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[Anatolian Civilizations] [Turkish civilization]


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There used to be no religious fanaticism among the Turks. Everyone could choose the religion they wanted to belong to. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism used to exist in Asia, the homeland of the great religions. Before Islam, there were Turks who met these religions and converted to them. But these religions did not mix well with their national characteristics. In fact, Turks, once they met the Islamic Religion, gave up all these other religions and choose Islam and after Islam they did not complement any other religion.

The Turks’ first relationship with Islam and Muslims started during the Umayyad Caliphate period. In this period, the Arab Muslims took control over Syria and Iran and reached to the Maveraunnehir Region. Turks lived in this region between the Seyhun und Ceyhun Rivers. The Umayyad caliphate did not follow a policy that would help spread the Islamic religion and to domesticate (warm the Turks to Islam). On the contrary, with the racist “Suubiyye” policy they executed, even though they had sincerely converted, the Muslim Turks faced racism and were kept away from the positive attributions they could’ve provided to this Civilization. The Umayyad Caliphate was after gaining new victories; they viewed non-Arab Muslims as “Mevali” (enfranchised slave), continued collecting “cizye” from the converted Muslims, kept oppressing the local people, and burdened heavy taxes upon non-Muslims. For these reasons, the first encounter of the Turks and Arabs was not quite friendly and small-scale hostilities occurred between the two groups. These hostilities became fiercer (heated) especially when Kuteybe b. Muslim became the governor of Horasan (705). However, there still were Muslim Turks, who had accepted the Islamic faith after having studies it and even though they were small in number there were Muslim Turks in the Umayyad army. Horasan governor Ubeydullah b. Ziyad for example, later in 674, crated (formed) an army of 2000 Turkish archers.

The unjust and unequal treatment of the Umayyad Caliphate towards the non-Arab Muslims had increased the unease among the Turks who had accepted Islam as well. The Turks, by supporting the Abbasid State against the Umayyad, played an important role in the attainment of power of the Abasi. The army general of the Horasan region, Turkish descended Ebu Muslim, rebelled and declared Ebu ‘l-Abbas, a descendant of Hz. Prophet’s uncle Hz. Abbas, caliph. The Umayyad government was terminated and the Abbasid State created (750). The Turks embraced the Abbasid State more and were warm towards the new management.

It hadn’t even been a year since the creation of the Abbasid State when the great Chinese Army started to move west, to claim domination over Central Asia. The Turks and the Arabs, who up until that point had always been on opposite fronts, joined together against their common enemy for the first time in this war. There was a big pitched battle by the Talas River (751). The red battle lasted five days and the Chinese were defeated immensely. The victorious result of the Talas pitched battle, created significant consequences and left an influence on the Turkish, Chinese, Islamic and World history and civilization. With this victory, the possibility of Chinese domination in Central Asia diminished. The Chinese, after the Talas defeat, did not move westwards; pass the Tiyensan Mountains, until the twentieth century. And the Turks now turned towards west. Except Timur’s unfinished expedition (1405), the Turks did not make a serious move against the Chinese. In time the Turks left the Otuken Valley as well and the Mogols started to settle into this area.

The Talas war had great repercussions in the Islamic world. With this victory, the Abbasid state proved its power and gained sympathy and constitutional monarchy in the eyes of all Muslims.

The Talas War is a turning point for the Turkish-Muslim marital relations. With this war, the hatred between the Turks and Arabs decreased and peace replaced the cruel wars that had been going on for years. Now, instead of cruel wars, commercial and friendly relations were taking place between the Turks and Muslims. Turks, from different religions, had the chance to meet Muslims and get to know the Islamic religion closely. The superior principals of the Islamic faith helped the Turks in this region embrace Islam. Hundreds of millions of Turks in Central Asia came within the Islamic Civilization.

