The era of the Ottoman Empire is presented to the world is created as a golden period where Muslims ruled in all their power and glory, where there was peace, prosperity and happiness for all the civilians.  This image is curated by Islamic historians and is promoted by their hapless followers.  Many perceive the Ottomans as saviors because the empire allegedly granted religious freedom to Christians everywhere it conquered.  However, if we examine facts and look at historical references, especially those mentioned in the book called “The Life of Abdul Kader – Ex Sultan of the Arabs of Algeria” by Colonel Henry Churchill, we will be able to see the truth for ourselves.  The book which was published in 1807 is the biography of Abdul Qadir Al Jezairy. (1808-1883).  Abdul Qadir was a Naqshbandi Sufi Alim, who fought against the French colonialists. He lost but became known for sheltering Christians during the Damascus Massacre of 1860, when the Dhruz and Christians were fighting over territory.

Abdul Qadir was the son of an Algerian Admiral who headed the Hashmiite clan.  They are said to be direct descendents of Islam’s Prophet.  In the aftermath of the French revolution, Abdul Qadir was exiled in the Ottoman Syria. This is where he met British consul Colonel Henry Churchill, and together they wrote a detailed biography of his life (1859). Considering the fact that Algeria was ruled by the Turk before the French colonialists drove them out, Abdul Qadir shares first hand experience and information about the ways of the Ottomans. This book gives various insights about the virtues of the Ottoman, when they clearly were the aggressors to not only other faiths but also other sects within the Muslim community.   Muhieddine, the father of Abdul Qadir,  expresses how he had been trying his best to bring some order to the chaos created by the Turks who liked to put a display of strength on the weak and unprotected. He also, however, predicted that this kind of energy will destroy the aggressor completely in the future. It is also to be noted that even after suffering tremendously at the hand of the Ottomans, Muhiuddein was reluctant to ask for help from the French, as this would be a “betrayal to our duty to our God (Allah) our people and our faith (Islam).”[1]

In this book, the Algerians’ describe the Turks as they were looters and maurauders. This was to be expected, as they had all the bad vices that can be imagined. They had harems which were filled with “a hundred women each, dancing girls, hybrid boys…”, “The name of a Turk was and is, and ever will be, as long as the pest exists, the synonym for villainy”.[2]  The claim of the Algerians about the Turks being looters and maurauders is also supported by another source. Muslims belonging to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire namely Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis created pirate forces and started attacking, plundering American and European merchant ships and also enslaving people onboard the ships. In 1786, US President Thomas Jefferson went to London to negotiate a peace deal with the Tripoli envoy Sidi Haji Abdrahaman in order to put an end to the unprovoked attacks on US Merchant Ships. In the manuscript called The Diplomatic Correspondence of USA Volume 1, President Jefferson states:
“We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the grounds of their pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury…” “The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet; that it was written in their Quran; that all nations who should not have had acknowledged their authority were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves all those who could be taken as prisoners “  [3]

After this exchange, the mindset of President Jefferson changed and he decided that there was no point in diplomatic engagement alone.  This is when what is today known as the US Marines was formed to safeguard U. S. Merchant vessels.


The corruption conducted by the Ottomans has been recognized by not just the Najdis (People of what is now Saudi Arabaia), but by other large groups too.  If we look at the history of lands controlled by the Ottoman, we will get some more insight into the general opinion held about their reputation among the Muslim and non Muslim world. The kind of treatment meted out by the Turks to their Egyptian colony is mentioned in a translation of Tarikh muddat al-Faransis bi-Misr by Abd al-Rahman al-Jabartī, which drove Egypt to seek refuge from the French to liberate them.

The book narrates some interesting occurrences in Ottoman Egypt.
“The nation most destructive in its dealings with Egypt are Turks.” [4]  The book explains how the Turks would go after the rich businesses and take them over completely instead of taking a share and letting the economy of the land prosper.  “Thus the people came to hide themselves under the veil of poverty as protection against their evil oppression.” [5]


The book also goes on to explain the real reason why Sharia laws were enforced upon the people of Egypt, which it seems was sans such laws before the invasion of the Ottomans.  “The Qanun-Name states that the authorities once ignored the transgressions against the Sharia by tolerating drinking and prostitution, which was a source of tax revenue (muqata’a).  This strong position notwithstanding, drinking and prostitution did not cease, although occasionally Pashas acted on their own initiative, or were prompted to take action by an edict from Istanbul.  In one case, the Pasha paid the Chief of police 12 purses to compensate him for the loss of his profits from vice and drinking.”[6]

Ottoman Historian Mustafa Âlî (1541 – 1600) outlines how widespread homosexuality was throughout the empire. “Nowadays there are more dishonourable men who prefer beardless, smooth-cheeked, handsome and sweet tempered servant boys than there are men who prefer pretty and charming women.”[7]

“Thursday nights were reserved for sexual relations with women, Friday night with young men and Friday afternoons for servant boys and beardless youth.”[8]


Mecca is the holiest of all places for Muslims all over the world.  Currently, a non Muslim cannot even step a foot in Mecca, lest the soil gets defiled by impurities.  However, historians and world travelers of the time show us another face of Mecca, when it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.  There were some quarters in Mecca, which held the mills where the fabric was procured and dyed.  These quarters had hand run dyeing mills which were operated either by slaves or in poorer families, by women.  The women employed here were considered “public women” or prostitutes hailing from Abyssinia and other foreign countries.  They were known for their more decorous demeanour, and increased in number around the time of Haj.

