What the Kadizadelis represent, or how the ejnebis trumped the devshirmes: Politically critical mass formation in the early modern Ottoman Empire

By Baki Tezcan
Submitted to Session P4871 (Changing configurations of the political and the religious in the early modern Ottoman and Safavid Empires, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
Islamic Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In conversation with the recent historiography on Confessionalization, this paper explores the sectarian repercussions of the socio-economic and political transformations in the early modern Ottoman Empire and how they affected the ongoing reconstruction of the ruling class. The expansion of trade and the growing urbanization all-over the empire during the sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries offered opportunities for the growth of a new Muslim commercial and financial elite whose members found ways of translating their socio-economic status into political power by entering the imperial administration at various levels, which in the preceding century used to be reserved for devshirmes, or young Christian conscripts who were converted to Islam and trained to serve the dynasty. These newcomers were referred to as foreigners (ejnebis). Thus the seventeenth century clearly witnessed unprecedented upward mobility among certain segments of the Ottoman Muslim population that had, at least, some impact on the structure of the ruling class. At the same time, however, there were also many Ottoman subjects who suffered from the global Seventeenth Century Crisis. This paper suggests that the deep social tensions produced by the socially explosive combination of this upward mobility and the global crisis found expression, among other things, in the heightened level of sensitivities around religious identities. Through a detailed textual analysis of the writings of Birgili Muhammed (d. 1573), Akhisari Ahmed (d. ca. 1633), and Kadizade Mehmed (d. 1635), this study argues that the features of the Islamic tradition that the Kadizadelis (the followers of Kadizade), chose to amplify in their message at the expense of others were the ones that were the most divisive in a multi-confessional society and yet also the most conducive to mediate social tensions among the supportive recipients of their message. The Kadizadelis’ message consolidated the collective identity of Sunni Muslims by “purifying” and transforming them into a politically critical mass, a move that effectively shifted the public discourse from socio-economic questions to questions of identity. It was this feature of their voice that carried them to some of the most influential pulpits of the imperial capital. While the Kadizadelis lost credit after the disaster in Vienna (1683), the sectarian tone of their voice had a wider and longer-lasting impact on Ottoman polity as exemplified, for instance, by the complete disappearance of the devshirme practice, which practically closed the doors of the higher administration to Christian-born subjects of the empire by the early eighteenth century.