Until the year 150, the Turks studied Islam. The Turks’ mass conversion to Islam gained (picked up) speed especially in the X century. During the 900s, there was great interest towards Islam among the Bulgarian Turks, who were yet in the Itil (Volga) area. In fact, the Itil Bulgarian emperor Almıs Han, in 920 called upon the Abbasid caliph for help in 920, asking him to send him religious scholars and architects. During the same years the Islamic religion spread first among the Karluk, Yagma and the Cigil and then among the Oguz.

In his capacity of the Great Turk Khan, Satuk Bugra Han, who sat on the Karahanli throne, recognized Islam as his religion with hundreds and millions of other Turks. His declaration of Islam as the official religion (924) is an important turning point in Turkish, Islamic and world history.
Even though it seems very insignificant when looked at in terms of world history, events that create such big and important consequences are rare. Turks opening their hearts to the Islamic religion and becoming Muslims en masse is one of those events that should be stressed attentively in terms of the extraordinary results it has generated.

The Turks, without any pressure or coercion, embraced the Islamic faith truly and sincerely, of their own will. By doing so, they stepped into a historical era that was more fortunate and brighter than their 1200 years of written history.

The Turks accepted the Islamic religion because it suited their national structure and thus they were able to preserve their presence, unity, peaceful coexistence and even their Turkish identity. Among the Turks who choose religions other then Islam, lost their national unity and Turkish identity.

During the second half of the IX Century, in which the Turks had converted almost all together to Islam and during the beginning of the X Century, they lost their quality of being the Asian Empire and a global state. The largest ones being the Uygur and Karahan khans, they partitioned into small and large nations and lost their political unity. Most of them joined different religions that did not go well with their national characteristics and lost their unity of religion and faith. Their power and strength had disintegrated and they had no solidarity and unity, peace and quietude left. They needed an ideal that would elevate and bring them together, more then ever. And this they found with Islam.

The Islamic Civilization, that is a breakthrough in the development of the history of mankind, is the common work of the Arabs, Iranians and Turks. When the Turks converted to Islam during a time when Islam had lost its dynamism and vitality, they added great liveliness, dynamism and new elements to Islam; they made it even more global.

The Islamic civilization that emerged into the historic scene with great dynamism and spirit, incredibly rapidly brought the old world’s most important lands and civilization centers under its power. Not even half a century had passed since the death of Hz. Muhammad (632) when the Muslims had erased the Sasani Empire from the historic scene; had seized a big portion of the lands of the Byzantine Empire, moved pass the Caucasus, reached Istanbul and were pounding at its door. Muslims, who had conquered all of North Africa, moved into Spain in 711, passed the Pirene Mountains and proceeded into France. This forward movement could only be stopped with the Puvatya War in 732. One of the Muslims’ biggest intentions was to conquer Istanbul as well and create world domination. In order to do so they created a big naval force. Cyprus was conquered. The Byzantine fleet was defeated on the eastern Mediterranean shores in 655’te and in 668, only thirty-six years after the death of Hz. Prophet, had the Muslims for the first time besieged Istanbul. This first besiegement lasted until the spring of 669. Halid Ibni Zeyd (ebu Eyyub el-Ensari), (in whose house Hz. Prophet had stayed as a guest during the Medina emigration and who had also been his flagman) had taken part in the besiegement as well and died while serving the state. Until 781, the Muslims besieged Istanbul four times but were never able to conquer it. Only the Ottoman Emperor Mehmed the Conqueror was able to capture Istanbul in 1453. Even though the Muslims had besieged Istanbul many times they were not able to conquer it but even during the “Dort Halife Devri” (The Age of the Four Caliphate) they were able to pass beyond the Taurus Mountains and the Firat River. During the Abbasid State, border districts were established, and the Taurus Mountains-Firat River line was accepted as the Byzantine-Muslim border. The Byzantine Empire took these districts back during the disintegration era of the Abbasid State and moved down south.

