Secularism and Islam in Turkey

Document Type:Thesis

Subject Area:Anthropology

Document 1

Many have argued that Turkey is slowly transforming from a secular to a Muslim state. However, Turkey’s situation presents a complex scenario where despite its commitment to secularism, Islam is still part of the national identity and something that the state cannot completely disregard. As such, the state has tried to find a balance between the two which has led to Turkey being constructed as a secular Muslim where secularism or Muslim can never be completely viewed in isolation but rather as a clash between the two ideologies. Turkey is far from “secular” in the sense of most of the Western countries where secularity is passive as the state is neutral toward religion and it does not forbid public visibility of religion (Toprak, 2005).

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The state does not demand anything on people religious beliefs and in return, religion has no right to make such demands from the state. In addition, the state’s choice to lift the decades-long ban on wearing of headscarves at the universities has been seen by skeptics as a representation of political Islam in the country thereby undermining the decades-long commitment to secularism. Quinn (2017), argues that rather than Turkey acting as a bridge where secularism and Islam coexists, it is slowly turning into a torn state with “a single predominant culture which places it in one civilization but its leaders want to shift to another civilization. ” Since the 1920’s Turkey has always been trying to modernize/westernize so as to become part of the West.

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However, the Islamic legacy and the Muslim character of Turkey has proved to be incompatible with modernization and Westernization. Therefore, despite the country identifying itself as a secular state, many scholars decide to classify it under Islamic civilization. Such policies have puzzled many on their compatibility with the pro-Islamist roots of the AKP. Göl (2009) argues that the answer lies within the AKP’s ambivalent Islam attitudes. From the sociological point of view, Turkey, under no circumstances, can it fully abandon Islam because it forms part of the country’s political marker as well as an important part of its cultural identity. Following AKP’s 2002 and subsequent 2007 victories, it became apparent that in Turkey, Islam does not have the same post-9/11 Western negative connotation as it is accepted as a cultural identity and does not act as a source of terror nor fear.

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Therefore, Turks do not view Islam through the lens of Islamophobia as observed in the Western world. The government has continued to operate within the policies and structures of pre-existing economic and political systems. Thus public visibility, particularly the headscarf issue is obtained through ambivalence and makes it possible for the crossover between modernity and Islam as well as between Muslim and secular practices. Thus, the most important this for the government has been to resolve the identity issues as a result of ambivalence towards Islam (Toprak, 2005). Thus, the issue of secularism and Muslim identity in Turkey is complex and cannot be completely explained by the modernity theories. Modernity theories suggest that there is a need to separate modern society from traditional society and that traditional society often acts as a hindrance to economic development.

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Many of the Turkism as much as they identify with Islam they still believe in secularization and have been against the adoption of a pure Islamic state. The second reason is that relates to the role of Islam in politics. Through the headscarf issue, it is always argued that public visibility of Islam portrays a social condition where people are reinserting their Muslim-selves especially the APK supporters. Thus Muslim identity is more than just a religious but also as part of the collective identity and a political marker. However, AKP’s policies have repeatedly public visibility of Islam work through ambivalence and allowed for a crossover between and modernity and Islam and between religious and secular identities and practices (Göl, 2009).

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