“As number of public women reside at Shab Amer, the quarter is not ranked the most respectable in Mecca.  Sherif Ghaleb imposed a regular tax upon those females, and required an additional payment from such of them as, in the time of the pilgrimage, followed the Hdjyas to Arafat.  A similar tax is levied at Cairo and in all the great provincial towns of Egypt.”[9]

This was not all.  The book Travels in Arabia by Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt goes on to indicate the open use of alcohol and drugs and rampant prostitution on the streets of Mecca during the rule of the Ottoman.  It was common practice to offer copious amounts of alcohol, weed and other intoxicants at any celebration including marriages and circumcision in all families.

“Neither the sanctity of the holy city, nor the solemn injunctions of Quran are able to deter the inhabitants of Mecca from the using of spirituous liquors, and indulging in all excesses which are the usual consequences of drunkenness.”[10]

“The chief people are in the habit of drinking this liquor.  During my stay at Taifa Turk belonging to the suit of Muhammad Aly Pasha distilled brandy from grapes, and publicly sold it at forty piasters the bottle.” [11]


The Swiss infidel Burckhardt described the state of affairs in Mecca during that time, by stating that many of the people knew most of the Quran and Hadith off by heart and did not hesitate to quote these at any given chance.  At the same time, “Intoxicating liquors are sold at the gate of the mosque… intoxicating hashish is openly smoked…cheating and false swearing have ceased to be a crime among them”[12]

In the time of the Ottoman, the pilgrimage of Hajj was treated by men as a time away from family, for religious purposes as well as for some non Halal acts of debauchery.  According to William Oschenwald talks about the usual practices in Ottoman occupied Mecca during Haj season.  His book describes how most pilgrims who were male, would be there without their wives and families.  They would engage the services of prostitutes before and after the pilgrimage ritual.  “The Egyptian and Syrian caravans had prostitutes in them in the early 19thcentury.  But with the Wahabi seizure of Hijaz, prostitution disappeared.  In the 1810s there were prostitutes in one of the quarters in Mecca.  Homosexuality was also present.  Conditions differed among the three cities in the 1850s.  In Jidda, alcohol and prostitutes were openly available.  In Mecca and Madina there were no prostitutes but some alcohol was secretly consumed by Ottoman officers. In the 1870s in Medina there was card playing, alcohol, use of drugs… in 1884 there were public brothels in Jidda featuring both male and female 1902, drummers, singers, dancing girls accompanied the pilgrims to Mina.”[13]


Now let’s see some of the reports regarding the oppression of the Ottoman army:

Alexei Vassilev’s The history of Saudi Arabia pages mentions how the ulema of Cairo took part in a dishonourable attack in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.  He mentions that in August 1811, a detachment of troops was sent to Hijaz (now Saudi Arabia) to capture Yanbu.  Around 1500 soldiers were sent by sea and 800 on foot.  They arrived in Yanbu in the same year and were offered next to no resistance by the small Wahabi army. “The soldiers looted all goods, cash, cloth, coffee they found in Yanbu, disonoured the women girls, captured them and sold them to each other.”[14]

This information corresponds with what Al Jabarti has written in his Ajaa’ib al-Athar

“And the month of Safar began on Friday in the year 1235H..and during it a group of Arab and Maghribiah troops arrived, who had been in the land of Hijaz.  And they were accompanied by prisoners from the Wahabis, women, girls and boys.  They came to Al Hamaayil and sold them to whoever would buy them even though they were Muslims and free people.”[15]

The tales of corruption, lies, disrespect and debauchery supersede the widespread lies by Muslims, that life under the Ottomans was some miraculous bright shiny era filled with scholarliness, harmony, and prosperity.


[1]P 19; Life of Abdel Kadir; Colonel H Churchill

[2]P 111; Life of Abdel Kadir; Colonel H Churchill

[3]p 650, The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Volume 1

[4]p 574-5, Awḍah al-ishārāt fīman tawallá Miṣr al-Qāhirah min al-wuzarāʼ wa-al-bāshāt : al-mulaqqab bi-al-tārīkh al-ʻaynī, Ahmad Shalabi

[5]Ditto as above

[6]Ditto as above

[7]p 28, The Ottoman Gentleman, Mustafa Âlî

[8]p 131, The Ottoman Gentleman, Mustafa Âlî

[9]p 23, Travels in Arabia, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt


[10]p 361, Travels in Arabia, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt

[11]p 362, Travels in Arabia, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt

[12]p 377, Travels in Arabia, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt

[13]p x, The Hijaz under Ottoman Control 1840-1908, William Ochenswald

[14]p 282-283, The history of Saudi Arabia, Alexei Vassilev

[15]p 5/646, Al Jabarti’s, Ajaa’ib al-Athar


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