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Do you ever wonder how the Turks became Muslim In this blog post, we’ll explore the fascinating history of Turkey and its conversion to Islam.
From the first introduction in the 8th century to modern times, here’s an overview of how this ancient culture incorporated one of the world’s largest religions.
Welcome to our blog exploring the rich history of how the Turks embraced Islam! This fascinating narrative spans centuries and has left a significant impact on the entire region. The roots of Islam in modern-day Turkey date back to the late 9th century when the state was under the rule of the Kharansids and embraced Islam as its official religion.
However, the story of Muslims and Turks goes back even further. For centuries, Arab and Turkic traders engaged in commerce along the Silk Road and exchanged ideas and customs, including their respective religious beliefs. Even prior to the advent of Islam, many Turkic tribes had their own unique religious practices that they followed.
Did Muslims and Turks Know Each Other Before Islam
Before Islam came along, Turks and Muslims knew and interacted with each other for a long time. A lot of Turks served in the armies of the Abbasid Empire, and because of the Silk Road, Arabs and Turks traded goods and talked to each other about their lives and cultures. Despite their cultural and regional distinctions, they were able to coexist amicably.
The First Muslim Convert in Middle Asia
Khan Satuk Bughra Khan of the Kara-Khanids is recognized as the pioneer Muslim convert in Central Asia, marking a significant milestone in the spread of Islam to the Turkic people and paving the way for the future expansion of the Seljuk Empire.
Although the exact details surrounding Khan Bughra’s conversion remain unclear, it is widely accepted that it was a result of his exposure to Islamic culture.
Influential Factors in the Conversion of Turks
The gradual conversion of the Turks from the Goktanri (Göktürks) to Islam was a complex process that occurred over several centuries and was influenced by a variety of factors. Here are some of the most significant factors that played a vital role in the Turkic people’s acceptance of Islam:
- Trade: The Silk Road, a significant trading network that linked Central Asia with the Middle East, played a vital role in the spread of Islam to the Turkic peoples, including the Goktanri. Arab and Persian merchants, who traversed the Silk Road, introduced Islam, and as they interacted with the Turkic people, they began to propagate the faith.
- Political Factors: Many Turkic communities, including the Goktanri, were governed by Muslim dynasties such as the Abbasids and the Samanids. These dynasties actively promoted Islam to the Turkic people, and their impact was vital in the propagation of the religion.
- Cultural Factors: The Tengrism were affected by the culture of the neighboring peoples, especially the Persians and the Arabs, who had already embraced Islam. The Goktanri adopted several elements of Persian and Arab culture, such as their language and writing system, and in turn, they were exposed to Islam.
- Spiritual factors: It is crucial to note that the Turkic people’s conversion to Islam was not solely due to external factors. Many individuals among the Goktanri were attracted to Islam because of its spiritual appeal.
The Seljuk Empire Expansion
The Seljuk Empire experienced tremendous expansion during the 11th century. The Oghuz Turks, led by Toghrul Bey, took over Persia and Baghdad and made their own kingdom. This expansion went on until 1092, when the Seljuks had taken over several smaller Muslim kingdoms and ruled all the way from Yemen in the south to Afghanistan in the east.
This growth was enabled by a new military corps that enabled the Seljuks to extend their control to a much larger area. During this time, the Seljuks also left a strong mark on Islam by spreading Islamic law across Central Asia and the Middle East.
The Turks First Encounter with Islam
You may have already heard about how the Turks became Muslim and the influential factors that led to their conversion. But before we explore those details, let’s take a look at the first time Turks encountered Islam. It all started when the Seljuk Empire expanded to Rum (Rome – Asia Minor) and brought with them their Islamic faith.
This was when Prince Tarkhan Nizak, the ruler of Sogdiana, became the first Turkic prince to convert to Islam. The Turks were then exposed to Islamic culture, which slowly spread among them. This was helped even more by the Battle of Talas, which happened in 751 AD and made Islam the most popular religion in Middle Asia. Prior to this, many Turkic tribes practiced a form of Tengrisim, but eventually embraced Islam in its entirety.
Turkic Tribes and their Religions prior to Islam
The belief in the Tengrism, one of the monotheistic beliefs, is the most important and most believed belief of the Turks. In the beliefs of the Tengrism, he was seen as the “Goktanri,” the creator and owner of the entire universe and all people. It is the Tengrism who gives life to people and takes their lives when the time comes.
Representatives of this religion were called Kam and Baksi. Kams and Baksi, who were clergy, worked on guiding people in the spread of religion. States where the belief in the Tengrism is seen: Asian Hun State, European Hun state, Köktürk state, Kutuk state, Avars, Uyghurs.
