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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: April 2010

1 - Shiism in the Ottoman Empire: between confessional ambiguity and administrative pragmatism

Summary

The history of Lebanon's Twelver Shiites under Ottoman imperial rule remains for the most part unknown, subject to narrow sectarian perspectives or subsumed under the general mythology of Lebanese particularism. Whereas the Shiite tradition of southern Lebanon (Jabal ‘Amil) has preserved the memory of the persecution or exile of a handful of Shiite scholars in the sixteenth century as emblematic of the community's fate under the Ottomans as a whole, modern nationalist historiography, where it remembers the Shiites at all, sees them only as seconding the Druze’ and Maronites' creation of a quasi-independent ‘Lebanese’ emirate. Both share a vision of the Ottoman Empire as something inextricably hostile and alien, over the four centuries of its dominion, to local heterodox society, and neither has made much effort to accept the Ottomans' authority and institutions, their language and chronicles and archives, as valid parameters for the writing of Lebanese Shiite history.

To come to a new understanding of Lebanon's Shiite confessional community in the early modern period, both in terms of its internal dynamics and as an organic constituent of what would later become the Lebanese republic, it is first necessary to consider it not as a unique local phenomenon but within the religious and administrative evolution of the Ottoman Empire as a whole. What was the Ottoman state's position vis-à-vis the non-Sunni Muslim minorities on its territory? Were they subject to discrimination or to toleration, to benign or hostile indifference, on the part of the authorities?

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