Tanzimat: A Brief Outlook of Secular Reforms in the Ottoman Empire

Aijaz Ahmed


Sultan Mehmut’s reign ended with the beginning of the Tanzimat Era which was the second phase of Ottoman reforms. Tanzimat (Regulation) is the name given to the programmes of reform that were inaugurated in November 1839. The term Tanzimat is derived from the root meaning ‘order’. Tanzimatists wanted to recreate the state and to amalgamate East and West. Their aim was, first of all, to create a modern national army, then to use it to restore the power of central government over the provinces and to create a new frame of work of centralized administrative and secular laws. This paper aims to refute this misleading historical narrative by showing that, rather than implementing Shariah, the Ottoman Sultans were actually attempting to secularise their laws and state institutions. Secular reforms in the Ottoman Empire can be traced back to the 17th century. However, this paper focuses on the period of reformation better known as the Tanzimat (1839-1876). During this period customary and religious laws were either abolished or repealed in favor of secular European ones. This was done on the orders of the Sultan/Caliph himself and with the approval of the religious authorities. During this reform period, the Ottoman Sultans attempted to integrate non-Muslim communities and these communities were given equal rights and privileges

Full Text:



. When the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain during the inquisition in 1492, the eighth Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II (1447-1512) welcomed them to his dominions and granted them Ottoman citizenship

. Ishtiaq Hussain, “ The Tanzimat: The Secular Reforms in the Ottoman Empire”, p.5

. ‘Ibid. p. 6,

. Ibid., p. 7

. Aijaz Ahmed, Islam in Modern Turkey (1938-19820, (Aligarh, 2009), pp. 7-8

R. H. Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire (New Jersey, 1963), p.37 and Turkey. P.78.

. Jews, Christians, Armenians, Albanians and Greeks were included in non-Muslim millets. They were given more rights to encompass all segments of the society. Millet was replaced by Osmanlilik (Ottomanism).

R. H. Davison, op.cit., p.44.

. Elie Elhadj, The Islamic Shield: Arab Resistance to Democratic and Religious Reforms (USA: Brown

Walker Press Florida, 2007), p. 49

. Ilber Ortayli, Ottoman Studies (Istanbul: Bilgi University Press, Second Edition, 2007), p164

. B. Lewis, op.cit, pp. 105-116.

. Mazheruddin Siddiqui, op.cit., p.243.

. For details see, H. W. V. Temporally (ed.), A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, vol. VI, (London, 1924), pp.1-80.

. Ishtiaq Hussain, op.cit., p. 9

. H. Scheel, op.cit., p.15.

. The included the Schools of Finance (1878); Law(1878), Fine Arts (1879), commerce (1882) , Civil Engineering (1884), Veterinary Science (1889 (1889), Police(1891), customs (1892) and improved new Medical School (1898), Bernard Lewis, op.cit., p.177.

. R. H. Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire 1856 - 1876 , p. 116

.. Hans-Lucas Kaiser and Walter Stoffel, Revolution of Islamic Law. Eighty years of the Swiss Civil

Code in Turkey (Berlin: Tagungsbericht University of Fribourg, 2006), p. 1

. Talal Asad, Formation of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 210. Cf. Ishtiaq Hussain. Op. cit., p. 10

. Ibid.,

. Serif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought, (Princeton, 1962), p. 18.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.