Beki L. Bahar

This essay by the late Beki L. Behar (z.l.) focuses on conversion to Islam until the end of the Seventeenth Century. If we can speak of a privileged treatment of the Jews in the reigns of Mehmet Fatih, Bayezit II, Süleyman and Selim II – the period of Gracia Mendez and Josef Nasi –, Mehmet IV’s reign (1648‐1687) was marked by lack of tolerance and the Islamic fanatism of the fundamentalist Kadezadeli sect, in which period Jews had to face all sorts of prohibition and forced conversion, sometimes losing their living quarters. Although the Jews as inhabitants of cities rather than villages were generally not subjected to conversion and were not encouraged to enter upon the career at Court known as devşirme, an important wave of conversions initiated with Shabtai Zwi (Sabbatai Zevi), the false mashiah who preferred Islam to death penalty. His numerous followers are known in Turkish as dönmeler (dönmes). Other conversions had a less dramatic background, such as divorcing under Shari’a law or for convenience’s sake. A famous case is the court fysician Moshe ben Raphael Abravanel, who became Muslim in order to be able to practise.

Keywords: Conversion, Shabtai Zwi, dönmes, Islamization