“Those Heretics Gathering Secretly . . .”: Qizilbash Rituals and Practices in the Ottoman Empire according to Early Modern Sources
- Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2019
- pp. 39-60
- Additional Information
The sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth centuries was a period when the Safavid Empire, following its consolidation of power in Iran, infiltrated Anatolia and Iraq with a meticulous propaganda machine; while the Ottoman Empire completed its control in the very same region. As the number of Ottoman supporters of the Safavid religio-political movement increased and constituted the majority of the populations in these regions, Istanbul’s initial policy of caution and alertness vis-à-vis its Qizilbash population gave way to a policy of constant surveillance. In its efforts, first to stop and then to reverse pro-Safavid efforts, the Ottoman capital deemed Qizilbash gatherings, rituals, and ceremonies within its borders as potential places where Ottoman subjects forged alternative identities under the influence of Safavid disciples, or halifes, eventually tying their loyalties to the Safavid shah, the spiritual protector of the Qizilbash. On the other hand, these rituals and gatherings, due to their secretive nature, were used to imagine, define, create, and circulate a metanarrative by various Ottoman religious and political authorities, in which they positioned themselves as the guardians of the “true faith” (i.e., Sunnism) against the wide-spread “heresy” (i.e., Shi‘ism). This article, in this regard, examines early modern Qizilbash rituals and ceremonies within the context of the Ottoman central authority’s efforts to establish its geo-political and religious authority vis-à-vis its Qizilbash subjects, as well as its major rival to the east, the Safavids, by analyzing the corpus of early modern Ottoman and Safavid texts, including imperial documents, fetvas, court chronicles, and polemical literature.