During the Turks’ conversion to Islam, the Islamic community was in both intellectual and political upheaval. The old Civilization elements that seemed to have converted to Islam but in reality had not done sincerely -but couldn’t openly oppose Islam’s rapid and strong expansion- were attacking the Islamic faith, its community, state and people in an organized, systematic, secret and subtle manner. They were –taking advantage of the internal conflict and competition- forming cliques, and creating even more hostilities and internal chaos. Efforts to divert Islam from its origin, anarchy, terror, and sabotages; the wrong state policies of the Umayyad and Abbasid States, and many other internal and external factors had weakened the Islamic community. It had retired into itself, lost its power and had entered a very dangerous and vital phase. Extreme ideas and superstitions that were very differing from the essence of Islam were out of hand. The Mu’teziles that used to defend every opinion and were protected by some of the Abbasid caliphates, after awhile reoriented and were in quite an opposite attitude then earlier. They were executing what they called “mihne” (similar to inquisitions) to those who didn’t share their beliefs. On the one side the extreme Mu’tezileciler that tried to solve everything with rationality, on the other side the Batini, Hurufi, Haşhaşi that ignored rationality; and those who wanted to integrate their old beliefs of Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism into Islam – a great gap had formed between shiite that were divided into countless wings and the Sunna; there was no unity left with in the society. After the extreme racist policies of the Umayyad, the Abbasid emperors did not see any harm in bringing certain old faith and civilization members to top positions in the Empire. These people however, tried to integrate the rituals and beliefs of their old religions, with state power, into Islam. For example, the old Buddhist Bermeki, who held the highest vizierate position after the caliph during the Abbasid period, would prove not to have parted from their old faiths by burning frankincense in mosques. Moreover, they would try to suggest that caliph Harun Resid do the same, in a fancy manner in the middle of Kaaba.

Turks, in their origins, did not like extreme ideas, anarchy and chaos, nonsense arguments and fanaticism. Thus, disregarding different ideas and perceptions, they turned to the origins of Islam. They fought against the extreme and opposite ideas, dissension and disturbances that would hurt Islam and the unity of the Muslims.

The active and hard-working Turks, who do not like to be pegged down, did not stand idle after they became Muslims. A significant portion of them came to the Caliphate Center and went into service for the Abbasid Islamic State. They were given important roles in the navy and in the government. They played especially active roles in the Abbasid state after the IX century. During this period, Avasim cities, which consisted of Turks, were established on the borders as a protection against the Byzantium. After the second half of the IX century, the Abbasid State granted self-administration (autonomy) to these domains. Thereby, some Turkish governors and commanders established the first Islamic Turkish States (Tolunogullar, Ihsit etc.) within the Abbasid State.

The Turks, before converting to Islam, did not have a positive image in the eyes of foreigners and Arabs; they judged the Turks in a negative way because they did not know them closely. During the Talas war both sides started to get acquainted with each other and soon after they became very close. The prejudgments, hatred and hostilities were replaced with sympathy, friendship and positive opinions.

Some interesting examples of this friendship were even expressed in literary works. After getting to know the Turks closely, the infamous Arab writer and literary man Cahiz (died in 870) wrote about the superior characteristics of the Turks in his book Fezailu’l-Etrak (The Virtues of the Turks). In this interesting book, Cahiz writes about the martial characteristics of the Turks. He wrote that the Turks will not be caught off guard on the battlefield and that no one could overcome them. He continues by adding that even Alexander the Great, who reduced the world to submission, could not overcome the Turks and he had to say “utrukuhum” or in other words “abandon them to be” (“Onlari kendi hallerine terk edin!”) when he realized he could not equal the Turks in strength. Cahiz indicates that the name “Turk” is said to be derived from the word “truk” or “terk” (abandon) and continues to list the martial characteristics of the Turks as followed:

“A Turk is even fast when driving his cattle. He can hit anything, flying or still, in front, behind, left, right, above or below, with his arrow. He can hit while another has still not put an arrow in his bow. He rides his horse in hills and valleys faster than any man does on a flat land. He won’t be caught off guard on his horse. He sees both his front and beyond very clearly as if he has four eyes, two in front of him, two behind. He sees the things behind him when others can’t see them when in front of them. The days he spends on a horse is more than the ones he spends on land. He can switch horses without touching the ground. Their horses too, are as enduring, though and patient of adversity as the Turks. He has no weight on his horse and no footsteps when he walks. The Turks are easily differentiated among other soldiers. A Turk is a shepherd, a stableman, an acrobat, a vet and a cavalryman at the same time. In short even a single Turk is a nation by himself.”

