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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Islam in Turkey and Kemal Ataturk reforms for Secularism

Assalamu Alaikum,
Secular Turks waving Turkey flagTurkey is gradually regaining the global attention it once enjoyed albeit for different reasons. The main international focus has been on Turkey's EU entry talks which began in October 2005 on joining the European Union (EU). But the subtler and the less pronounced is the revival of Islam in Turkey despite nearly 90 years hostile secular Governments.

Although today Turkey seldom figures in Muslim or Islamic discourse, it was for five centuries the center of the Muslim world, until that fatal day, March 3rd, 1924, when Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk abolished the Caliphate -office of the successors to prophet Muhammad, the supreme politico-religious office of Islam, and symbol of the Turkey sultan's claim to world leadership of all Muslims—was abolished.

Today 98% of Turkey’s population is officially Muslim but the proportion of practicing Muslims is as low as 20%. However unlike in Europe where church attendance gradually fell in Turkey it is the result of a systematic attempt to constrain and weaken Islam by successive Kemalist secular governments and the military.

Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk Founder of TurkeyThe hostility towards Islam began in early 1920s. A military commander, Mustafa Kemal Pasha led the Turkish War of Independence to form the Republic of Turkey as the successor state of the defunct Ottoman Empire. For this Mustafa Kemal became very popular and adored by all Turks. Thereafter he became the first President of the Republic of Turkey. The Turks venerated him so much he was given the name ‘Atatürk’, meaning Father of the Turks, (honorific name formally presented to him by the Turkish Grand Assembly in 1934.)

But Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was no ordinary leader. He was an astute statesman and strewed strategist. He didn’t express to the public how he would develop Turkey until he got the power to execute his vision (i.e. not until he was President of Turkey.)

Then Atatürk carefully constructed and deployed a master plan, today known as the Kemalist ideology or Kemalism. Believing in this strategy Ataturk and his associates started to publicly question the value of religion and held the view religion was not compatible with modern science and secularism was imperative for modernity.

Ataturks reforms for secularism of TurkeyThus Ataturk regime began step by step to implement the Kemalist ideology with a radical reformation of the Turkish society with the aim of modernizing Turkey from the remnants of its Ottoman past. In line with their ideological convictions the Ataturk government abolished Islamic religious institutions; replace the Shariah law with adapted European legal codes; replaced the Islamic calendar with the Gregorian calendar; replace the Arabic script which was used to write the Turkish language with the Latin script and closed all religious schools.

In addition Ataturk took over the country's 70,000 mosques and restricted the building of new mosques. Muftis and imams (prayer leaders) were appointed and regulated by the government, and religious instructions were taken over by the Ministry of National Education. Mosques were to preach according to the Ataturk’s dictates and were used to spread the Kemalist ideology.

For Sufi Muslims it was worse. Atatürk confiscated Sufi lodges, monasteries, meeting places and outlawed their rituals and meetings.

Turkey secularist against headscarves womenAccording to Ataturk modernity was valued and represented as not wearing any religious dress or being non-religious. So he ordered what cloths Turkey’s citizens should wear. The traditional garb of local religious leaders was outlawed. The fez (Turkish hat) was banned for men and the veil and hijab (headscarves) were discouraged and restricted for women.

Atatürk and his colleagues even wanted to Turkify Islam. They ordered Muslims to use the Turkish word Tanri instead of Allah for God and use the Turkish language in Salaath (the 5 times prayers) and Azaan (the call for prayers). These preposterous changes deeply disturbed the faithful Muslims and caused widespread resentment, which led in 1933 to a return to the Arabic version of the call to prayer.

After some time the Atatürk regime moved towards more extreme measures. Ataturk prohibited religious education. The existing mosques were turned into museums or used for the regimes secular purposes.

human rights in secular TurkeyThe faithful Turkish and Kurdish Muslims (Sunni, Shia and Sufi inclusive) were powerless against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s regime and his military. But they tried to resist the oppression and even led rebellions. But he was too strong for them and Ataturk suppressed the rebellions after massive bloodsheds. (e.g. Seyh Sait rebellion in southeastern Turkey claimed about 30,000 lives before being suppressed.)

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died in 1938. After that some of his preposterous laws were revoked by his successors due to their harshness and the fact that Islam was always a strong force at the popular level despite the suppression.

