Religion and Secularism in Turkey Term Paper

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" The Constitution allows rites of worship and religious services and ceremonies. It protects people from being compelled to worship and participate in these religious rites against their will. It forbids the exploitative use of religion, religious feelings or things held sacred for personal or political influence. It insures that one can change his religion or belief by himself or as a group, privately or publicly. The Constitution has these guarantees to freedom of religion or worship. Yet, and at the same time, it obliges the state to provide Sunni Muslim religious education in the elementary and secondary schools. This was seen as contradicting the principles of a modern, secular state. It compelled Christian and Jewish children to receive a Sunni Muslim religious education and opposed the philosophies of liberalism, human rights and religious freedom. It particularly affected Syriac Christians on account of the Treaty of Lausanne, which did not recognize them as a minority religious group.

Another problem concerned Islamic brotherhoods, denominations and sects. Islamic brotherhoods had a prominent place in the social, economic, and political life in Turkey from the Ottoman Empire to the current Republic. Their convents, monasteries and lodges were the seats and centers of culture and education in the country. But by the end of the 18th century, social corruption transformed these centers into locales of conspiracy. When the Republic was founded in 1923, the funds of the brotherhoods were confiscated and their operations suppressed. The state justified its action on account of the brotherhoods' support of the Ottoman Empire during the War of Independence. It saw these centers as breeding places of unrest. Although suppressed and technically illegal, these brotherhoods remained in existence and continued to affect social and political life in Turkey. These brotherhoods were the Naksibendiliks, Kadirliks, Rifailiks, Nurculuks, Suleymanciliks, Isikciliks, Mevleviliks, Bektashsiliks, and Aleviliks. These groups encountered financial problems and problems involving the internal structures of religious groups and marriage. The Directorate of Religious Affairs organized and regulated the religious lives of Muslim believers. The government provided this agency with an annual national budget for the functions. These illegal brotherhoods did not receive state support and had to obtain th money they needed from their respective communities. Neither did non-Muslims receive any state funding and likewise needed the same support from their communities for their existence and activities. As to their internal structures, the Directorate likewise made the decisions on the appointments of imams and muftis. On the other hand, the leaders of illegal brotherhoods were selected and confirmed through the general consent of their members. And as regards marriage, only civil marriage had legal status. Couples who acquired civil marriage where, however, allowed to conduct a religious marriage ceremony of their choice. The Turkish government allowed marriage between religious groups. Children from these marriages were given the right to choose their own religion upon reaching the age of 18. Until then, they had to obtain their parents' joint agreement on the matter.

Most critics had expected that the modernization of Turkey would dampen religious fervor, but it resulted in something else. The processes of modernization instead transformed traditional Islamic beliefs and groups and drove them into public frontlines. The elections of November 2002 voted the Justice and Development Party or AK into power. It became Turkey's first openly Islamic political group. This meant that religion and politics could not be separated in Turkey or elsewhere. The Turks' strong religious sentiments and attachment should have been harmonized with the requirements of its secular society. The Turkish Republic was, however, differently conceived and built. Kemal instituted a series of reforms, which would create a modern nation-state. Instead of adopting a neutral position on religious practices, the secular state sought to eliminate all manifestations of religion from the public and place them under the control of the state. The Turkish Constitutional Court decided that peace would be achieved if all forms of ethnic religious differences would be uprooted. It viewed religious claims as divisive and dangerous to the welfare and peace of society. The Kemal Republic was an intellectual and political experiment in Turkey, which differentiated, marginalized and excluded large groups in its society. In effect, the twin pillars of the Republic, Turkish nationalism and secularism, became the main sources of problems and crises rather than peace and welfare. Instead, it attempted to be an authoritarian state ideology, which would weed out religious and ethnic differences in instituting Enlightenment principles and values. The history of the conflict between religion and secularism in Turkey was the story of the struggle between a state-imposed modernization and a people's resistance. It was a contest between the political elite behind the state and the people's group driven by a fight for their religious beliefs. The state outlawed both Islamic and Kurdish identity claims. The elite used secularism to consolidate its power in society and grab power from potential centers of opposition behind the pretense of a love for science and progress. It used secularism as a strategy of exclusion and instrument of oppression. Despite its huge efforts at modernization, Islam in Turkey was not suffocated but only escaped into the public sphere. It took the form of public groups, which had different reactions to what Turkey had become. Some rejected modern Turkey. Some sought to escape from it. Some others attempted to fit their religious beliefs into the demands of the modern world. Those who rejected modernity and secularism were called "fundamentalists." Some of these groups reacted violently, while others did so peacefully. There were also religious Muslims who abandoned politics in order to shield themselves from the effects of secularism. These developments produced two opposite views of secularism in Turkey. One view held that it was authoritarian in that secularism was a system of controlling religion and subjecting it to the state. The other view held that it was pluralist in that it required a neutral state and a new tolerance for Islamic expressions and institutions in Turkish society. Religion should not be expelled by force from public life. The current role played by Islamic groups in Turkey's media, schools and businesses illustrates its potential in developing a new and truly more liberal society.

The Nur movement of Fethullah Gullen, the largest and most influential in Turkey, illustrated how huge efforts at secularization instead led to the formation of groups in the public sphere. Gulen held that Islam empowers Muslims to decide how they should live within a democratic system. The movement changed the institutional location of Islamic authority from the mosque to the media, from ulama to public thinkers and intellectuals. The movement brought Islam back to the public by merging Islamic idioms with concepts and discourses on human rights, democracy and market economy with the outside world.

Father Turk's vision was to turn Turkey into a modern, prosperous and secular state and as part of the European mainstream. One gigantic event, which pushed the vision closer to fulfillment, was when the European Union named Turkey as an official candidate for membership in December 1999. It would take at least a decade before it could attain full membership. Simply being an official candidate was already an accomplishment. But before this event, leading European politicians asserted that Turkey's Muslim culture and heritage would prevent it from becoming part of Europe. The European Union requires it to fulfill political and economic requirements for membership. Among these were to subject its military to civilian control, give its citizen the right to individual cultural expression, and guarantee complete freedom of the press. The foundation of the Turkish government opposed these goals. But critics believed that if the Turkish government turned around and fulfilled these goals, Father Turk's dream for Turkey would, in fact, finally come true. He would then become a national hero. Becoming a member-nation of the EU would put Turkey in equal rank with countries, which tried to colonize it in the past. Turkey could then openly and justly claim to guarantee freedom, stability and prosperity. Its membership would also become an advantage to the EU. Turkey has one of the youngest and largest populations in the Continent. It had almost 70 million people, 2/3 of which was less than 35 years old. This young and energetic population could contribute fresh vigor to the European Union in reaching out to the nations of the South and the East. More than this, Turkey could set an example to 56 predominantly Muslim countries that Islam could coexist with democracy and modernity. When this happens, Kemal would be one of the most influential figures of the current century.

The Turks had already accepted and adjusted to secularism and a full membership at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was forthcoming when a new threat to the order of things presented itself. Foreign Minister Abdulla Gul, an avowed Muslim, filed his candidacy for president. The military was once…[continue]

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