Syncretized Islam

Instead of giving accurate description in their discussion of the conversion of the Seljuk Turks to Islam, historical accounts muddied the waters. Some books said the Seljuks welcomed Muslim Arab traders into their territory between the seventh and the tenth centuries. Other books didn’t specify, simply saying that by the time the Turks invaded Armenian territory the Seljuks had become Muslims.

The historical accounts that described the initial contacts of Seljuk Turks with Muslim Arabs as a benign exchange glossed over the latter’s tendency to demand religious conversion at the point of a scimitar.

Why is the probable scenario coercion? Forcing a people to change religions usually alters their practices (what they do in worship), but does little to give them a different world view (how they think about or see the world). Nor does the coercion change the hearts of the coerced.

A case in point was the pervading belief among Ottoman Turks in the ‘Evil Eye.’ If the Seljuk Turks didn’t destroy a Christian church in Armenia, at the very least the Turks painted over any eyes in interior decorations/murals or scratched out eyes on carved-stone, religious statues  in the churches. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, color had special significance. Muslim women and girls wore blue. And buildings were covered with blue tiles – to ward off the ‘Evil Eye.’

Kurds of the Ottoman Empire were a nomadic people who had also likely converted at the points of scimitars to Islam. They, too, exhibited beliefs and customs from their pre-Islamic days. Talismans and amulets were treasured and worn,  indicating their pagan beliefs were still intact. In addition, the Kurds’ tribal custom of bride stealing didn’t change after they became Muslims. They exercised their pre-Islamic habit most frequently against Armenian villages on the Anatolian plateau, killing the male relatives who dared to object to a girl’s kidnapping.

Coerced conversions of entire people groups resulted in syncretized Islam. Layering on legalistic, religious rituals did little to improve the actual culture of the ‘converts-by-coercion.’