Kemalist against practicing Islam in TurkeySince then there have been occasional calls for a return to Islam. But the secular governments and military true to the Kemalist ideology have managed to suppress them. Amidst this environment in the 1980s a new generation of educated, articulate and religiously motivated leaders emerged to challenge the dominance of the Kemalist political ruling elite. By their own example of piety, prayer, and political activism, they have helped to spark a revival of Islamic observance in Turkey.

But the Turkish military and the state bureaucracy are infiltrated with (Kemalist) secularists and act as the guardians of Ataturk’s reforms and work to preserve Kemalism and weaken Islam. This situation has gradually led to a polarization of the Turkish society and today Turkey remains as someone observed a 'torn society'.


Anonymous Anonim said...

This posting does not present a fair assessment of the motives of Mustafa Kemal (that he was an enemy of religion, Islam in particular, is an old and boring story), but he did most of those reforms, and put into motion a unique experiment in the Muslim world. And it was very kind of him to do so! He could have declared himself the sultan-caliph easily; but he opted for giving future generations a real chance. Thanks to his reforms, I and millions of my countrymen can hold our head high and be proud citizens of the world, not constricted with religious dogma. I have known many similarly and deservedly proud Muslim "individuals" of other nationalities (Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians, Africans, ...) Which one of them can claim such pride for their respective nations?

Stop misrepresenting secularism as the antithesis of religious faith. Religious faith applies to individual, family, neighborhood, and all the way up to the larger society as the numbers and density of like beliefs allow. But this does not mean religion should be basis of governance. Secularism simply states that: religion out of government, and government out of religion. And this should be a good thing for religion, too, as power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Yes, in Kemalist-Turkish experience, government has tried to control religion, but this too is understandable given the historical experience of the land. Ottoman system was bankrupt in all senses of the word, and the static worldview of classical Islam (e.g., belief in being destined for greatness by Allah's grace no matter what) was one major reason. Contrary to what this posting may be suggesting, the Kemalist reforms are not entirely the invention of 20th century man, Mustafa Kemal; they were rather a culmination of almost a two-hundred-year struggle to modernize and secularize the (Ottoman-) Turkish system. See, there were smart, sensible sultans and other Ottoman officials, too. Not to minimize his genius, but Mustafa Kemal just pulled the last straw. He had all the reasons in the world to do so. He and many around him who worked with him were the product of these early Ottoman efforts to secularize/modernize the system institution by institution.

Before you whine about Mustafa Kemal's abolishing the office of caliphate, tell everyone who among the other Muslim countries truly respected the Ottoman Sultan as caliph, leader of all Islam. What were the Arabs doing during WWI? Hasn't the Sultan become merely a figurehead by the early 1900s?

Also, before disingenuously trying to band all major Islamic sects together as having suffered under Kemalist reforms, like they wouldn't have under caliphate, tell everyone whether or not the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the beloved Ottoman Sultan-Caliph was putting the Alevis to sword all over Anatolia intermittently, but century after century nonetheless.

You people are lame. Stop picking on Ataturk's Turkey, and show us something you can be proud of in the whole wide world of Islam elsewhere. What should we unite around? Should we head right back to relying on Allah's grace?

2:03 PM  
Blogger Unite Muslims said...

I touched a nerve didn't I? Its good to hear your point of view. First I won't you to know I and many more Muslims repects you and your people. We regard Turks as our brothers and sisters. I hope I am not too late to wish you Assalamu Alaikum,

I agree with you Ataturk brought some stability and westernisation to Turkey. And also the Ottoman Caliphate was corrupt and in shatters when it was abolished. But it was a crucial point, the beginning of Kemal's campaign to purge Islam out of Turkey and replace it with Turkish nationalism. As for Mustafa Kemal's motives his actions speak louder than words, looking at what he did to Islam (in Secular Turkish parlance a 'kind experiment') imagine if he had succeeded, today there won’t be any Islam left in Turkey. If it hurts you just hear what Kemal Ataturk did then it won't be difficult to imagine what the religious people in Turkey at that time (and today) feel and had to undergo when they were forced to abandon their religious convictions and observances.

