SULEYMAN I Biography - Royalty, Rulers & leaders


Biography » royalty rulers leaders » suleyman i


Suleyman in his time was regarded as the most significant ruler in the world, by             
both Muslims and Europeans. His military empire expanded greatly both to the                 
east and west, and he threatened to overrun the heart of Europe itself. In                   
Constantinople, he embarked on vast cultural and architectural projects.                     
Istanbul in the middle of the sixteenth century was architecturally the most                 
energetic and innovative city in the world. While he was a brilliant military                 
strategist and canny politician, he was also a cultivator of the arts. Suleyman's             
poetry is among the best poetry in Islam, and he sponsored an army of artists,               
religious thinkers, and philosophers that outshone the most educated courts of               
In Islamic history, Suleyman is regarded as the perfect Islamic ruler in history.             
He is asserted as embodying all the necessary characteristics of an Islamic                   
ruler, the most important of which is justice ('adale ). The Qur'an itself                   
points to King Solomon as embodying the perfect monarch because he so perfectly               
embodied 'adale ; Suleyman, named after Solomon, is regarded in Islamic history               
as the second Solomon. The reign of Suleyman in Ottoman and Islamic history is               
generally regarded as the period of greatest justice and harmony in any Islamic               
The Europeans called him "The Magnificent," but the Ottomans called him Kanuni,               
or "The Lawgiver." The Suleymanie Mosque, built for Suleyman, describes Suleyman             
in its inscription as Nashiru kawanin al-Sultaniyye , or "Propagator of the                   
Sultanic Laws." The primacy of Suleyman as a law-giver is at the foundation of               
his place in Islamic history and world view. It is perhaps important to step                 
back a moment and closely examine this title to fully understand Suleyman's                   
place in history.                                                                             
The word used for law here, kanun, has a very specific reference. In Islamic                 
tradition, the Shari'ah, or laws originally derived from the Qur'an , are meant               
to be universally applied across all Islamic states. No Islamic ruler has the                 
power to overturn or replace these laws. So what laws was Suleyman "giving" to               
the Islamic world? What precisely does kanun refer to since it doesn't refer to               
the main body of Islamic law, the Shari'ah ?                                                 
The kanun refer to situational decisions that are not covered by the Shari'ah .               
Even though the Shari'ah provides all necessary laws, it's recognized that some               
situations fall outside their parameters. In Islamic tradition, if a case fell               
outside the parameters of the Shari'ah , then a judgement or rule in the case                 
could be arrived at through analogy with rules or cases that are covered by the               
Shari'ah . This method of juridical thinking was only accepted by the most                   
liberal school of Shari'ah , Hanifism, so it is no surprise that Hanifism                     
dominated Ottoman law.                                                                       
The Ottomans, however, elevated kanun into an entire code of laws independent of             
the Shari'ah. The first two centuries of Ottoman rule, from 1350 to 1550, saw an             
explosion of kanun rulings and laws, so that by the beginning of the sixteenth               
century, the kanun were a complete and independent set of laws that by and large             
were more important than the Shari'ah . This unique situation was brought about               
in part because of the unique heritage of the Ottomans. In both Turkish and                   
Mongol traditions, the imperial law, or law pronounced by the monarch, was                   
considered sacred. They even had a special word for it: the Turks called it Türe             
and the Mongols called it Yasa . In the system of Türe and Yasa , imperial law               
was regarded as the essential and sacred foundation of the empire. When this                 
tradition collided with the Islamic Shari'ah tradition, a compromised system                 
combining both was formed.                                                                   
The Sultanic laws were first collected together by Mehmed the Conqueror. Mehmed               
divided the kanun into two separate sets or laws. The first set dealt with the               
organization of government and the military, and the second set dealt with the               
taxation and treatment of the peasantry. The latter group was added to after the             
death of Mehmed and the Ottoman kanun pretty much crystallized into its final                 
form in 1501. Suleyman, for his part, revised the law code, but on the whole the             
Suleyman code of laws is pretty identical to the 1501 system of laws. However,               
it was under Suleyman that the laws took their final form; no more revisions                 
were made after his reign. From this point onwards, this code of laws was called,             
kanun-i 'Osmani , or the "Ottoman laws."                                                     
Western historians know Suleyman primarily as a conqueror, for he made Europe                 
know fear like it had never known of any other Islamic state. Conquest, like                 
every other aspect of the Ottoman state and culture, was a multicultural                     
heritage, with origins as far back as Mesopotamia and Persia, and as far afield               
as the original Mongol and Turkish peoples in eastern and central Asia.                       
Suleyman had many titles; in inscriptions he calls himself:                                   
Slave of God, powerful with the power of God, deputy of God on earth, obeying                 
the commands of the Qur'an and enforcing them throughout the world, master of                 
all lands, the shadow of God over all nations, Sultan of Sultans in all the                   
lands of Persians and Arabs, the propagator of Sultanic laws (Nashiru kawanin al-Sultaniyye   
), the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Khans, Sultan, son of Sultan, Suleyman Khan.               
