THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND CONSCIENCE IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE

15 Agustos 2006

OPENING SPEECH DELIVERED EV THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC PANEL DISCUSSION ON « THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND CONSCIENCE IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE"

Dear chairman, valuable scholars who came within and outside of the country and the guests,

Founded in order to make or cause to make scientific research and to throw up scholars , ISAV has included a new study into its scientific research activities which is called "The Freedom Of Religion And Conscience In The Ottoman Empire".

Why did we feel a need for such a study ? As is known , we're today celebrating the 76  Anniversary of the foundation of our Republic and are about to realize walking into 2000 years soon, but it is strange yet true that, among people living in our country or other parts of the world, still there are discussions going on on many basic rights and freedoms mainly on the freedom of religion and conscience.

A Turkish proverb says ;

'"History is the master of the future"

It is a reality that knowing about our history well, i.e our past, will throw a light on our future activities, therefore , there is always great benefit in being aware of how the people before us looked on these matters and how they put them into practice.

For a country to advance in technology is mainly based on free thinking.

The motive behind a man's power is his belief. Belief can either be true or false. But what's important is to believe something. In fact, there are many Quranic verses regarding that matter. For instance :

'There is no compulsion in religion. What's right and what's wrong have been discriminated."(eI-Bakara/256)

Everybody has the right to believe as he wishes. To do so, the setting has to be a place where the freedom of Religion, conscience and thought exist. When these freedoms are constricted then the community will be disseminated, immoralities will increase, men become hypocrite.

"Oh Mohammed, will you force to people to become believers ? If so, don't do that"(yunus/99). Forcing makes a man a hypocrite which is worse than denial.

"Tell them, the true religion islam was sent you by your Lord. Whosoever will, may believe; and whosoever will, may disbelieve."(el-kelu729).

When we fully reflect on these three verses, it will be seen that the freedom of Religion and conscience is being emphazised strongly by Quran.

But we have seen that state rulers in many countries, including those of Muslim's, have been curtailing or suppressing this very natural and undeniable rights of man.

For ensuring the freedom of religion and conscience, the following matters have to be put into practice eminently.

1-States should be a state of Law and never carry out an ideology. If we look back to the history then we see that administrations incorporating ideology, that is, states favouring ideology, altogether held the freedom of religion and conscience under pressure. For instance, the governments such as communist, socialist, chauvinist, revolutionist and including those accepting certain religion as their official religion, have always worked like a torturing machine.

2-As for our country, our administrators could not have conjured up a vision about the matter, so, in the name of revolutionism, idealism of Atatiirk, and secularism, they tend continuously to hold the freedoms of religion, conscience and thought under pressure.

In my opinion, such an attitute is the product of the misunderstanding. That is, by accepting revolutionism, Ataturk's idealism, and secularism as the offical ideologies, they wished every citizen be pro-Atatiirk and secularist. On top of that, their stand and mentality toward islam had a strong effect for the restriction of freedoms, because they have never thought of that a state exist for its people, and the people has been formed of those who adopted communistic or socialist views even more of different religious groups, beliefs, sects and also of unbelievers. On the other hand, the state has the right to expect its citizens be loyal and obedient, but, in no way, has the right to intervene to the belief of its citizens. On contrary, it is a burden duty of a state to protect the right of its citizens. That's why a state is expected to be a state of Law and justice. Ottoman was a state of law and justice, so are the united states of America and England. They never tend to put a pressure on their citizens' freedoms of religion, conscience and thought but protect everybody's right.

3-In my opinion, there is another important factor that needs to be remembered: Our Lord wants us to live together as being good or bad, beautiful or ugly, ill or healthy, young or old, moral or immoral, believer or unbeliever. As a matter of fact, the duty of a state is to provide for this balance since there can be found all kind of people within a society, even in a family. They are all required to live in peace and together. But in the other world, the situation will be quite different. Over there those who are good will be seperated from the bad. Prophet Mohammed Himself exercised this application. As is known He governed various groups who are affiliated to five different beliefs in Medina City State and never intervened to their belief and forced them to enter in islam.

These groups were:

1.             Muslims

2.             Jews

3.             Christians

4.             Hypocrites

5.             Non-believers and polytheists

In the Golden Age , Hz. Mohammed asked a Jewish if he wanted to be trialed according to Islamic Law or the Jewish Law. The Jewish made his choice in the Islamic Law. Because he knew the penalty for his offence would be more severe in the Jewish Law.

If this application were taken as a base then, the citizen would be able to prefer his law to prosecute himself.

This tells us that living as a state is something; believing or unbelieving is quite another thing. The task of a state is to exercise the justice, secure the order, and protect the country.

For us the question is quite simple. If a state removes the ideologies , takes justice as an essential, and becomes at the same distance for every citizen regardless of his believe and thought, then the freedoms of religion, conscience and thought would be taken under guarranty.

It should be remembered that no matter what his belief and thought is, a citizien wouldn't like to tear down his state, except for spies. And yet every citizen has the right to seize the state and be an administrator. Some administrators react against this citizen's very right. The reason of that is the state's being an ideologic state. That should be asked to those who rule the country: Were these status and authorizations given you by way of inheritance? The way you become an administrator should be open for every citizen like you. Justice, human rights, democracy, the republican regime all necessitate this. In fact, Ataturk once said: "sovereignty is belong to the Nation without any records and terms". A state is governed the

way the nation wants it. Those individuals and establishments that seized the state have no right to oppress people ideologically or to say "You'll believe as dictated to you"

Now I want to conclude my words with the sentences of honorable Sami SELQUK, president of the court of Cassation, who expressed his views during his opening speech whis I share with. "I want a law which do not interdict thoughts and beliefs but causes people to race within the peace only, was distiled through the justice and frees people ; and under the dominance of such a law I also want a powerful state which is at equal distance to the thoughts and beliefs, counts on its people whom He incorporated in decision-making proscesses, non-biased, and acquires its legitimacy from its people.

We want this, too.  Thank you all.

 

By prof. Dr. ALI OZEK President of ISAV

 

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