"should we head right back to relying on Allah's grace?"
Allah helps those who help themselves. And that means not just blind faith alone or just praying and fasting. For the good in this world and the hereafter we need to live and work according to Allah's revelation. It includes every aspect of life praying, fasting, studying, working, socializing, having (halal) fun etc. A Muslim means one who submits to Allah and Allah alone. A Muslim holds in the highest estimee what Allah revealed through his last prophet and prophets example and the Islamic state he created should be our ideal and our reliance. Not the result of corrupt people who later came to power and corrupted the prophetic political system. It includes every aspect of life praying, fasting, studying, working, recreation as well as doing scientific research and manufacturing new things towards a better life.

Back to the subject, today in modern Turkey, anyone speaking against Ataturk or what is regarded as insults to Turkishness (e.g speaking about Kurds human rights, Armenian genocide etc.) will get you in prison. Religious freedom and rights in Turkey are severely restricted but Ataturks ideological ideas must be respected by everyone. At the end of the day it transpires the difference between Ottoman Turkey and today’s Turkey being a corrupt and inefficient Ottamon sultans tyranny being replace by an ambitious Kemalist ideological tyranny. Mustafa Kemal's conduct and his legacy bears witness to this.

By the way here’s a amusing news item that can only severe your hope for EU membership- Turkish Parliament to List Europe's Massacres

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonim said...

"[Islam/Allah] includes every aspect of life [...]"

Yeah, that's the dangerous thing about Islam today, or any universalist religion playing for political power. It's oppressive, doesn't welcome differences, and when it appears it does, it is tolerating them as matters of fact, rather than according them equal status. Please spare me grand historical narratives on the Ottoman (or other) adobe of peace and tranquility as though such was the product of Islam as an entirely separate and unaffected entity.

I am not hurt much by anyhting. In particular, it doesn't hurt me to hear what Ataturk did. If anything, it hurts to see he didn't do enough, or generations after him may not have done enough to protect and improve upon his legacy. Things in Turkey today (from individual freedoms, freedom of expression, to religious freedoms and practice) aren't as bad as you may believe. Not at all... And neither Ataturk himself nor any administration after him targeted or prosecuted any group merely because they had religious beliefs. You mentioned Seyh Sait rebellion before as an example. Of course, it was a rebellion, insurgency to begin with, but was it about religion, or about nationalism? I'm going to let you sort that one out with your ex-Marxist Kurdish nationalists...

5:11 AM  
Blogger Unite Muslims said...

Well yes the Seyh sait rebellion was and even today the Kurdish insurgency continues to be left leaning. However you have to agree the religious suppression was one of the main causes for the Seyh sait rebellion.

"If anything, it hurts to see he didn't do enough, or generations after him may not have done enough to protect and improve upon his legacy."
yaallah, he did so much and you think that's not enough? According to this reasoning suppose next year a strong Islamic regime (the exact opposite of Ataturk's) came to power and started abolishing and purging all secularist from state institutes and replace the secular laws, western calender etc etc. with Islamics equallance while people start to rebel for destroying secularism, but the Islamic regime use their power and suppress them, will it be okay?

You said earlier abolute power corrupts anyone. Well your right, abolute power does corrupt everyone or atleast leads to abuse it. It is to avoid that very thing happening that we have laws and in our case it is the Shariah law and the fear of Allah that stops us from overstepping. What law was there to stop Ataturk from overstepping? He didn't have anyone over him. He and his supporters did what they thought was correct, i.e. they believed political Islam was evil and what did they do? Did they stop from abolishing the Caliphate and replacing the Shariah and Islamic calender? Don't you think closing religious schools was overstepping? banning the fez was overstepping? banning religious education was too much?

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, political Islam espousing to establish Shariah law is evil. History shows theocracy is something to be scared of. None of this is to say moslems are to be excluded from politics. That'd be nonsense in a country like Turkey where 90+ percent of the population is moslem. But wanting to have Islamic rule, or Shariah, is a different matter altogether. It hasn't worked in the past without severe oppression, it isn't working today without severe oppression (look at Iran, Taliban, Saudi Arabia, ...), and it will bring only severe oppression if tried again in Turkey or elsewhere. You may feel moslems are being oppressed in Ataturk's Turkey, but this cannot justify a reversal to a system that is known to oppress and expect full conformity or subject obedience. Ataturk's Turkey gave moslems a chance to live their religion freely in private and social spheres, expected people to compete for political power or office without reference to what their reliogion is, and freed the whole of the society from dogmatic politics and backwardism. No sunni moslem in Turkey has been prevented from attending a mosque, doing his prayer, going to Hajj, fasting, or otherwise observing his religion. The same cannot be said as easily for some heteredox moslem groups though. Alevis for instance; although Ataturk's Turkey has probably been the best of times for them, old prejudices and stereotypes against them survived strongly within the larger sunni society maybe until a couple of decades ago.

