Fathers in the Ottoman age

Fathers in the Ottoman age

NIKI GAMM Hürriyet Daily News
Fathers in the Ottoman age

Bahaeddin Yediyıldız has described how the 16th century Ottoman scholar Kınalızade Ali Efendi (d. 1572) viewed the family. “The father, as the leader of the family, should be skilled in the art of administration.”

This Sunday is Father’s Day, originally started in the U.S. just a little over 100 years ago, to serve as a balance for Mother’s Day. It is a foreign occasion whose original intention was good, but has for decades gladdened the hearts of retailers who sold items fancied by men like ties and pipes. It certainly didn’t apply to the Ottoman period.

There are some who credit/blame Islam for the subjugation of women; they would have it that its introduction meant the ascendance of men. But culture and tradition much more frequently differentiate the way roles between men and women are divided. Only after the establishment of the Ottoman caliphate in the first quarter of the 16th century were a number of restrictive practices introduced – veiling, polygamy and the right of unilateral divorce for men.

Bahaeddin Yediyıldız has described how the 16th century Ottoman scholar Kınalızade Ali Efendi (d. 1572) viewed the family. “The father, as the leader of the family, should be skilled in the art of administration; he should resemble a ruler or a doctor. He should be employed in one of the branches of administration, commerce, agriculture, or artisanship in order to have an income. He should spend money only to purchase enough food and clothing to protect the health of the family and he should get married in order to perpetuate his lineage.” So it was, and still is in large part, the male who is the decision maker of the family.

Haidths of the prophet and importance of children

According to one hadith (a saying or an act or tacit approval or disapproval ascribed either validly or invalidly to the Islamic prophet Muhammad), a father’s right was for his son to know who brought him into existence and for the son to know he was “a branch of the tree of his life.” In addition, fathers were important because Allah had commanded them to provide for “the physical, educational, psychological, and spiritual needs” of their children, a rather more expansive version of what Kinalızade Ali Efendi wrote. Ironically though, mothers were considered to have more rights than fathers because they carried the child in pregnancy, suffered the pangs of birth and did everything possible to provide comfort to their children.

The Ottoman Turkish male controlled activities considered within the realm of the male, such as herding among nomadic groups and those activities directed at the public sphere. In the village and town, men spent as much time away from the house, working or talking in groups out of doors, in coffeehouses, or in the room specially designated for men (selamlık) in the homes of wealthier men.

One can apply the term patriarchal extended family to the Turkish family, although some have suggested that this represented only a small percentage of the total number of families. The evidence suggests that the nuclear family (husband, wife and children) was more common. The family would be divided into two sections with the man (husband) dealing with the outside world and the woman (wife) being in charge of the household, with neither one taking over or even wanting to take over the duties of the other. Nor would the woman feel subordinate, as she would have her own connections with the women of her own family and the women of the neighborhood. The male in the household might even be unaware of the extent of his wife’s freedom. The Quran and the hadith referred to the importance of one’s parents; and the respect for elders, starting with the father and -- if living -- the grandfather, was remarkable. Respect and loyalty were expected within the family before spreading outward to kin and community, and the ultimate responsibility of the father was to preserve the honor of each family member. There was strong social pressure on single people to get married, and even those divorced or widowed were expected to remarry. People who remained celibate, both men and women, were seen as a potential threat to the social and moral order. Single men were perceived as potential sexual predators, dangerous for women and young boys, as well as rioters and trouble-makers, and their energy had to be controlled and directed towards socially acceptable ends such as warfare.

Brides and the family

To all intents and purposes, the bride left her own family and joined that of her husband after marriage. There she was under the domination of her mother-in-law, (even if she were to bear a male child, which certainly increased her stature). It was then in her best, long-lasting interest to have a close relationship with her son, looking ahead to the time when he would bring a bride into the family, thus making her dominant as a mother-in-law. We see a version of this in the Ottoman imperial dynasty where the Valide Sultan (Mother of the Sultan) essentially ruled over the sultan’s women.
The role of the father was a stern one with the mother often acting to protect her son from discipline. Although babies were generally held to be the responsibility of their mothers, fathers and brothers were known to play with the smaller children. The fathers might even take their children with them to visit friends or go to the coffeehouse.

Monogamous marriage explanation of Ali Efendi

Kınalızade Ali Efendi said of monogamous marriage, “The man should be content with his first wife, should not marry any other or have concubines”; the man at home is like the soul in the body, as there are not two bodies for one soul, there must not be two houses for one man.” For the general populace, this held true. Marriages were monogamous, and cases of second marriages show that this was most frequently done because of divorce or lack of male offspring. The 16th century German Lutheran minister, Solomon Schweigger, confirms this: “The Turks govern the world and their wives govern them. In no other country women do enjoy themselves as much. Polygamy is not practiced. Probably they have tried this, and have given up seeing that it causes much trouble and expense.”

However, a man could have sexual relations with female slaves in his household, even if they were his wife’s. Strict rules had to be followed by husbands of imperial princesses. The husband of a sultana could not indulge in infidelity or have other wives or favorites. He had to remain monogamous or face dire consequences, even death. The harem in the household of an Ottoman sultana was strictly her personal quarters along , separate from her husband’s apartments. The oldest son of the imperial dynasty should have succeeded to the throne as soon as the father died. But, in fact, whichever of the sons could first enter the royal compound in Istanbul would be proclaimed the sultan and obeyed by the people and the army.

Since the treasury was located in Istanbul, it was easy to secure the support of the Janissaries and with their help control the rest of the army and the civilians. There doesn’t seem to have been an agreed upon means of fixing the succession so brother might fight brother and a son might even try to overthrow his father. This led to the practice of the brother who successfully gained the throne having his brothers strangled, although this stopped when it was realized that the dynasty was down to only one living male. After that brothers were confined in the harem at Topkapı Palace, and the throne passed on to the oldest living male member of the dynasty.