Historical Legacies

The region formerly known as Greater Syria was under Ottoman rule for nearly four centuries during which time a thriving pluralist religious and ethnic population developed. Though Sunni Muslims were the majority, differing branches of Shi’a Muslims, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Armenians, Kurds, Yezidis, Jews and others existed in pockets throughout the region. Under the millet system, the religious heads of Abrahamic faiths and Druze communities were allowed to administer all personal status law and perform certain civil functions. Other minorities were subject to Islamic jurisprudence. Those under the millet system sometimes chose to engage the Islamic court system when it was to their advantage, demonstrating the porous nature of these distinctions.