By the time he reigned over the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent was considered the greatest leader of the world by both Muslims and Christians. He was also a brilliant military strategist, a devoted politician, and a great patron and protector of the arts.
He is the sultan who ruled the Ottoman Empire at its height and left a huge and complex cultural and historical heritage not only to the Muslim civilization but to all mankind. It really raised the height of his reputation. He was magnificent – Suleiman the Magnificent.
Even today no one knows the exact date of birth and appreciated regrettable Ottoman sultan. Most historians, however, along with the Turks converge on the date of November 6, 1494. His father was Sultan Selim I and his mother was Valide Sultan Ayesha Hafsa.
The child received the typical education and training for a future leader of one of the largest and most influential empires of the time.
Therefore, immediately after the age of seven years, Suleiman has been sent to study history, science, literature, theology, and military tactics in the prestigious schools in the Topkapi Palace in Constantinople. In the teen years, future world-class leader befriended Ibrahim Parga, a Greek slave that had converted to Islam, who was to later become one of the most valued and trusted advisors.
Native qualities, coupled with education made the young Suleiman to be appointed the governor of the provinces Kaffa and Sarukhan when he was only seventeen.
When his father, Sultan Selim I passed away in 1520, Suleiman succeeded to the throne without incident. He drove fast in Constantinople to become the tenth Ottoman Sultan, and arguably the most magnificent in the history of empire.
According to some historians, Suleiman was fascinated by the life and personality of Alexander the Great, whom he admired.
It was actually influenced by Alexander ‘s vision to create a world empire that brings together under the same borders both East and West.
For the fulfillment of this dream, Suleiman has parted military campaigns simultaneously on three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
At the height of his empire, Suleiman personally a made big legislative changes aimed at society, educational system, criminal laws, and taxes. Its canonical laws (Kanun of Suleiman) established form which will be led by the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years after his death.
It was also a great patron in the true sense of the word. He wrote poems that are considered among the masterpieces of the genre, popular in Islamic poetry and found their refuge at his court a lot of artists, philosophers, and religious leaders. This warrior was intellectual and fluent in five languages: Turkish, Arabic, Ceagatai (a Central Asian Turkic dialect to the language Uighur), Persian and Serbian.
And the sentimental Suleiman was a reformer. Love for the famous slave Ruthenian Roxelana, who would become Hurrem Sultan. Suleiman broke the Ottoman tradition and married a harem consort that he loved, and he supported it until death.
If Europeans called him “magnificent” to highlight the personality and achievements, but for the Ottomans he remained even today Kanuni Suleiman, meaning the lawmaker. The status of Suleiman as a legislator has assured him a place in the history of Islam and the world alike.
The term Kanuni has particular importance in the context of Ottoman and Muslim traditions of that time. Sharia law derived from the original Quran had to be applied universally in all Muslim lands. No Muslim leader, Calif or Sultan ever dared to disobey the laws written by the Prophet Muhammad in the Quran. However, Suleiman and allowed himself to launch his own laws.
His decisions refer to situations that are not covered by the Sharia. In Muslim tradition, if a case was not covered by Sharia parameters, judging was done according to an analogy with one case contained in the laws of Sharia. These methods were legal but accepted only the most liberal Muslim rite, the Hanafi, who, not surprisingly, dominate the Ottoman legislature, along with the Tatars have been and remain the most permissive Muslim religious point of view.
On the basis of Ottomans nationality and cultural believes, the Kanun was elevated into a real set of distinct and independent from the Sharia law. Between 1350-1550, there were even effervescent Kanun laws, so the early 16th-century Kanun was already established in an independent set of laws, many of them more important than the Sharia.
This unique situation in the Muslim world was fueled by the religious and cultural heritage of the Turks. They switched to Islam relatively late, and the old custom of ancestor shamans still residing in the religious life of every Turk. In addition, both ancient Mongol traditions and in the Turkish imperial laws, those promulgated directly by hani or sultans were considered sacred.
Turks even had a special term for them, Mongols calling them Yassa. When these traditions were confronted with Islamic Sharia law, a new symbiotic law system was born.
The sultan’s laws were gathered for the first time by Mehmet the Conqueror who divided the Kanun into two separate sets of laws. The first targeted the government and military organization, and the second regarded tax system and civil life.
Suleiman the Magnificent reorganized the second legislative set, the Kanun remained unchanged since the leadership of Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”, the father of modern Turkey.
Suleiman’s military genius put fear in the hearts of European leaders of that time even greater than the bloody reign of his predecessor, Mohamed, the conqueror of Constantinople.
Suleiman was the tenth sultan of the Ottomans, reigning in the tenth century of the Hegira, the Muslim reckoning. The number 10 is blessed in Islam and so he was destined to greatness even from the start.