Slave of God, master of the world, I am Suleyman and my name is read in all the               
prayers in all the cities of Islam. I am the Shah of Baghdad and Iraq, Caesar of             
all the lands of Rome, and the Sultan of Egypt. I seized the Hungarian crown and             
gave it to the least of my slaves.                                                           
He called himself the "master of the lands of Caesar and Alexander the Great,"               
and later as simply, "Caesar." It's hard, of course, not to be slightly humbled               
by assertions of such greatness, and no ruler in the sixteenth century was more               
adept at diminishing the egos of all the other rulers surrounding him.                       
Suleyman believed, however, that the entire world was his possession as a gift               
of God. Even though he did not occupy Roman lands, he still claimed them as his               
own and almost launched an invasion of Rome (the city came within a few                       
hairbreadths of Ottoman invasion in Suleyman's expedition against Corfu). In                 
Europe, he conquered Rhodes, a large part of Greece, Hungary, and a major part               
of the Austrian Empire. His campaign against the Austrians took him right to the             
doorway of Vienna.                                                                           
Besides invasions and campaigns, Suleyman was a major player in the politics of               
Europe. He pursued an aggressive policy of European destabilization; in                       
particular, he wanted to destabilize both the Roman Catholic church and the Holy             
Roman Empire. When European Christianity split Europe into Catholic and                       
Protestant states, Suleyman poured financial support into Protestant countries               
in order to guarantee that Europe remain religiously and politically                         
destabilized and so ripe for an invasion. Several historians, in fact, have                   
argued that Protestantism would never have succeeded except for the financial                 
support of the Ottoman Empire.                                                               
Suleyman was responding to an aggressively expanding Europe. Like most other non-Europeans,   
Suleyman fully understood the consequences of European expansion and saw Europe               
as the principle threat to Islam. The Islamic world was beginning to shrink                   
under this expansion. Portugal had invaded several Muslim cities in eastern                   
Africa in order to dominate trade with India, and Russians, which the Ottomans               
regarded as European, were pushing central Asians south when the Russian                     
expansion began in the sixteenth century. So in addition to invading and                     
destabilizing Europe, Suleyman pursued a policy of helping any Muslim country                 
threatened by European expansion. It was this role that gave Suleyman the right,             
in the eyes of the Ottomans, to declare himself as supreme Caliph of Islam. He               
was the only one successfully protecting Islam from the unbelievers and, as the               
protector of Islam, deserved to be the ruler of Islam.                                       
While the expansion of European power helps explain Suleyman's conquest of                   
European territories, it doesn't help us when it comes to the vast amount of                 
Islamic territory that he invaded or simply annexed. How does conquering Islamic             
territory "protect" Islam? The Ottomans understood this as belonging to Suleyman's           
task as universal Caliph of Islam. This role demanded that Suleyman also see to               
the integrity of the faith itself and to root out heresy and heterodoxy. His                 
annexation of Islamic territory, such as the annexation of Arabia, were                       
justified by asserting that the ruling dynasties had abandoned orthodox belief               
or practice. Each of these invasions or annexations were preceded, however, by a             
religious judgement by Islamic scholars as to the orthodoxy of the ruling                     
Suleyman undertook to make Istanbul the center of Islamic civilization. He began             
a series of building projects, including bridges, mosques, and palaces, that                 
rivaled the greatest building projects of the world in that century. The                     
greatest and most brilliant architect of human history was in his employ: Sinan.             
The mosques built by Sinan are considered the greatest architectural triumphs of             
Islam and possibly the world. They are more than just awe-inspiring; they                     
represent a unique genius in dealing with nearly insurmountable engineering                   
Suleyman was a great cultivator of the arts and is considered one of the great               
poets of Islam. Under Suleyman, Istanbul became the center of visual art, music,             
writing, and philosophy in the Islamic world. This cultural flowering during the             
reign of Suleyman represents the most creative period in Ottoman history; almost             
all the cultural forms that we associate with the Ottomans date from this time.               
The reign of Suleyman, however, is generally regarded, by both Islamic and                   
Western historians, as the high point of Ottoman culture and history. While                   
Ottoman culture flourishes during the reign of Selim II, Suleyman's son, the                 
power of the state, internally and externally, began to perceptibly decline.                 
Islamic historians believe that the decline was due to two factors: the                       
decreased vigilance of the Sultan over the functions of government and their                 
consequent corruption, and the decreased interest of the government in popular               
opinion. Western historians are not sure how to explain the decline after the                 
death of Suleyman. A major factor seems to be a series of eccentric and                       
sometimes insane Sultans all through the seventeenth century. When the Ottomans               
abandoned the practice of killing all rivals to the throne, they began to                     
imprison them. The Sultanate, then, often fell to individuals who had been                   
imprisoned for decades and, well, there was often no cream filling in those                   
Twinkies. This led to the growth of the power of the bureaucracy and its                     
consequent corruption (this does not fundamentally disagree with the Islamic                 
version of Ottoman history). The decline in the Ottoman Empire in the Western                 
tradition is also considerably determined by the ever-increasing expansion of                 
the European powers. How much this played a direct part in the decline of the                 
Ottomans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is difficult to determine,               
but there is no question that the last century of the Ottomans (19th), the                   
principle historical factor in Ottoman decline was the hyper-aggressive                       
expansion of European colonial powers. Whatever the reason, the Ottoman Empire               
begins its slow transformation under Selim II, the son of Suleyman.