Ottoman Reform, Islamic Tradition, and Historical Difference

  • Brian Silverstein


What became the republic of turkey in 1923 was heir to the institutional structures and administrative experience and apparatus of the Ottoman Empire, the longest-lived and arguably the strongest empire that the Islamic world has seen. Today, with a population of over 70 million, Turkey is one of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority countries and also a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member currently engaging in formal talks on entry into the European Union.1 Those administrative elites who were instrumental in the establishment of this republic had been born and launched their careers in the late Ottoman environment, that is, the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) and the subsequent “Young Turk” regimes of the Committee of Union and Progress, or CUP (1908–1918). What took place in the transition from empire to republic, and what does this genealogy make of the Turkish present? The processes through which Ottomans began to consciously transform their institutions and build new ones in the late eighteenth century are usually glossed as “Westernization.” This is, as I argue shortly, an inadequate conceptualization and falsifies in advance several key issues that ought to be subject to scrutiny.


Historical Difference Muslim World Muslim Scholar Islamic Tradition Republican Administration 
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© Brian Silverstein 2011

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  • Brian Silverstein

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