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  • 8/6/2019 Secular Turkey



    Prof. Dr. Blent DAVER


    Secularism (separatian of state and religion) is the result and thecause of Atatrk's reforms carried out mainly in the years 1922 - 1935.This principle, unlike in western countries, had not been realized by .theevolutionary' currents and ideas of philosophers, disseminated among largeparts of the people throughout the centuries, but rather by direct and

    . resolute action and revolutionary enthusiasm of a considerably small elitecomposed of bureaucrats and young army officers. The Turkish intelli-gentsia led by Atatrk sought secularism as a modernizing principle. aswell as a progressiye idea covering not only the political and governmentallife but a whole social and eu1tural milieu whieh was, in its very nature,dominated by superstitions, dogmas and ignoranee. Those faetors preventedthe Turkish people from beeoming a modern and prosperous nation. Ho-wever, very strietly applied in the years of one party rule, the principleof seeularism was never meant, in the eyes of its proponents, to be a newdogma or a new religion to replace the old Islam. Instead the republieanleaders were very careful not to attack Islam as a faith. Theirpurposewas rather to "purify" Islam and to open the gate for a reformist Islamicthought and a modern state. Their war-cry was to bring an end to thesupremacy of Ulema (Muslim religious officials) and their allies. Thusthe secularist mavement in Turkey appeared mainly ~ an anti-elericaldrive, a protest at the tyranny of religious fanaticism. Indeed, in Islamicthought and system there was no place for a special clergy or superstitions.

    Beginning from 1945 with the new era of the mUti-party systemunder President nn there was some easing and relaxation in govern-mental policies concerning religion and secularism. After 1950, with thecrushing victory of the Democrat Party in the general elections, easing the

    curbs on religious liberties had reached such apoint a some Westem.dbservess have often used the expression "The slanne revival in Turkey".However, this policy ai giving too much credit to conservative circles wasopposed mainly by the Repu:blican People's Party (a party which was

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    founded by Atatrk in 1923). The reformist and revolutionary cirdes andelites saw the religious policy of the Democrat Partyas treason to the Ke-malist principles. One of the main causes in the appearance of the military's

    interventian of 27 May 1960was the "desire to bring an end to the exploita-tion of religion for political and private purposes".

    For a foreign scholar there can be some inconsistency, if not con-tradiction, in the application of the principle of secularism in Turkey.For instance,. the state (government)controls religious affairs and 01'-ganizes it as a deparment of State. Each year a great deal ()f money ispoured out from the State budget for religious affairs. 1 Indeed, todayalmast sixty thousand religious officials recei ve their salary' from the

    state budget (During the early' years of the Republic this figure wasaround five hundred). In the realm of religious liberties there were samelimitations which can seem "excessive" to a liberal- minded foreign obser-ver. These limitations and exceptional measures regarding religious matterscan only be explained in terms of Turkey's special histarical and socialstructure and conditions. The students of Turkish affairs are very wellaware of these special factorso Our purpose in this paper is to make ashort outline of the secularist movement in Turkey, and to try to give ananswer to some questions raised by the delicate problems of the rela-

    tionship between state and. religion.In our opinion the most difficult task for Turkey's presenty-day

    Icaders, in the era of the multi-party system, is to make a canvenientarrangement to bring a:bout a broad consensus concerning religion's properrole in a modern democratic state. This task necessitates a consensus amongcontending parties and leaders. Some of them are acting in the name of Atatrk's principles and others are speaking on behalf of democraey.However, we can say that the secularisation of the masses is stilI thegreat unfinished mission of Turkish elites. A convenient balance betweenthe progressive ideas of Atatrk and the needs of a pluralistic societyreguires a subtle analysis of the situation as well as dedication and courageon the part of leaders.


    . Ottoman PeriodThe Ottoman. Empire was' a theocratic state like the other Turkish

    states which appeared on the scene of history, beginning from the 10 th

    1 For a detailed analysis of the subject: Dr. Blent DAver, Trkiye CumhuriyetindeLaiklik (Secularism in Turkish Republic). Ankara, 1955.

