The Ottoman caliphate Straddling two worlds Worldly, pluralist, hedonistic—and Muslim, too

Economist:  ORHAN OSMANOGLU cradles a French handkerchief embossed with the letter H. “This is all I have left that’s my great-great-grandfather’s, the caliph’s,” he says. His family has fallen far since those illustrious days. Abdulhamid II lived in a palace, Yildiz, in the heart of Ottoman Istanbul; Orhan lives in a high-rise at the end of an Istanbul bus route. Europe’s royals flocked to caliphal functions, but when Orhan’s daughter married, Turkey’s present rulers stayed away. Worst of all, an Iraqi impostor has stolen the title his family bore for hundreds of years. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s barbaric outfit, Islamic State (IS), promises to restore the caliphate. Does Mr Baghdadi know what he is talking about?

For 1,300 years the caliphs, or “successors”, prided themselves on developing the Islamic community the Prophet Muhammad left behind. The Ottoman Empire, which rivalled the Roman one in longevity, came to include not only the Middle East, but north Africa, much of the north Black Sea coast, and south-eastern Europe all the way to the gates of Vienna. Ruling from Istanbul, the caliphs kept polyglot courts, reflecting the multiple religions and races represented there. French was a lingua franca at the Ottoman court; Persian, Armenian and Arabic were also spoken.

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