Cahiz, in his same work talks about other characteristics of the Turks:

“No one can overcome them. No one can stand against them. They are not small game. They know how to master any difficulty. Even if they were dropped in a well, their hands tied, they will for sure find a way out and escape. They are not afraid of anyone but Allah. They will not get carried away with unfounded hopes; they don’t waste their times with unnecessary jobs. They will not hesitate to get the most of what they can. They would not sleep if it were not to rest their body. Nevertheless even their sleep is half awake. There is no one who treats people as nicely and pleasantly, as honoring and rewarding as the Turks. What they know they know perfectly, and what they don’t know, they don’t pretend to know. They do their business entirely and hardy. They deal with all of their affairs on their own. Turks do not occupy themselves with explanations, different opinions, with audacity and poems. Their aim is to be on the safe side. There are seldom disagreements among them. They are genuine, free of hypocrisy. Turks do not know cheap flattery, gilded words, double-dealings, acting, adverse criticism, hypocrisy and evil against their friends. Certain opinions have not corrupted them. Others’ possessions are not permissible with fraud. Their love and devotion to their country is great and intense. Their structure is based on action. It is not in them to have fun all day, to wait and to be occupied with few jobs. Their mental strength is even more then their physical strength. They are passionate, temperate, warm, and tolerant. There memories are many and their viewpoint keen. They are loyal, just, understanding and clever. They see scanty means as insolvency, to stay somewhere for a long time as stupidity, comfort as hindrance, being content as being weak of purpose, and abandoning a war as a reason for vileness. They have simple and heroic hearts that have not been corrupted or influenced by different and adverse ideas. They are a strong and mighty people: massive, long and thick haired, big headed and large boned. They have wide shoulders and foreheads, thick necks and long arms. They are a people whose descent is the purest, whose irritability is the strongest, whose bodies are the arduous to carry arms. Their armors look the best on them, they raise the most generations; they are powerful and mighty. They deserve to be in the core of the government, to support the caliphs and the sultans. They have every right to be brought forward to honorable positions. They possess wisdom, comprehension, consideration, high vision, trust and chastity. If prophets and philosophers were born and had lived on their lands and there thoughts had passed through their hearts, the Turks would have been better in literature than the people of Basra, then the Greeks in philosophy and then the Chinese in the arts. If these superior characteristics are to be combined with a cause and aim that would motivate them and lead them to take action, the big force they will become cannot even be imagined.”

Cahiz’s opinions and thoughts on the Turks, even before they had converted to Islam, is proven to be accurate with the unmatched contributions the Turks have made to the Islamic Civilization. His point is further confirmed with the unimaginable successes the Turks have attained after they have accepted Islam as an ideal.

The Turks assumed the role of protector of the Islamic World, which was in chaos. The Seljuk State protected the Abbasid caliphs. The Caliph had been living under the Shiite Buveyhogullari tyranny for a long time. Even though near to all the people were Sunnites in and around the Caliphate Center, -taking advance of the weakness and internal chaos of the Caliphate Center - the Buveyhogullari had established a shiite State in Iran and had the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad under their tyranny. The Buveyhi, were getting ready to announce the imam of the Shitte Fatimi State in Cairo as a caliph. When Caliph El-Kaim learned about this, he read the Seljuk sultan Tugrul’s name after his own at the khutba (sermon) in Baghdad and requested him to his presence on December 10th, 1055. Sultan Turgul arrived in Baghdad ten days after and ended the shiite authority. He burned the Shiite Buveyhogullari State and gave the Sunnites domination in the region again. He opened war to the Fatimi imam and had his and the name of the Abbasid caliph read everywhere at the khutbas. He appointed a Turkish government in Baghdad. The announced that the caliph was the Spiritual leader of the entire Islamic World and that the mundane (temporal) domination was in the hands of the Seljuks. The Abbasid State entrusted their political power in the Islamic World to the Seljuk Turks. In this way, the nine century long Turkish domination (later continued with the Ottoman Empire) in the Islamic World had started. From then on, the Turks were both the flagmen and the protectors of the Islamic religion.

