How TURKEY became Muslim

  • Briefly know how Turkey became Muslims, the wars fought, the Ottoman Empire and Mustapha Kemal Pasha secularization of Turkey.


On Nov 1, 1922, slightly over hundred years ago, the Ottoman Sultanate was replaced by the Republic of Turkey.


The Islamic world esp. in the Indian sub-continent remembers the Khilafat Campaign to save the Caliphate of the Ummah, a pan Islamic seat of power.


Read truth about Khilafat Movement


Some naive Hindus also remember it as a campaign led by Mahatma Gandhi to oppose the British, ‘Khilafat’ from khilaf, meaning opposing or rejecting! Turkey and its president have been reportedly working keenly to propel Turkey into the pre eminent position of Islamic world i.e. replacing Saudi Arabia. Holding of seat endeavour would make one believe that Turkey is pre ordained as the chosen lead of Islam. Nothing could be farther from the truth though. 


Turkey had a tumultuous past with Islam, over 400 years of struggle before it accepted Islam. Subsequently, Turkey spearheaded its expansion with vengeance.


It is important to know the struggles of Turkey’s Islamisation and to understand the various layers and sensitivities that prevail in this discussion, hence this article. 


The Pre Islamic Turks

Turanians/ Turks and Mongols, were a mixed ancestry consisting of multi-ethnic nomadic tribes of the white Huns, Bulgars, Ughirs, Seljuks and Qarluqs, who held Central Asia between them. They grazed cattle, attacked Persian settlers and lived off the booty. They worshipped the blue sky/Tengri and celestial objects.


The symbol of Islam, the crescent Moon came from them and predates Islam by thousands of years. After over running the Persian Sassanid Empire the Arabs invaded Turkish lands.


For four hundred years i.e. from 651-1050, the Turks put up fierce resistance against the Arabs and the newly converted Persians.


The next four hundred years saw the gradual transformation of the pagan Turks into Muslims who carried Islam into Anatolia and the Balkans. The Turks/ Gokturks had established a large empire from Siberia to Baikal Lake (in south-east Siberia) and were a serious threat to China and the Sassanid empire. They also proposed to Byzantine to ally with them against Sassanid ruler Khusraw Anushirwan. By 581 A.D., the Turks had divided into Eastern and Western Turks.


Arabs deceived the Turks into retreating

Under Amir Qutaiba, the Arabs entered Transoxiana in the eighth century. From Khurasan, they marched through Marw and Balkh south of Amu Darya/Oxus river and invaded Soghdia and Farghana.


The Arab commander Ahnaf had learnt that Turks commenced war at dawn with the signal of three bugles.


Throats of all three Turkish heralds who came out of their tent to blow the bugles were slit by Ahnaf who hid in their camp the night before. Turk Khan saw this as a bad omen and marched back to Farghana. Nevertheless the Turks did raise successful blows against their Arab conquerors from time to time. Qutaiba annihilated several Farghana states, Sogdian Samarkand, Khorezm and  Bukhara. He ordered obliteration of Turic places of worship, their idols and construction of a Mosque. 30,000 were taken slaves.


Arabs again invaded Eastern Turks after their emperor Mocho died in 716

Su-luk Türgesh khagan/ Khan (Khan, a Turkish title) never let the Arabs live in peace in Soghdia, took control of the Western Gokturk between Talas and Tokmak. A bulwark against the Muslims and Chinese in 720 and 723 wars, Su-luk Khagan was killed by followers of a Zoroastrian convert Abu Muslim, commissioned to exterminate the Kafirs by Abbasid Caliphate at Baghdad (762 CE).


After Turgesh collapsed, the Qarluq Turks took the entire region of Yedi Su, east of Syr Darya and Turgesh capital Syuab Ordukent, Oghuz took the regions of west of Syr Darya. Abu Muslim’s commander Ziyad ibn Salih, marched towards Talas with 40,000 ghazis to wage a war on the Chinese. 


Qarluq Turks who wanted independence from the Chinese, agreed to embrace Islam and allied with the Muslims which lead to the defeat of the Chinese in the Battle of the Talas river. Around seventy thousand Chinese and non-Qarluq Turk were sold as slaves for one dirham each in Baghdad and Damascus and forced to teach the Arabs, the art of making siege trains and catapult machines.


The Islamized Turks used them on the Byzantine cities later. The imperial clan of warrior Seljuk Turks, who spent their lives on horseback and remained unconquered for another hundred and fifty years, were next to be converted.


Turkish princes were held captives and brought up as Muslims

When the Turks were faced with defeat, the Muslims took hostage Turkish princes, princesses to start further negotiations. The royal captives were brought up as Muslims and released to return to ascend their throne in time which resulted in the conversion of their clans to Islam.


In 961, 200000 tents (tribes) who had remained Pagan, the Qarluq, Oghuz, remenecents of Western Turks were Islamized by the 11th century. Thus, virtually the entire Turkish world was Islamized.


