Ego usque ad mortem luctor adversus Turcas et Turcarum Deum," Martin Luther wrote. "I will always struggle to the death against the Turks and the god of the Turks."

Luther was not the only European of his era to fear a deadly battle with Islamic forces (i.e. Turks). During the reign of Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566, the Ottoman Empire reached its greatest geographical extent and the height of its military power. Throughout Europe pamphlets reported one Ottoman victory after another. As far away as England, the word "Turk" conjured images of surprise attack and invasion.

It is significant for the history of Christian-Islamic relations that the Ottoman Empire hit its peak as the Protestant Reformation got underway. Protestant reformers made many uncharitable statements about Islam, sometimes reflecting medieval prejudices more than sixteenth-century circumstances. Still, because of their theological orientation, reformers altered Christians' interpretation of Islam in ways that have shaped attitudes into the Modern period.

To fight or not to fight

Early in his career, Luther identified God's displeasure with the church as the real reason for the Ottomans' successes. In 1518 he asserted that "to fight against the Turk is to fight against God who is punishing our sins through them." When faced with Turkish aggression, Christians first must repent.

These statements produced unintended consequences. Some people erroneously interpreted Luther as advocating a position of non-resistance. Roman Catholics accused him of handing over Christians to the infidels. Pamphlets told stories of some who had, as a result, joined the Muslims, or "turned Turk."

Luther abhorred this reputation. His friends encouraged him to write a clarification ...

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