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    until 15 th centuries. The Sharia (Roly Koran) was a fundamental law forbelievers as well as the rulers. But few Muslim rulers in history havemade it, in praetiee, the main business of the state. The Koran is intended

    to enforce God's eternallaws.

    Administrative, erirninal, civil and eommercial law have, almost fromthe beginning of Islamic society, been separated from the domain of theSharia, though this separation was not and e~plicity eodifieduntil 19 th eentury.2

    Islam had also reeoneiled itself to the separation between religionand the conduet of the state in foreign affairs onee it aequiesced in thepeaceful coexistenee of orthodox Islamie states with the Christian andheterodox Islamic nations. As Majid Khadduri pointed out: "The principleof peaeeful relationship among nations of different religions is pcrhap3the most revolutionary Islamic legal theory and this was for the firsttime embodied in a treaty signed in 1533 between Francis I of Franeeand Suleiman the Magnifieent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire."3

    Despite these facts the hold of Islam on the state as well as on believerswas very strong, for Islam was not only a faith, a credo, but also a legalsystem aimi11Jgat organizing the whole life, including political, social, eivil

    and eultural spheres. The first reaction to Islam's daim to administer allthese matters, eoncerning the temporal world, came during the Tanzimatperiod which was promulgated in 1839 by a Ferman (Royal Deeree) of S~.lltan.The Tanzimat's administrators, who had been influeneed by Wes-tern institutions, saw the impossibility of condueting state affairs in arapidly ehanging. world according to old religious principles. Under theheavy pressure of events they felt obliged to introduee western laws andinstitutions in Turkey, whieh were based on modern principles existingin modern nations.

    Another breaeh in the orthodox Islamic system was the introductionof public schools whieh were essentially seeular in their nature. Further-more, along with the religious eourts which wue dealing with privatecases of citizens, speeial secular eourts in the western style were ereated.The judges appointed to these new eourts were different in their approachas well as in their educatian from their colleagues in the Sharia courts.

    2 Manfred, Halpem; The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and Africa.Princeton University Press, 1963, p. 130.

    3 Majid Khadduri; "The Islamic System: Its Competition and Coexistence withWestern Systems", Proccedings of the ,American Society of International Law,1954, p. SI.

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    -3 2 BLENT DA VER

    Despite tMse steps of secularization and modernization the OttornanEmpire was stilI mainly theocratic in character and outlook, because theSultan was 'officially the head of all Muslms. The firstConstitution of theOttoman Empire, promulgated in 1876,explicity stated that the main dutyof the Assembly was to carry out the principles of the Sharia. Anotherartiele of this Constitution stipulated that the religion of the state was .Islam.

    2. Atatrk's Refonns:

    For a radical change in these matters one needed to wait until Ata-

    trk's reforms. Mter the liberation of the country from the enemy, a:series of radical reforms were initiated in order to secularize the stateand social life. The first one of these steps was the abolition of the Sul-tanate in 1922 which was followed by the proclamation of the Republicin 1923.

    in 1924 the Caliphate and the Ministry of Religious Affairs ~were.abolished. In 192~religiousorders (tarikats) were prohibited. A CiviI Codein the western style was introduced in 1926.In 1928the Constitution wasamended and the artiele stating that "the state's religion is Islam" was,deleted. Finally, the principle of secularism Was formally introduced intothe Turkish Conitltution by the amendment carried out in 1937. Alongwith these legal changes came many other reforms secularizing socialand cultural life. Religious teachings in public schools were suspended.'The public demeanor of women was changed (especialy in big cities likeIstanbul, Ankara and Izmir). The language of prayers in mosques was-ehangedto Turkish instead of Arabic ete...

    Mter the death of Atatrk in 1938and with the new era of the mUti-partysystem under President nn in 1945, things have somewhat-ehanged. One of the main controversial issues between the Republicar:People's Party which started secularism and championed it, and the newlycreated Democrat Party, was the role of religion in Turkish life. Indeedthe Republican People's Party itself had made certain concessionS after1945 regarding this matter, under the heavy pressure of the oppositionparty. For instance, the Republican People's Party had agreed to allowreligious instruction inpublic schools upon the written request of parents.The party also permitted the openning of some religious place