Is Turkey a Muslim Country?

Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state governed by a monarchy with sharia and traditional laws whereas the new Republic of Turkey is governed by secular law. Turkey has been to adopt a governance style and approach different from the Ottoman Empire, this leads Turkey to undergo an arduous process.

Turkey is a laical republic with a secular constitution. However, because the majority of the population believes in Islam, it can be improperly supposed that Turkey is the Islamic Republic. The phrase that Turkey is a secular republic by constitutional law means that the state can not have a religion. Therefore, the constitution aims to ensure that nobody is discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and respects the right of all individuals living in society to be either believer or non-believer.

The reasons that underlie the assumption of Turkey as an Islamic state in international public opinion will be discussed in detail later in the article. Let’s have a look at the detailed historical and statistical information.

Secularism in Turkey

Secularism was introduced in the first place on April 10, 1928, by removing the statement that “Religion of the State is Islam” to provide national union in Turkey. If the State had an inscription in law connotative as the Islam Republic for Turkey it would be discriminative against the non-Muslim community. Moreover, secularism began to an unalterable essential feature of the State with legislating a regulation by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on February 5, 1937. The regulation made it easier to secure minorities’ rights with the law due to Turkey’s multinational structure.

Secularism Debates

The last 1982 Constitution, on the other hand, aimed to completely separate religion and state affairs by accepting religion as a personal matter and preference. The state was expected to be neutral against religion and thoughts about debates on what secularism is. For instance, secularism is seen as a direct meaning of irreligiousness in some communities. Secularism, due to its nature, against sharia. This understanding can change from to a person who perceives it, it could be a bad thing for some strictly religious people or it could be understood as equality for the ones who do not believe in any religion.  On the other hand, secularism is not against any religion according to most thinkers. What secularism stands against is zealotry that disguises religion. Furthermore, secularism counts as a synonym with the liberty of conscience in some environments. What we know about secularism is that; it guarantees that anybody in society must be treated and charged equally.

History of Secularism in Turkey 

After the Turkish War of Independence by the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate, many breakthrough changes such as the declaration of the republic and proclaimed the new capital city as Ankara, necessitated a new constitution.

The 1924 Constitution is the longest-lasting constitution that came into force, and it has features that are suitable for secularism and those that are not. Over time, the rules that were against secularism were changed and a secular state was secured. The 1924 constitution has an important place as it guarantees freedom of religion and conscience to all its citizens. With the 1961 constitution, the principles of secularism were reinforced and it was stated that nobody could be discriminated against within the framework of freedoms such as religion, language, race, or sect. The 1961 constitution, which was prepared by taking into account the social state understanding, is based on individual rights and freedoms.

The last 1982 Constitution, on the other hand, aimed to completely separate religion and state affairs by accepting religion as a personal matter and preference. The state was expected to be neutral against religion.

Religious Life in Turkey

In this part of the article, two different studies are going to be used to examine the religious life of people in Turkey. Firstly, Religious Life in Turkey research conducted by the Directorate of Religious Affairs in 2014 is going to be analyzed.

Although the research was conducted to determine the common beliefs in Turkish society, different religious beliefs were considered as an experience in the preface of the study, and the religion of Islam was expressed by the Presidency of Religious Affairs as our supreme religion and stated that they are in an effort to meet the needs and expectations of Muslim citizens. This kind of discourse creates a discriminatory situation between members of the society who belong to different religions in considering the principle of secularism.

Citizens from all age groups were included in the research carried out with TURKSTAT. The gender distribution was set as 49.1% male and 50.9% female. Research conducted within seven geographic regions, participation in rural 72.8% is and participation in urban 27.2%.

In summary, 99.2% of the participants stated that they believed in Islam, while 0.4% stated that they believed in another religion or did not belong to any religion. In the continuation of the research, questions were asked about the religion of Islam, such as whether they believe in God, whether they follow prayer rituals, which are religious activities; such as praying and fasting.

On the other hand, in the 10-year Social Change Report study conducted by KONDA in 2019, it is seen that the rate of atheists in society increased from 1% to 3%. Likewise, the proportion of people who identify as devout decreased from 55% to 51%. According to the report, the rate of people who stated that they were religious increased from 31% to 34%. Likewise, the rate of those who stated that they were non-believers increased from 1% to 2%.

According to the report, it is seen that people’s worshiping and veiling habits have also changed. Shortly, we see that in the KONDA report, considering Turkey in 2008-2018 years the proportion of atheists increased while religious people decreased.

The Effect of Islamic Religion on Social Life: From Past to Present

In general, the Ottoman people had a multinational society belonging to a monotheistic religion.  People that belong to different religions could live together with the influence of Westernization. Although the Ottoman was an Islamic state governed by a monarchy, it implemented the policy of tolerance and living in harmony and guaranteed the freedom of belief and life of the minority groups and their rights. The foundation of the new Republic of Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, religion decreased to personal areas and a separation made in terms of religion and state. In the first years of the Republic, many cults and congregations were closed and their actions were restricted against treason and coup attempts.

Today most people in Turkey are still identified themselves as Muslims. Islamic religious rules do not have any validity on laws. Turkish society consists of people who generally practice their religious beliefs in the way they perceive religion. For example, tolerance and hospitality are phenomena that are still common in Turkey. People do not hesitate to help their neighbors or people they do not know if they face a hard situation in terms of financial or emotional. On the other hand, the concept of religion has been hollowed out by people with impressive leadership qualities. For example, one of the examples that frequently encounter is the fraudulent people with bad intentions, especially by calling the elderly people and collecting money under the name of religious aid. Furthermore, the television channels remained the only mass media for people who do not have any social network access, do not know how to use the internet, and do not have any social media accounts. This situation can be misleading, making it easier for people to come to religious provocation, as it limits people’s ability to get accurate news due to media pressure and censorship.

Through the conservative understanding of morality that has started to show more effect, especially in recent years, many women have been subjected to physical and verbal violence due to their clothing and lifestyle. Islam and Muslimism have especially misrepresented in Turkey due to people’s behavioral patterns as adopt religion as a cover for their own behavior. Another deplorable example of deviating religion is the mitigating causes applied to perpetrators under the name of honor killings in femicides, which increased systematically from 2008 to 2020, according to the information obtained from the statistics. In the general context, the judiciary maintains an understanding that empowers perpetrators and potential perpetrators by leaving women alone.

From another perspective, there are also religious behavior patterns that differ on the basis of individuals. For example, eating out during Ramadan does not bother some believers, while others may be aggressive. The same pattern can apply to drinking alcohol.In a brief and general summary, it can be said that Turkey is not governed by religious law and rules and it is not expected from society to everybody should apply the same Islamic norms. It can be concluded an outcome that the Islamic religion in Turkish society misused by some people to find mitigating reasons for their own behavioral patterns. However, this does not mean that Turkey loses its own coherent feature. Eventhough, Turkey is a secular country within secular law, Turkish society, in general, internalized the teachings of Islam and made Islam’s orders its own culture. Islam is a religion that states that everyone should respect the rights of the other within tolerance and harmony, it orders to help.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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