Turkish Toleration. -- By: Eli Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 003:10 (May 1846)
Article: Turkish Toleration.
Author: Eli Smith


Turkish Toleration.

Rev. Eli Smith

Missionary in Syria.

It has come to be generally understood, that Turkish law tolerates only certain existing Christian sects, forbids the rise of new ones, and thus presents a barrier to the introduction of Protestantism. Such was the prevalent understanding of the case among the Franks at Constantinople, when Mr. Dwight and myself visited that city in 1830 and 1831; and this view was presented in the volumes which contain the results of our researches in Armenia. The same view has been repeated by almost every traveller, who has touched upon the subject since. This view, however, needs to be very materially modified. Fifteen years’ experience and inquiry in that country, have thrown new light upon the subject, and it seems important that this light should be diffused among the Christian community.

It has been evident from the first, that the above mentioned view of Turkish law, did not hold good in Syria. Whatever obstacles Protestantism may have had to encounter there, it has never been told, either by magistrates or people, that it had no legal right to an existance. Those who lately declared themselves Protestants at Hasbeiya, were never accused by the Turkish authorities, from the brother-in-law of the Sultan downward, that they had taken an illegal step. On the contrary, the high functionary just alluded to, officially declared, that notwithstanding what they had done, they remained dutiful subjects of the Sultan. The common people have never shown that they had a suspicion, that there was a principle in Turkish law, that stood any more in the way of a person’s professing Protestantism, than of his joining any other Christian sect. Persecution has always been expected; but it was from the arbitrary power of magistrates and ecclesiastics, or from the violence of the populace, and not from the execution of law.

At Constantinople and in that vicinity, I am not aware that this discrepancy between the received exposition of the Turkish rules of toleration and actual experience, has been found to exist. Perhaps the ideas current at the capital in 1831, on this subject, prevail there still. If so, the following suggestions, though offered with diffidence, it is believed may explain the difference between Constantinople and Syria, in relation to this subject. It is proverbial of the Turks, that they rarely repair what has fallen into decay. The walls of Constantinople still show the very breaches made in them when the Turks took that city. If many exceptions to this rule have of late appeared, they are innovations

upon old Turkish habits, borrowed from abroad. Scarcely more have the Turks been given to municipal ...

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