The Turks, during the Seljuk and the Ottoman Empire (which was created under the Seljuk heritage) were the protectors of Muslims and the entire Islamic World. They saw any attack on Muslims (in or outside their borders) and on other Islamic states as an attack on themselves. Their main principle was not to be on the side of the strong but the weak, not with the cruel, the tyrant, but with the aggrieved. No matter what faith or religion they were from, they helped the wronged and weak that sought their help. The Turks interpreted and practiced the Islamic religion within the framework of tolerance and so did they live it in that way. They showed this tolerance as much as they could to those of Islamic faith and other religions.

The Turk’s service to Islam was not restricted to political and military service. The Turks, who influenced the entire Islamic world in terms of political and military structure, also played an undeniable role in the development of the Islamic world. The Islamic Renaissance in the areas of science, art, and literature took place with the contribution and peace and security the Turks had provided. Islam’s outbreak from the narrow Arabian and Persian frame and its development into a global religion and civilization was mainly the work of the Turks.

The Nizamiye Madrasahs (1066) created by the Seljuk vizier Nizamulmulk in Baghdad, are accepted as the first examples of Islamic madrasahs. There had been similar educational institutions in earlier periods, but the Nizamiye Madrasahs not only taught theology, but also exact sciences. In this sense madrasahs are the first educational institutions to pioneer modern universities.

The Turks embanked the region against the crusades from the west and the Mogol invasion from the east. The Islamic World was thus saved from dissolving. The Turks were the flagmen of the Islamic World for more than a thousand years. As a result of the crusades carried out by Gazneli Mahmud, Islam reached India. Consequently, the foundations of Pakistan and Bangladesh were established. During the Ottoman Empire, the Turks, on the other hand, settled into the Balkans and introduced Islam to many other nationalities. Albanians and Bosnians became Muslim during this period.

The translation of the works of the Greek and Hellenic Civilizations, which started during the Abbasid period, reached its peak during the Turkish domination. Thus there were great developments in the Islamic World. The Greek and Hellenic Civilizations that had been forgotten in the west, due to the crusades, were introduced to Europe with the Islamic Civilization. The worldly renowned Turkish scholars became the leaders of the Islamic Civilization and created works that guided science for hundreds of years. Among the most famous Turkish scholars are Farabi, Biruni and Ibni Sina.

Farabi (870-950), who was born in the Karacuk (Farab) city of the Oguz State, wrote about 160 books on subjects like math, physics and astronomy. Most of his works have been translated to Latin. His work, Ihsau’l-Ulum Farabi has named the sciences for the first time. Moreover he has explained the Oklit Geometry.

Influenced by Farabi's ideas and known as "Avicenna" in Europe, another known Turkish scholar was Ibni Sina (980-1037). He has 220 works on varying subjects. His work in the area of medicine, "El-Kanun fi't-Tib" was translated to Latin and used as a textbook for hundreds of years.

In the subject areas of Math, geometry, medicine and geography, Biruni (973-1051) has more than 113 works. His main success is in the area of astronomy. He has invented tools to calculate the distance of the starts and their degrees. He calculated the nucleus caliber of the world as 6338.8 km, with only a 15 km falsity. The Astronomy book he wrote is recognized as the world’s first astronomy encyclopedia.

The other first Turkish scientists that come to mind are: in the subject area of philosophy, the pioneers of El-Harezmi and Sehristani and Islamic mysticism (Sufism) Gazali, Ibni Ruşd, Fahreddin Razi; in geometry Abdurrezzak Turki; one of the creators of trigonometry Abdullah el-Barani. The Seljuk Sultan Meliksah built an observatory in Isfehan and Baghdad and called famous Iranian mathematician and astronaut Omer Hayyam to service. Meliksah had a group of scientists, including Ömer Hayyam prepare a calendar called Celali or Takvim-i Meliksah (the calendar of Meliksah) based on the year of the sun.

