midday prayer the angel Gabriel came to the prophet. The angel was wearing a brocaded turban, and the saddle of the mule he was riding was also covered with brocade. He asked the apostle if he had abandoned fighting, and when he said he had, he said that the angels had not yet laid aside their arms and that he had just come from pursuing the enemy. “Allah commands you, Muhammad, to go to B. Qurayza. I am about to go to them to shake their stronghold.”
The prophet ordered it to be announced that none should perform the afternoon prayer until after he reached B. Qurayza. The apostle sent Ali forward with his banner and the men hastened to it. Ali advanced until when he came near the forts he heard insulting language used of the apostle. He returned to meet the apostle on the road and told him that it was not necessary for him to come near those rascals. The apostle said: “Why? I think you must have heard them speaking ill of me.” and when Ali said that it was so, he added: “If they saw me, they would not talk in that fashion.” When the apostle approached their forts, he said: “You brothers of monkeys, has Allah disgraced you and brought His vengeance upon you?” They replied: “O Abu’l-Qasim, you are not a barbarous person.”
The apostle passed by a number of his companions in al-Saurayn before he got to B. Qurayza and asked if anyone had passed them. They replied that Dihya b. Khalifa al-Kalbi had passed upon a white mule with a saddle covered with a piece of brocade. He said: “That was Gabriel who has been sent to B. Qurayza to shake their castles and strike terror to their hearts.”
The apostle besieged them for twenty-five nights until they were sore pressed and Allah cast terror into their hearts. When they felt sure that the apostle would not leave them until he had made an end of them, Ka’b b. Asad talked to them (..)
Then they sent to the apostle saying: “Send us Abu Lubaba, brother of B. Amr b. Auf, that we may consult him.” So the apostle sent him to them, and when they saw him, they got up to meet him. The women and children went up to him weeping in his face, and he felt sorry for them. They said: “Oh Abu Lubaba, do you think we should submit to Muhammad’s judgement?” He said: “Yes”, and pointed with his hand to his throat, signifying slaughter.
Abu Lubaba said: “My feet had not moved from the spot before I knew that I had been false to Allah and his apostle [by signifying what would happen]. Then he left them and did not got to the apostle, but bound himself to one of the pillars in the mosque saying: “I will not leave this place until Allah forgives me for what I have done.” and he promised Allah that he would never go to B. Qurayza and would never be sent in a town in which he had betrayed Allah and His apostle.
When the apostle heard about him, for he had been waiting for him a long time, he said: “If he had come to me I would have asked forgiveness for him, but seeing that he behaved as he did, I will not let him go from his place until Allah forgives him.” Yazid b. Abdullah told me that the forgiveness of Abu Lubaba came to the apostle at dawn while he was in the house of [his wife] Umm Salama.
In the morning they submitted to the apostle’s judgement. .. Muhammad chose Sa’d, who had recently converted to Islam, and had been wounded by an arrow at the battle of the Trench, to pass judgement over the Jewish tribe. He said: “The time has come for Sa’d in the cause of Allah, not in any man’s censure.” When he had come to the prophet and the Muslims, Sa’d said: “Do you covenant by Allah that you accept the judgement I pronounce on them?” They said ‘Yes’, and he said: “Then I give the judgement that the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives.”
Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of B. al-Najjar. Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today), and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka’b b. Asad, their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the apostle, they asked Ka’b what he thought would be done with them. He replied: “Will you never understand? Don’t you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!” This went on until the apostle made an end of them.
Huyayy was brougt out wearing a flowered robe in which he had made holes about the size of the fingertips in every part of it so that it should not be taken from him as spoil, with his hands bound to his neck by a rope. When he saw the apostle he said: “By God, I do not blame myself for opposing you, but he who forsakes God will be forsaken.” Then he went to the men and said: “God’s command is right. A book and a decree, and massacre have been written against the Sons of Israel.” Then he sat down and his head was struck off.
Then the apostle divided the property, wives and children of B. Qurayza among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth. A horseman got three shares, two for the horse and one for his rider. A man without a horse got one share. One the day of B. Qurayza there were thirty-six horses. It was the first booty on which lots were cast and the fifth was taken. According to its precedent and what the apostle did the divisions were made, and it remained the custom for raids. Then the apostle sent Sa’d b. Zayd al-Ansari of b. Abdu’l-Ashhal with some of the captive women of B. Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons.
The apostle had chosen one of their women for himself, Rayhana d. Amr b. Khunafa, one of the women of B. Amr b. Qurayza, and she remained with him until she died, in his power. The apostle had proposed to marry her and put the veil on her, but she said: “Nay, leave me in your power, for that will be easier for me and for you.” So he left her. She had shown repugnance towards Islam when she was captured and clung to Judaism. So the apostle put her aside and felt some displeasure. While he was with his companions he heard the sound of sandals behind him and said: “This is Tha’laba b. Sa’ya coming to give me the good news of Rayhana’s acceptance of Islam” and he came up to announce the fact. This gave him pleasure.