The man could simply not get enough titles. Suleiman called himself:
…Slave of Allah, powerful with the power of Allah, deputy of Allah on earth, obeying the commands of the Qur’an and enforcing them throughout the world, master of all lands, the shadow of God over all nations, Sultan of Sultans in all the lands of Persians and Arabs, the propagator of Sultanic laws (Nashiru kawanin al-Sultaniyye), the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Khans, Sultan, son of Sultan, Süleyman Khan… Slave of Allah, master of the world, I am Süleyman and my name is read in all the prayers in all the cities of Islam.
Suleiman was really a brilliant man of arms, and he was close to conquering Vienna, which would have changed the face of Europe.
Although he did not conquer the heart of the Old World, despite the fact that he thoroughly planned an invasion of Rome. In the rest of Europe, he conquered Rhodes, a large part of mainland Greece, the Hungarian kingdom and its campaigns against the Austrians have placed tents under the walls of Vienna.
Besides campaigns and invasions, Suleiman noted as a major player in the political game in Europe. He actually took an aggressive policy aimed at dismantling Europe. The ambitious and dreaded sultan wanted to destabilize not only the powerful and influential Roman Catholic Church but also the Holy Roman Empire.
When Western Christendom was divided into Catholic and Protestant, Suleiman went up in there that supported the Protestant states to ensure that Europe remains divided and politically unstable, making it vulnerable to incursions. Some historians insist that Protestantism had its historical success with the support of the Ottoman Empire.
Suleiman was convinced that such aggressive expansion in Europe is the right answer. Like many other Asian and African leaders, Suleiman understood the consequences of these changes in power poles and saw Europe as the main enemy of Islam. In those days Islam was beginning to falter, the Portuguese already invaded some Muslim targets in North Africa and the Russian tsars had suppressed the Tatars and continued their expansion into the Caucasus.
In these circumstances, Suleiman’s policy and actions of victories propelled him in the eyes as the last Ottoman Caliph of Islam, protector, and leader of all Muslims.
Instead, his campaigns in Europe felled to a point below the goal. His justification remains a mystery even today. The conquest and annexation of Arabia were allegedly motivated for that local emirs would have abandoned the faith and pure practice…
One of the ambitions of this great multivalent character was to make Istanbul the center of Islamic culture and civilization. Ambitious and grandiose projects were funded and embodied in bridges, mosques, and palaces that rivaled the most important buildings of that time.
Mimar Sinan, the greatest and most illustrious architect was then the Sultan’s personal friend and employee. The Mosques built by Sinan are considered among the world’s most fabulous building of that type. There are just admirable and impressive buildings, but is the very genius of Ottoman architecture that led to a peak of engineering, for raising them Sinan had to overcome incredible engineering difficulties.
In 1536, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ordered the restoration of the Mosque Dome and transformed the church on Mount Zion, built by the Crusaders, into a mosque. Through the construction of this mosque, Suleiman wanted to create a personal connection between him and the biblical King Solomon, son of King David, and Jesus Christ, the Messiah Christians.
Lover of beauty, Suleiman invested huge sums to support arts and culture. He also wrote poetry, and currently being considered one of the greatest poets of medieval Turks. Under his government of Istanbul has become a major center for the visual arts, music, literature, and philosophy.
His reign was considered by western historians and by the Turks as the pinnacle of civilization and the influence of the Ottoman Empire.
Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, built by architect Mimar Sinan
Suleiman died in on September 6, 1566, two days before his army captured the city of Sziget, now Sighetul Marmatiei in Romania. His son Sultan Selim II and Sultan Roxelana Hurrem continued to rule the empire, that had entered into a subtle but irrevocable decline. Ottoman historians believe that this was caused by two factors: Sultans corrupt officials, along with decreasing political interest in popular opinion.
When the Ottoman leaders have abandoned the habit of killing their rivals to the throne by imprisoning institution, the Sultanate began to decline, and power was taken gradually by more and more corrupt officials and bureaucrats in the absence of authoritative sultan. However, the decisive blow was applied to the Ottomans by the aggressive expansion of European colonial powers.
Beyond all our diverse and complex feelings for the admired and respected Turkish sultan, he remained passionate about Sultan Roxelana Hurrem until the end of his life. The only woman who charmed the most powerful man of that time, the only woman who made Suleiman write poems of love, which had influenced his political and military decisions. In fact, we will never know how many of the facts and achievements were inspired by the most ambitious and controversial consort of the Ottoman Empire.
The Sultan was buried in Istanbul in the back garden of the Süleymaniye mosques. Roxelana, who had died eight years earlier, lies next to him.