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The Treatment of Beggars In The Otoman State (The Case of Bursa)

Author(s): Dr. Ömer DÜZBAKAR

Journal: Journal of International Social Research
ISSN 1307-9581

Volume: 1;
Issue: 5;
Start page: 290;
Date: 2008;
Original page

Keywords: Ottoman | beggar | wakf | exile | Bursa

This study explores the ways the Ottoman State treated beggars. The status of beggars in the Ottoman Empire can be understood by looking at the dynamics of Islam as well as the internal dynamics of the Ottoman society. Islam provided important means of social assistance and solidarity such as zekât (distribution of one’s revenue by 1/40 to the poor and destitute) and sadaka (alms-giving). The internal dynamics of Ottoman society have also largely contributed to the elimination of poverty by such mechanisms as the mutual responsibility of the neighborhood people, the collective fundraising among professional guilds to be used for emergency cases occurring to members, the entitlement of a child to certain inheritance rights as early as when he/she was yet an unborn fetus, tebennî (the temporary adoption system) in case of parental death or lack of caring capacity, payment of maintenance allowance or alimony to mother and child in case of divorce plus their protection by the state, parents’ demand from their children for maintenance allowance during senility and the supply of social assistance to the poor by pious foundations. Despite all these help and protection mechanisms the question of poverty was far from being solved satisfactorily. Persons under extremely difficult material conditions were allowed by the state to earn their living on the basis of begging under state control. Beggars were able to formally sustain their begging activities under an official supervisor as though they were a professional group organized in a guild system. The supervisor was communicating the state directives to the beggars and regulating their relations with the authorities. The beggars were usually praying for the good of people around and receiving their donations and alms rather than directly and eagerly asking for money. In short, the state was accommodating them as a “guild of prayers” rather than as a group of mean beggars. This approach was psychotically more humanitarian and comfortable. However, some people with evil intentions to make easy money attempted to abuse this institution by exploiting people’s religious and moral conscience although they were by no means helpless. Such people were sent in exile to other places by the state. In this study, because most of the beggars we see in our vicinity are children, women, older persons and physically handicapped, this study deals with these four subjects mentioned above. Taking into account certain characteristics of the beggars today, it aims at establishing relation with Ottoman period and at briefly examining the past with today’s modern approach. The main sources used in the study include the Shari’a Court Records of Bursa and the Bursa Register.
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