Saving the Minds and Loyalties of Subjects: Ottoman Education Policy Against the Spread of Shiism in Iraq During the Time of Abdülhamid II
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Ottoman authorities realized that the Sunni orthopraxy and ipso facto state sovereignty in Iraq was in danger. They believed that the great numbers of Sunni masses converting to Shiism could pose a serious political risk in the near future. To guarantee the political loyalties of the subjects living in Iraq, the Ottoman authorities formulated a policy of education to protect and correct beliefs. This article explains how the Ottoman government during the time of Abdülhamid II applied counter-measures against the perceived spread of Shiism in Iraq. These included appointing single Sunni professors to madrasas, sending itinerant preachers among the tribesmen to teach them the basic tenets of Sunnism, opening modern schools, and taking Iraqi Shiite boys at an early age to Istanbul to change their beliefs. The article further addresses issues that emerged during the implementation of this policy, such as the questions of whether to select local or non-local ulama and how to overcome financial challenges. Overall, the Ottoman policy of education aimed at disseminating an identity of Ottomanness (Osmanlılık) that included the correction of the beliefs of non-Sunni Muslim groups. This also meant re-defining Ottomanness in closer association with the Sunni interpretation of Islam.
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