Also the prophet’s conquest of Chaibar in the month of Muharram was an important guideline for the Osmannic Empire in their battle against the infidels, as quoted after Ibn Ishaq: “The apostle seized the property piece by piece and conquered the forts one by one as he came to them. The first to fall was the fort of Na’im; there Mahmud b. Maslama was killed by a millstone which was thrown on him from it; then al-Qamus the fort of B. Abu’l-Huqayq. The apostle took captives from them among whom was Safiya d. Huyayy b. Akhtab who had been the wife of Kinana b. al-Rabi b. Abu’l-Huqayq, and two cousins of hers. The apostle chose Safiya for himself.
Dihya b. Khalifa al-Kalbi had asked the apostle for Safiya, and when he chose her for himself, he gave him her two cousins. The women of Khaybar were distributed among the Muslims. The Muslims ate the meat of the domestic donkeys and the apostle got up and forbade the people to do a number of things which he enumerated.
Abdullah b. Amr b. Damra al-Fazari told me from Abdullah b. Abu Salit from his father: The apostle’s prohibition of the flesh of domestic donkeys reached us as the pots were boiling with it, so we turned them upside down.
Abdullah b. Abu Najih told me from Makhul that the apostle prohibited four things that day: carnal intercourse with pregnant women who were captured; eating the flesh of domestic donkeys; eating any carnivorous animal; and selling the booty before it had been duly allocated.”
The apostle besieged the people of Khaybar in their two forts al-Watih and al-Sualim until when they could hold out no longer, they asked him to let them go, and spare their lives, and he did so. Now the apostle had taken possession of all their property – al-Shaqq, Nata and al-Katiba and all their forts – except what appertained to those two.
When the people of Fadak heard of what had happened they sent to the apostle asking him to let them go and to spare their lives, and they would leave him their property, and he did so.
When the people of Khaybar surrendered on these conditions they asked the apostle to employ them on the property with half share in the produce, saying: “We know more about it than you, and we are better farmers.” The apostle agreed to this arrangement on the condition that “if we wish to expel you, we will expel you.” He made a similar arrangement with the men of Fadak. So Khaybar became the prey of the Muslims, while Fadak was the personal property of the apostle, because they had not driven horses or camels against it.
The following principles from the Quran and the example of Muhammad was used in the Osmannic Empire during the annihilation of Armenians, Macedonians, Bulgarians and Greek:
1. Request everybody to hand over their weapons under the pretence of protecting anyone handing over their weapons voluntarily.
2. Then people are faced the choice of death or conversion to Islam.
3. The subdued will dig their own mass graves.
4. Killing of the men. The special ways of killing of infidels by cutting their throats and chopping off their fingers or crucifixion are written in the Quran and practised in accordance with the Islamic law, Sharia. (Sura 2:216-218)
5. Women and children are distributed among the Muslim men or sold into slavery.
6. Muslims have the right to the land and property of those killed, as spoils according to the guidelines of the Quran (Sura 33:27, 6:11 and all of Sura 8).
7. Subdued non-Muslims who are not killed will have to pay a special tax according to the rules of the Quran, and have strictly limited rights compared with Muslims according to the directives of the Quran (Sura 9:29).
Until 1895 the Islamic caliphs had mainly followed the general Islamic practice to kill only non-Jewish and non-Christian people. That meant that for instance Buddhists and Hinduists could be killed at will, and they were. Christians and Jews could be useful, as long as they paid the taxes. This practice changed as the amount of conquered Christian territory increased. The number of Christians within the empire had become too high and had to be reduced. Forced Islamisation attempts were executed in many places. A targeted policy of extermination of the infidels was mainly employed against those who resisted these attempts.
This policy of violence increased in frequency as the frequency of armed riots among the Christians increased in attempts to get rid of the Islamic occupying forces. Hungary was liberated. Then Greece had success in liberating large portions of their territories, albeit with great sacrifice of human lives and terrible retributions from the Turkish side. Later rebellions took place in Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia.
To avoid that the Muslim rulers would lose more of the occupied territories, preventive measures were enacted, namely the annihilation of the infidels before they had time and opportunity to liberate themselves. The Armenians were to suffer most from this. Had not Russia in the beginning of the 19th century had luck and courage to conquer the north eastern ¼ of Armenia and liberate this part from Turkish rule, the entire Armenian population would most certainly have been extinguished.
A report from US State Department, authored by Noel Barber, describes one of the deportations like this:
In the beginning of June 1915 from the city of Harpoot a death convoy of 3000 Armenians was sent out, later reaching a total of 18,000 – mostly women, girls and children. All the way to Ras-ul-Ain, the first stop for this transport, was one long horror. Gendarmes rode out in advance to inform the Kurdish tribes in the mountains that several thousand Armenian women and girls would soon arrive. Arabs and Kurds assaulted the young girls, raping and killing the women, abducting the girls. The gendarmes took part in the orgies. One after one the few Armenian men in the transport were murdered.
When the convoy finally reached Euphrates, everything had been so effectively robbed from the poor people that they had nothing left but a few torn clothes. And these last clothes were now taken from them by the Kurds. As a consequence, the entire convoy of women and girls marched completely naked for four days under a burning sun. The next four days they were deprived of any form of food or water. Hundreds fell each day, with swollen tongues stretched out of their mouths. When finally they reached a well, the entire convoy stormed forwards. But policemen kept the thirsty from drinking even a single drop of water. The last stretch lasted 7 days. Of 18,000 deported a mere 150 women and children arrived in Aleppo alive. (Poul Fregosi p. 405)