It was a good thing that Ataturk closed off religious schools, some examples of which we see in Pakistan and Afghanistan where little kids are taught by rote to hate and kill.

Look, you cannot change how I think or see all this. I just wanted to drop a note in your blog so you don't roam unchecked. I am a moslem (although I bet you would not have me as such) and I believe Islam is a respectable and beautiful religion. But it is not something to be had as the basis of governence. Not in my country Turkey...

12:28 AM  
Blogger Unite Muslims said...

political Islam espousing to establish Shariah law is evil.
You have a fine mentor in Ataturk. It's a shame you don't know your own religion. For Saudi, Taliban, Iran and some others who say they have Shariah, you should know it's not the correct Shariah implementation. Under Shariah they can't have a kingship or force people to wear the burkah. If you want to know what is Shariah go to the source not to those who claim to follow it but continue to sin. The shariah I believe in is the one prophet Muhammad preached and implemented during his period and his immediate successors. If you think Shariah is a harsh evil system you should know that any system to certain degree imposes limitations to the freedom for the common good.

FYI, Shariah is the law given to us by Allah. Do you think you know better than Allah - the creator of mankind about what is best for mankind? I submit to Allah's commands fully and that is why I call myself a Muslim. ("Muslim" means someone who accepts Islam as his way of life and submits to Allah and him alone) I don't pick and choose and differenciate what Allah revealed as political Islam and private Islam. I place my thrust in Gods wisdom and obey his commands because Allah knows what is best for us.

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonim said...

Let me leave your site on friendly terms if possible. I didn't mean to personally insult you, or offend your religion. Apologies if I did so in trying to get my point across...

But I want to leave you with one thought. Politics is about human affairs, it's about giving and taking, making compromises, changing your positions to adapt, etc. By bringing Shariah as Allah's infallible word into this dirty, alas inescapable, realm, you are paving the way to the inevitable corruption of Allah's word. And since Mohammed's time Islamic States and Empires came and went, and all lived so long as they were pragmatic and able to adjust/adapt. Beyond that, there is no incorruptable kernel of truth. (There is a lot of truth in Muslim hearts; but secular Turkish Muslims are not suffering from any shortage of this.) Given your rejection of Saudi-Taliban-Iran examples as incorrect forms of Shariah, I believe your intentions are good, and you sincerely believe the system you are advocating will be for the good of everyone. I don't (historical proof is missing, and analytical advocacy is not convincing). I believe theocracy is the worst form of government bound to swing between contradicting itself and oppressing people.

I don't know if I have a fine mentor in Ataturk. But, yes, Ataturk gave modern Turkey a promise, a real chance... Although Turkey is not perfect and is full of contradictions, I am still not going to dispose of Ataturk's legacy easily. This legacy after all has no reason to be ashamed of being in need of adjustments here, corrections there; it was a worldly statement; it is a basis to move on from.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Modern Pharaoh said...

Kemal Saved Turkey! The Khalifite was already corrupted, those kalifs were money hungry and were nothing like the real kalifs of the past. Mustafa Kemal's only mistake was changing the text from Arabic to English which is not the language of the Quran.

But he was a great nationalist. In my country EGYPT we need people similar to him to ride us of Religious Fanatics who are going to destroy our country and Islam one day.

3:43 PM  
Anonymous El-Mac said...

Kemal ataturk was a despicle creature, he died from a combo of STD and cirrhosis. Don't worry pharaon...you have plenty of losers in egypt to lead you anti-religious sharameet to hell.