The Turks who had waged a bloodied struggle against Islam, reduced their Arabs masters to vassalage status by establishing their Seljuk and Uthman/ Ottoman dynasties and carried Islam more aggressively into Anatolia and the Balkans, inflicting a series of defeats on the Christian Byzantine Empire from 1071 in Eastern Anatolia; the Turkey of today. The Anatolians were Hittites/ Indo-European people who had later mingled with the Greek inhabitants and built the Hellenistic Lydian and Troy kingdoms.


Today the word Turk implies an inhabitant of Anatolia called Turkey, whereas the Kazakh, Uzbek, Khirgiz and Tajik people were called the Turanians/ Turks.


Turks expanded by using infidels to conquer infidel territories

Similar to the Bukhari slave system of taking child hostages to be brought up as Muslims, they established Dewshirme system/ gathering healthy Christian boys to be converted to Islam for Jannisarie regiment in the Ottoman army.


Jannisaries, meaning Jaan nisaari, i.e; Jan = Life, Nisar = to give away. An average 12,000 boys, aged 8-12 years were captured every year from Greece, Georgia, Siberia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Armenia, Albania, Macedonia etc and were indoctrinated with the ideology of jihad, not permitted to get married and kept confined to their barracks. Dewshirme system was abolished in 1656. The Dewshrime system was qualified by quoting religious scriptures.


The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was founded by Osman I/ Uthman around 1299. It was extended under Orhan, Murad I and Bayezid I. Mehmed II ended the 1,000-year reign of Byzantine Empire in 1453 C.E., captured its capital Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul.


The inhabitants of Constantinople were slaughtered for three consecutive days. Friday prayers were performed inside Hagia Sophia, the huge church built by emperor Justinian in 53 A.D. Hagia Sophia was converted into the Selimiye Mosque by adding four minarets and covering the Christian gold mosaics icons with panels of Arabic Quranic calligraphy.


Armenian men were slaughtered en masse, their women made concubines in Turkish harems 

Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Some of Arabia and a considerable part of the North African coastal strip became Part of the Ottoman Empire. Wholesale destruction, indiscriminate massacres, enslavement of women and children and sometimes entire population, the living booty was divided among themselves, separating children from their mothers and siblings and slaughter of the entire male population were the distinctive features of the Turkish conquests.


Their harems were full of thousands of women until 1921when the empire was dissolved. Had it not been for the Crusaders who marched through the Middle East in the eleventh century to roll back their attacks on the Christians of Armenia, the newly converted Turks would have overrun Constantinople in 1701.


Ottoman Sultan Mehmed Reşad V entered World War I on the side of Germany and Austria. As the Caliph, he invited Muslims of the world to rally to the support of Ottomans.


By the 1850s the Ottomans were themselves, through emissaries, reported to be pushing the Sultan's claim as Caliph in India. The Indian Muslims who had wholeheartedly accepted the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph since the 1857 Indian War of Independence started reading his name in the Friday khutbas around 1870s. 

Turkish fez/cap.

Syed Ahmed Khan popularised the Turkish fez/cap and eulogised the Caliph. Shias and Sunnis together demonstrated their support for the Ottomans. During the Russo-Turkish War of April 1877 a large sum of money was sent to Constantinople by Muslims of Bengal and Delhi. They were lead by leader of Anjuman-i-Islam Bombay, Bohra Badruddin Tyabji and Mohammed Ali Rogay, It was sustained by Cheragh Ali of Hyderabad and later by Ameer Ali, Aga Khan, M.I. Ispahani, Jinnah etc.  


Mustapha Kemal Pasha saw beyond Islam

Aga Khan and Amir Ali wired Kemal Pasha to save the caliphate of Sultan Abdul Majid who had fled to Malta to save his skin. Kemal Pasha rejected saying, British stooges have no right to advise Turkey on its national matters.


“ ….Islam is a religion of defeated people.. Since the day it set foot on our soil, Turkey has deteriorated…”, said he. 


Mustapha Kemal Pasha, called Ataturk ‘father of the Turks’, wanted to build for the Turks a future bereft of Islam so he abolished the Islamic caliphate on March 3, 1924 so Turkey could return to its Turkish roots. He abolished the Arabic script and replaced it with the Latin, abolished the Chador/ scarves for women and Fez for men including Maulvis and preachers, encouraged women to wear western skirts, men western suits, encouraged the next generation to take up pre-Islamic Turkish names. He transformed Turkey from a Sharia State to a secular one. 


Erdogan is said to have been Ottomanizing Turkey. He has pumped in billions of dollars to revive Imam Hatip Islamic schools and emphasising Turkey’s Ottoman-Islamic history, he says, “It’s to forge a pious generation.” A hundred years ago, Mustapha Kemal Pasha had abolished the Ottoman sultanate and replaced it with the Republic of Turkey. 


Will Tayyip Erdogan bury the legacy of the revered military commander, the reformer who saved Turkey’s independence 



1.  Early Mystics in Turkish Literature, Mehmed Fuad Koprulu.

2.  Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries, Paul Fregosi.

3. The Concise History of the Crusades- Critical Issues in World and International History, Thomas F madden.

4. Islamic Jihad, A legacy of Forced Conversions, Imperialism and Slavery, M.A.Khan.

Receive Site Updates