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Islam in Turkey

Religion under State Administration: Diyanet Isleri Basbakanligi

The Diyanet, Presidium for Religious Affairs, is a state institution for the administration of religious affairs in Turkey – organizationally affiliated to the Prime Minister’s Office. It is the employer of 88,000 prayer leaders / imams, preachers / hatip, prayer callers / muezzin, Islamic legal scholars / mufti. She is also responsible for the construction and maintenance of the mosques, as well as for the training, appointment and recall of Islamic religious servants, the maintenance of faculties and the organization of Koran courses. The Diyanet organizes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and creates fatwas at the request of believers. In this respect, it is also the highest Islamic authority in the country.

According to the prevailing understanding of the state, the Diyanet secures the visible manifestations of religion and thus keeps them under control.

The issue of religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, in practice both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities face reprisals.

Political Islam

At the beginning of the republic there was no religion in everyday politics. With the approval of the multi-party system in 1946, the connection between the nation and Islam returned to the political party stage. As a result, Adnan Menderes, Süleyman Demirel and Turgut Özal advocated that religion should be visible in public life and implemented numerous changes to achieve this: e.g. introduction of compulsory religious instruction, call to prayer again in Arabic, recognition of the Koran schools. At the same time, they always directed their policies towards economic concerns and an improvement in the socio-economic situation – among other things through the mechanization of agriculture, economically liberal legislation and the opening of the markets. Since religious state-political action on the part of the military was always assessed with the undermining of Ataturk’s basic principles, the coups of 1960 and 1971 also stood with the religious orientation of the respective ruling party (Adnan Menderes – Democrat Parti; Süleyman Demirel Adalet Parti / later Dogru Yol Parti) in connection. At the same time, the military interventions sought to end the violent clashes between left and right groups, which resulted in several thousand deaths.

In 1970, Necmettin Erbakan founded an Islamist party for the first time, which insisted on the reintroduction of Sharia law. The national party of order, MNP, was banned again in 1971, and so were the numerous successor parties. With more moderate versions publicly expressed, Erbakan succeeded to win the office of prime minister several times and to participate in several coalitions. He achieved strong voter growth through rapid urbanization. Less theological issues or religious discourses contributed to the success than topics such as economics and social affairs, administration and management. When the military again feared for the state doctrine, he was sentenced to a five-year political ban. From the successor party, the Fazilet Partisi, emerged under Recep Tayip Erdogan, the moderate AKP, which has been in government since 2001. Their goal was a Europe-oriented policy and thus a clear departure from the Islamist idea of a God-state of the Erbakan predecessor parties.

In the 1970’s and in competition with Erbakan, the Gülen movement emerged, which was not actively involved in party politics, but gained influence through educational programs and positions in administration. For years she was ideologically on the same side as the AKP and Erdogan. The dispute escalated in 2013 when judges close to Gülen led to allegations of corruption, raids and arrests of members of parliament and family members involved.

Is society becoming more religious – is also a question that arises in this context. Does the emergence of a religious middle class and the rise of women with a Türban headscarf mean Islamization? The answers change depending on the viewer. For some, the visibility of women in the headscarf in public is a sign of democratization and progress, a signal for the abolition of hitherto strongly segregated areas. For others, this means turning away from Western values and attitudes towards life.

Turkey Popular Islam

Muslim minority: Alevis

The basis of their belief is Allah, his Prophet Mohammed, as well as his son-in-law and 4th Caliph Ali as the Prophet’s deputy. For this reason, the Sunni side is always accused of heresy and the idolatry of Ali. Alevis interpret the Koran in a mystical way: the human being is the focus, he is not the slave of God but his perfect creation. He has his own responsibility and is autonomous in his actions.

The Alevis also differ in their interpretation of the 5 pillars of Sunni Islam: Fasting is eight days a month in Muharrem. They perform their prayers in houses of prayer, with men and women praying together. Women rarely wear headscarves and the gender ratio is more likely to be equal. As a result, they are accused of sexual excess on the part of the Sunni.

The relationship between the state and the Alevis group is historically and currently ambivalent.

Orders and brotherhoods

The Whirling Dervishes are the most famous Sufi brotherhood (Tarikat) – even if they are only a tourist phenomenon today.

In contrast to the local understanding of the order, the members do not live together all the time. They maintain an ideal connection and, if necessary, meet for ritual dances, prayers and chants. Elements of the cult of saints, mysticism and superstition are at the center of spiritual practice. Man recognizes God with the help of a mystical teacher and at times comes to a unity with him. During the founding phase of Turkey, the orders were banned. According to neovideogames, they survived underground and contributed to the resurgence of Turkish Islam.

Also widespread is the Naksibendi order, which runs its own schools, television stations, daily newspapers, and the global Fethullah Gülen brotherhood.

For many years Erdogan and Gülen were ideal companions in the fight against the military and the Kemalist basis of the state, which so vehemently excluded religion. While Erdogan made Islam present on the political stage, Gülen was active in the education sector. Now that partnership has turned into competition and hostility. The president and the supporters of the AKP see in Gülen and his supporters masterminds for defamation campaigns. Gülen sympathizers are also held responsible for the coup in July 2016. Since Gülen has been living in exile in America since 2000, Erdogan is currently seeking an extradition procedure for the preacher. In addition, officials and employees of the administration who are assigned to the Gülen movement are subjected to legal proceedings or dismissed from state institutions.

Popular Islam

Practices that are somewhere between popular Islam and superstition are widespread. Amulets against the “evil eye” can be found almost everywhere. “Mavi Göz” – blue glass beads with one eye protect against envy and injustice. Consecrations and offerings in special places should ensure the fulfillment of special wishes (marriage, children, health, work). Animals are sacrificed on special occasions, for example after a birth or the purchase of an apartment, in order to show gratitude and to let the community participate. What you can see at public bus stations when family members are saying goodbye is pouring out a bucket of water: “Yol acik olsun – May your path and your return be open.”