Religion in Turkey Term Paper

Pages: 11 (3751 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

Religion and Secularism in Turkey

Turkey lies at the northeast tip of the Mediterranean Sea and bridges Europe and the Middle East. Part of it, called the Turkis Straits, is part of Europe and the rest is considered part of the Middle East or Asia. Only 8% of the population and 3% of the land are in the Europe side while 97% of the land and 92% of the people are on the Middle East portion. Turkey measures approximately 780,000 square kilometers. It is divided into 80 provinces with Ankara as the capital and Istanbul as the largest city. The modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, who was designated as Father Turk by the Grand National Assembly. Kemal was an accomplished military officer under the Ottomans. His military capabilities and political magnetism enabled him to outlast the fallen Ottoman Empire. He advocated for the partitioning of Turkey with the Allied Forces and established the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Religion in Turkey Assignment

Kemal set up the foundations for a strong nation-state yet allowed repressive practices to seep in against the freedom of the press, which survive to this day. He put into place the necessary reforms to make Turkey a secular state. He abolished the constitutional provision, which decreed Islam as the state religion and the caliphate, which symbolized the Sultanate's religious authority. He removed the rest of Islamic institutions. He replaced these with Western laws, practices and principles. He introduced the use of the Latin calendar and alphabet. In 1934, Turkish women received the right to vote. He took steps and reforms not only to secularize Turkey but also open it to European influences. The reforms were so massive that his influence came to be regarded as an ideology. Its guiding principles, however, were described as chaotic and contradictory. By 1926, Kemal ruled as an autocrat through the support of landowners, the bourgeoisie and the civil and military bureaucracies. Their cooperation silenced all opposition. Nonetheless, his rule brought stability in the newly-founded country until its membership with the United Nations in 1945 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO in 1952. Both were in tune with the objective of Europeanizing Turkey. Kemal was the ruler of Turkey for 14 years, re-elected in 1927, 1931 and 1935. He died in 1938.

Kemal transformed Turkey into a secular state where religious belief would be a matter of individual and personal conscience. In this secular state, he made both the huge Muslim majority and the tiny Christian and Jewish minorities free to practice their respective religious beliefs without fear. He ordered the translation of the Quran into Turkish for ordinary people to read and understand for themselves rather than rely on the interpretation of mullahs. Among the consequences of this new order were the replacement of the Shariah law with a modern, secular justice system, the abolition of polygamy and Muslim women's option to marry non-Muslim men. Civil divorce replaced the Muslim practice of "repudiation." Under this old practice, a Muslim man could terminate a marriage by simply declaring to the woman, "I divorce you." The secularization of Turkey decriminalized apostasy. Adults could change their religion. Women were granted legal equality with men, including suffrage and the right to hold government office and work in business. Primary education, prominently of girls, was compulsory. The Father Turk changed Turkey's standards from Arabic to European. He caused the replacement of Arabic script by the Roman alphabet and the Islamic calendar with the Western or Gregorian calendar and the adoption of the metric system. Moreover, he initiated an economic development program, which would expand agriculture and advance industry and technology.

Kemal was an advocate of 18th century Enlightenment and liberal philosophers, like Voltaire and John Stuart Mill. He believed that the truest guide to civilization, success and life itself consisted of knowledge and science. He stressed that Turkey needed to catch up with the Western world. He viewed the teachings of Enlightenment as universal values and Turkey's ultimate goal was to accept these values. He rejected the assumption that the East and the West could not meet. Rather, he insisted that universal secular values and mutual respect would be the meeting ground between the East and the West. He believed that nationalism and peace were compatible and saw human reason as the only true guide in life. His vision for Turkey was a blending of patriotism and a lofty humanist ideal. Progressive thinkers all over the world agreed with him. He changed the structure of Turkey from top to bottom. But his secular ideal did not gain the vote of the Turkish people.

At the start of Kemal's rule, most of the Turks were illiterate, subsistence farmers, who were subjected to an absolute imperial sultan. Some liberal historians felt that his kind of rule was what his people needed at the time. Kemal's rule was described as a benevolent dictatorship, which was deemed the only possible government at that time. His program of secularization and modernization limited some individual freedoms, prominently the wearing of the fez in public. Muslim men traditionally wore the brimless fez so that they could bring their forehead to the ground when they prayed. He banned the wearing of the veil by women in public as a sign that they were equal with men. He also encouraged the formation of opposition parties but later on banned them when they felt that these would delay the progress of his reforms. While he praised the freedom of the press as a fundamental feature of liberty, he also censored criticisms of his progressive reforms.

The secular state, which developed out of the concept of the Father Turk, continues to flourish today. Current-day Turkey is moderately prosperous, rich in culture and the most democratic country in the Middle East. It remains the most strictly secular nation, which guarantees freedom of religion and belief. For almost a century, the Republic of Turkey has made greater progress than any other nation with a similarly and predominantly Muslim population. Turkey has achieved this without needing to produce oil like other Middle East countries. But contradictions to Father Turk's kind of enlightened despotism also remain and produce problems. For one thing, the military has kept tight watch of it. Effective multiparty democracy was established in 1950. But political corruption, threats to political integrity and strong apprehension towards Islamic fundamentalism have prompted the military to frequently intervene with the democratic process. The Turkish constitution allows the military to intervene in any major aspects of government. Three military coups between 1960 and 1980 were, therefore, not unexpected. The Kurdish Workers Party or PKK, on the other hand, staged a military insurrection in the southeast part of Turkey. The members wanted to create an independent Kurdish state. The conflict stretched to more than 10 years and claimed the lives of more than 23,000 guerillas, 5,000 Turkish soldiers and 9,000 civilians. The PKK sought greater cultural and political rights, which the Turkish government continues to deny. The government still regards its critics as enemies of the Turkish sovereignty. It was not surprising, then, that an Islamic political party, called Welfare, in the 1990s, expressed doubts that secularism would last long in Turkey. The military's constraint over the activities of the group was viewed as demonstrating the limits of democracy in the country. The voting public gave only up to 21% endorsement of the Welfare's objective. Its successor group, the Virtue, was not even as strong. It was said that only 7 or 8% of Turkish voters were Muslims. Most of the votes for the Islamist parties came from reform-directed young minds. These young minds were disgusted with current parties and would want to take a chance with the Welfare. They did not think it would incur too much risk with the presence and capability of the military in times when it had to intervene.

Many Turks still view Islam as incompatible with Western philosophy. Some Muslim fundamentalists and some Muslim intellectuals even consider the idea of democracy and secularism detrimental and inimical to the very dogma of Islam. There are Muslims and non-Muslims in Turkey. Among the Muslim sects were the Alevis and the Shias whose observances and practices were not all alike. Most of the non-Muslims lived in Istanbul and other large cities. Among them were Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Syrian Orthodox Christians, Yezidies, Greek Orthodox Christians and a few Nestorians. These religious minorities came under the regulation of the government agency, the Office of Foundations. This office approved all the operations of churches, monasteries, religious hospitals, schools, orphanages and other similar groups. The Christian population in Turkey was said to be declining. Religious minorities, which could no longer support property, would have to lose it to the state. Secularism is among the basic pillars of the Turkish Republic. It is central to the Constitution of 1982 and its predecessors. It draws from the principle of freedom of religion and conscience as set forth in Article 24.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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