During the Turkish-Islamic State, great developments and progress in the areas of art and architecture also took place. Architecture developed in accordance with the Turkish-Islamic culture. Its most notable works are mosques, madrasahs, caravansarays, inns, Turkish baths, almshouses, hospitals, bridges and fountains. The first Turkish-Islamic architectural example is the Tuluniye Mosque in Cairo, done by Tolunoglu Ahmed. The mosque is still there in present day.

Dome, arc and pillar forms of the Central Asian tent culture were enhanced by the Turks and brought a new form of architecture to the Islamic Architectural scene. Especially in works like dervish lodge, cupola, mosque, und madrasah it is possible to see the incredible Turkish architectural style. In the areas of calligraphy, complexion, china, miniature arts and ceramics (tile), handloom, rock and mine work ship etc. the Turks have created exemplary work of arts. Even though it doesn’t go well with the Islamic belief, the arts of sculpture and screw print had continued as well. For example, Sultan Tugrul had screw printed his own picture on his medallion and animal figures have been used on many buildings.

The Turks have brought improvements in the area of Music as well. Farabi has composed two musical works and these have been written in world music history. In this work, Farabi has analyzed the sound and physics foundations of music and have displayed the characteristics of the pitch level for the first time. The nevbet (band) at the Palace, have been exemplary for the Ottoman Military Mehter (a kind of band). Moreover, some of the music and dances of the order of the dervishes are the foundations of the Turkish Sufistic Music.

The Turks joined Central Asia’s superior Islamic Civilization with all their sincerity and energy. The Karahanli State left the Uygur alphabet and started to write Turkish with Arabic letters. A thousand year era of Turkish being written with the Arabic letters had thus started. In Poetry, the Arabs meter of Aruz, taken from the Iranians, was being used. In poetry the model was the Iranian poems. But in scientific and religious works, Arabic was preferred. The language of study at madrasahs was Arabic.

The first known Muslim Turk Poet Yusuf Has Hacip completed his work of art called Kutadgu Bilig in 1070 in the Kasgar Palace. One of the Karahan princes Kasgarlı Mahmut wanted to introduce the Turkish language and the Turkish Culture to the Arabs and the Islamic Community, with his Arabic work called Divan-i Lugati’t-Turk. This work that was written between the years 1072 and 1077 was presented to Caliph Muktedi in Baghdad.

Turkish is a many slayable language in which words can be reproduced adding suffixes to the end, and is very rich in terms of verb tenses. For centuries, reaching great audiences, it had become a very flowing, literary and epic language. Between the years 730 and 734, the Orhun Monuments that were built in the Gokturk capital of Otuken, had inscriptions and old Turkish epics engraved on them using the Gokturk alphabet. This is a sign that the Turks had an epic and advanced culture. The language used on the Gokturk Monuments is as perfect as to be admired. The sentences are short, solid, impressive, and exceptionally expressive; the ideas are original and the expressions poetic. After the 38-letter Gokturk alphabet that was very compatible with the Turkish phonetic, the Turks found the Uygur alphabet during the Uygur period. The Turks, who then started to use the Arabic letters with the people of Karahanli, adopted and improved this alphabet to their own language, used it for more than a thousand years. Especially during the Ottoman Empire, the Arabic letters were not only used in writing but it also became a unique tool of art and decoration on architectural designs and framed inscription. In the 20th Century the Turks started using the Latin alphabet.

With Yavuz Sultan Selim ending the Memluk government in Egypt, and the passing of the caliphate to the Ottomans, the Turks became the inspirational leaders of the Islamic World. The Turks that kept moving towards the west have been influential in changing the history of the districts they entered. Everywhere they went, they created the most beautiful architectural and artistic works of their times.