In the Tengrism belief, life after death was believed. After death, it was believed that the wicked would go to Tamu (hell) and the good ones would go to Uçmağ (heaven). When people believed in life after death, they were buried in graves with their horses and personal belongings.
Before Islam, Turks buried their dead people in graves called Kurgan and planted balbals on their heads. Funeral ceremonies called “Yuğ” were held for the deceased people and funeral meals named “Yuğ food” were eaten.
In pre-Islamic Turks, people would put small human-shaped statues on their graves. These statues they put were equal to the number of enemies killed by the deceased in his lifetime. If he had killed 100 enemies in his lifetime, they would put 100 small statues in human form over his grave. These small statues were called “Balbal”. The Turks believed that these honeys would serve them in heaven.
These sculptures can be made of stone as well as from trees.
There was also a tradition of sacrificing in the Tengrism Faith.
The first word deciphered in the Orkhon inscriptions that have survived from the Kokturks was “Tengri”.
Although the clergy (Kam, Baksı) had no influence in the state administration in the first Turkish states, their “religious understanding” had an impact on the state administration because it was believed that the authority to rule the country was given to the Kagans by the Göktanri belief (Kut).
The fact that the religion of the Tengrism has an effect on choosing the ruler also shows that the religious beliefs of the Turks have an effect on the state administration.
In the Tengrism religion, the eastern side was considered sacred because the sun rose from the east.
Similarites between Islam and Tengrism
|Monotheism||Belief in one God (Allah)|
|Prohibition of idol worship||Prohibition of idol worship|
|Fasting during the month of December||Fasting during the month of Ramadan|
|Observance of prayer rituals||Observance of prayer rituals|
|Pilgrimage to sacred sites||Pilgrimage to Mecca|
|Concept of charity and giving to the needy||Emphasis on charity and giving to the poor and needy|
|Dietary restrictions on certain foods||Prohibition on the consumption of pork and alcohol|
Differences between Islam and Tengrism
|No holy scripture||Holy scripture (Qur’an) and Hadith|
|No prophethood or prophetic tradition||Emphasis on prophethood and prophetic tradition, including Muhammad as the final prophet|
|No established religious law or legal system||Emphasis on Sharia law and legal system|
|No mandatory pilgrimage||Mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) for those who are physically and financially able|
Cult of Ancestors (Animism)
In the cult of ancestors, they believed that the spirits of their deceased ancestors protected them from evil. Buddha shows that there is a belief in the afterlife in the cult of the ancestors, as in the religion of the Tengrism. In the “cult of ancestors” belief, deceased ancestors and belongings of deceased ancestors were considered sacred. Cult means ancestral items. It was sacrificed for the ancestors who died in the cult of ancestors.
Totemism (Death, Earth Water)
It is the oldest belief seen in Turks. Certain plants and animals (wolf, eagle…) are considered sacred and worshiped in the belief of totemism.
In totemism, sacred beings and animals were called “Ongun”.
The myth of descent from the wolf indicates the existence of the belief in totemism. The wolf is the most important animal considered sacred by the Turks.
Representatives of the shamanistic faith are shamans, kams and bakshis. Shamans, kams and baksi used to perform magic (magic) communicate with the jinn and foretell the future. According to the belief of shamanism, there are bad and good spirits, people are in struggle with these spirits. In shamanism, clergymen aim to cure people’s problems with magic and magic.
Cult of Nature (Belief in the Forces of Nature, Naturism)
In the nature cult belief, some inanimate objects were considered sacred. These sacred beings were also believed to have magical powers. These holy beings; Moon, sun, sky, river, mountain, valley, hill, rock, forest, tree, lightning…
These beings were called “Iduk”, and the magical powers of these beings were called “earth water”.
The Battle of Talas and the Spread of Islam
The Battle of Talas in 751 was a major turning point in the spread of Islam among the Turks. During the battle, Turkic forces sided with the Muslims and the Chinese forces were defeated. This victory would be a major milestone for Islamic culture and faith as it would demonstrate the power of Islam and encourage more Turks to embrace it. Exposure to Islamic culture and witnessing the power of Muslim forces was a key factor in the conversion of Turks to Islam.
It is thought that this battle helped Islam spread further east, all the way to Mongolia, because it made Turkish tribes want to convert to Islam. The Battle of Talas thus marks an important moment in Islamic history, as it not only demonstrated its power but also helped spread its influence to other parts of Central Asia.