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are one dirty fucking idiot, go back to the hole you crawled out of

8:35 AM  
Anonymous fuck ataturk said...

ataturk is a bitch. an enemy to the caliphate.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kemalism was a reaction to the growing corruptness of the caliphs in of the ottomans.under islam, the ummah were starting to drift away from islam. however unity is needed now more than ever. those kemalists who exist today are the same as the kuffar and kemalists can never call themselves muslims. they are proud and allah will punish their sense that they felt they knew better than islam.i agree that islam does have its fundamentalists and sometimes we need to have a debate within islam but to completely attack and insult islam and to call yourself a muslim....we are not like some christians who call themselves religious because they celebrate christmas. islam is a way of life which involves headscarfs for beleiving women and to beleive in an ideology that inhibits a woman from doing so and call youself a muslim..to the kemailists..who are you trying to be like??? i live in england and the westernised society you aspire to is a sham..it is cracking..homosexuality,people now campaigning to make incest legal..you have to see where complete secularism will take you and that is to hell on earth as well as beyond. the only way froward is to modernise within an islamic framework. try to mend rthe holes in the boat you have, dont jump into a boat with holes.inshallah, allah will guide us and he only who can create life will find a way for us. ammeen.

3:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What i will like to know is wheatker the turks of now adays do they pray, fast, pay zakkah and any other aspect of our religion.Are the real muslim still sleeping in turkey, were they asleep when attaturk carried out all those horific reforms and why on earth will muslims of these earth allow an enemy of islam an atheist rule talkless of carying out all those reforms. WAKE UP FROM YOUR SLUMBER.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salvage islam from the hands of illiterate,fanatic and bigot, if you cant salvage; this time , salvage the humanity from the islam.Mustafa Kemal have salvaged our country from the enemies and salvaged our minds from darkness.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Modern Pharaoh said...

I am an Egyptian Secular, i am secular but NOT KEMALIST! but i do respect many of the amazing things he has done for turkey!! To say that he was a positive on Turkey would be lying to ourselves!!

Look at Egypt now, once a very beautiful clean place, where Muslims and Christians and Jews all were together..we never until about 10 years ago saw the NIKAB(form of the burka) and now it is all over....and we are seeing a surge in the stupid fanatical WAHABI distorted image of ISlam..Although there are and will always be many egyptian Seculars, we are outnumbered by the crazy Salafi Wahabis now..importing their stupid ARAB BEDOUIN traditions!! i wrote more about this issue in my Blog!

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is good to see Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, his views and principles still keeps some disturbed people whose main goal is to complete the regressive Mohemmedan agenda.

Criticizing Mustafa Kemal Ataurk and is views definitely has its own merits in it. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a mortal individual just like anyone else and eventually passed away.

What is left from what he implemented is a country which is the most progressive and relatively democratic country among the Muhammedan countries.

While the iimplenetation of Muhammedanism did not bring any good, but misery, powerty, darkness and backwardness to Mohemmedan societies since 11 th century, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk set the stage for the most advance, progressive and democratic country among the Mohemmedan world, that is Turkey.

Until this pragmatic result is reversed and the resutl of implementation of Mohammedansim start rescuing Mohemmedan societies
from misery, poverty, backwardness and darkness, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's views will prevail true and factual.

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Turkish and graduated from a religious high school in Turkey. I am Muslim and strictly secular.Secularism didn't start with Kemal Ataturk. Turkey was going to be secular even if Kemal Ataturk didn't exist.It is not your business to label somebody that they aren't muslim.That's why we have to be secular in order to avoid such a nonsence comments. Kemalist people can be religious as well. I believe that he did his best to serve his country. If you hate nonmuslim, homosexuality why are you still in the UK. Go to pakistan Iran and enjoy sharia law

5:11 AM  
Blogger Feroz said...

Mustafa Kemal is a traitor and a stooge. He had exploited the corrupt ottoman government and the world war I. He was not a turk and he was never a muslim. These Kemalists need to be educated well about the truth.
They should realize secularism is the biggest enemy of humanity. Secularism won't even distinguish between mother and wife.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Candid Progressive said...

Turkey is the ONLY Muslim-majority nation that does not remain sunk in superstition and ignorance in the 21st century. This is because Kemal Ataturk, an admirer of the European Enlightenment, had the wisdom to separate the government from the influence of Islam, which preserves and promotes the culture of seventh century Arabia. Mustafa Kemal was a great man. The prophet Mohammed was a self-serving con man and bandit.

1:30 AM  

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