A rayah or reaya (from Arabic رعايا ra`aya, a plural of رعيّة ra`iya "flock, subject", also spelled raya, raja, raiah, re'aya; Ottoman Turkish رعايا [ɾeˈʔaːjeː]; Modern Turkish râya [ɾaːˈja] or reaya) was a member of the tax-paying lower class of Ottoman society, in contrast to the askeri (upper class) and kul (slaves). The rayah made up over 90% of the general population and the millet communities. In the Muslim world, rayah is literally subject of a government or sovereign. The rayah (literally 'members of the flock') included Christians, Muslims, and Jews who were 'shorn' (i.e. taxed) to support the state and the associated 'professional Ottoman' class.
However, both in contemporaneous and in modern usage, it refers to non-Muslim subjects in particular, also called zimmi. The word is sometimes mistranslated as 'cattle' rather than 'flock' or 'subjects' to emphasize the inferior status of the rayah.
In the early Ottoman Empire, rayah were not eligible for military service, but from the late 16th century, Muslim rayah became eligible, to the distress of some of the ruling class.
- Molly Greene, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean, Princeton, 2000. ISBN 0-691-00898-1
- Peter F. Sugar, Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804, series title A History of East Central Europe, volume V, University of Washington Press, 1983. ISBN 0-295-96033-7.
- Sugar, p. 33
- Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48, "Rayah \Ra"yah\ (r[=a]"y[.a] or r[aum]"y[.a]), n. [Ar. ra'iyah a herd, a subject, fr. ra'a to pasture, guard.] A person not a Mohammedan (i. e. Muslim), who pays the capitation tax. (Turkey) (1913 Webster)"
- Dictionary.com definition
- "Rayahs,"--all who pay the capitation tax, called the "Haraç." "This tax was levied on the whole male unbelieving population," except children under ten, old men, Christian and Jewish priests. --Finlay, Greece under Ottoman and Venetian Domination, 1856, p. 26.
- Greene, p. 41, quoting Halil Inalcık