Middle East


The caliphate refers to Islam’s politico-religious position of authority established with the death of the Prophet Muhammad, at which point the caliphate, or “God’s deputy on earth,” passed to his successor Abu Bakr al-Siddiq. The Ottoman Empire inherited the caliphate from the defeated Mamluks upon conquering Egypt, and maintained a succession of caliphs until the fall of the Empire and the abolition of the caliphate under ...

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A dhimmi refers to a non-Muslim subject of the Ottoman Empire. Derived from Islamic legal conceptions of membership to society, non-Muslims ‘dhimmis’ were afforded protection by the state and did not serve in the military, in return for specific taxes. The dhimmi status was legally abolished in 1839 with the Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane and was formalized with the 1869 Ottoman Law of Nationality as part of wider Tanzimat Reforms. Regardless of these official changes, in...

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Millet System, The

The Millet System refers to the Ottoman administration of separate religious communities that acknowledged each community’s authority in overseeing its own communal affairs, primarily through independent religious court systems and schools.

Muhammad Amin al-Husayni

Muhammad Amin al-Husayni (1895-1974) was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (1921-1948) and a Palestinian nationalist leader who worked to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Al-Husayni attended the 1919 Pan-Syrian Congress in Damascus, where he supported the...

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In 1978, the literary theorist Edward Said (d. 2003), a Palestinian Arab and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, published Orientalism, outlining a post-colonial theory showing how imbalanced power relations between “The West” and “The East” has dictated the representation of Arabs, Muslims, and others, in particular ways. In literature and the arts, orientalism refers to a European convention of portraying “The East” as exotic, historically frozen in time, sensual, feminine, weak, dangerous, eccentric, irrational, and undeveloped.


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Ottomanism was a political trend popular in the 1870s and 1880s in which loyalty to the sultan was replaced with loyalty to the Ottoman state, the fatherland (vatan). A single Ottoman citizenship was intended to replace religious, ethnic, and linguistic divisions among the Empire’s diverse subjects. Administratively, Ottomanist policies emphasized a strong central state to which all subjects were bound. In promoting religious equality (Tanzimat Reforms), the state assumed control over...

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Sèvres Treaty

The 1920 Sèvres treaty was a pact between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire, officially dismantling the Empire and forcing it to relinquish claims to territories in North Africa and the Middle East. It also recognized independent and/or autonomous areas for Armenia, Kurdistan, and Thracian Greece. Turkish nationalists rejected the treaty, and replaced it in 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne.


Islamic law, or shari’a, is a series of principles that are interpreted, negotiated, and debated by legal scholars and adapted in the lives of Muslims in order to bring their actions in line with God’s vision for a just and good life. On the everyday level, Islamic law regulates when and how a Muslim prays, what is considered permissible to eat, business transactions, almsgiving, fasting, and so on. For observant Muslims, Islamic law creates the structure, to varying degrees, by which they organize their lives and decisions; shari’a literally means “the way...

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