How Turkey evolved from an Islamic Country to a Secular Country?

With its beautiful seashores, mountaintop views, amazing food, warm hospitable people and rich history, Turkey is a sight to see. The country’s history is gripping. Some of its most valuable assets include exquisitely decorated churches, mosques, palaces, and orchids.

Long ago, Islam had a strong presence in the country. After that, it was followed by a sudden downfall but recently Turkey has been experiencing a slow return towards the religion. However, some people are doubtful about the revival of Islam in the country.[irp]

Their real question is that whether it is a positive or negative change? Firas-Al-Khateeb in his writing, ‘Lost Islamic History,’ wrote about the history of Islam in Turkey. Turkey was one of the most important Muslim states and was governed by the Ottoman caliphate until the 1920s.

This was until the Ottoman Empire started to crumble in the 1900s when Italy took some major parts of Libya in 1912. Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece wanted the Ottoman Empire out of Europe and hence that led to World War 1.

World War 1 determined a permanent fall of the Empire and Turkey was taken over by British, Greek, and FrenchAt that time, Mustafa Kemal, an Ottoman army officer, rose to action against the invasion and hence could avoid one over Turkey’s capital Istanbul. He organized an Ottoman army under his leadership which could fight off and eliminates the Greek, British and French forces from Turkish land.

After these events, Mustafa Kemal inevitably emerged as a hero for the Turks. The modern Republic of Turkey led by the Grand National Assembly was declared. The state, however, needed a president therefore by mutual consent; Mustafa Kemal was chosen for the post that was then known as ‘Ataturk’ i.e., the father of the Turks.

However, Mustafa Kemal came to power bearing a unique aim in his mind which was to promote unity among the Turkish people while keeping religion as far from them as possible. Conversely, he wanted to promote secularism.

To achieve his goal, he brought in many reforms. He changed the education system, eliminating Islamic education. All the religious schools were shut. Moreover, the practice of Islamic law of Shariah was forbidden and was replaced by the legal codes adopted from Europe.

In 1924, ottoman caliphate got completely abolished and all the Ottoman family was sent into exile. In 1928, Islam was removed from being the official religion of Turkey and secularist ideas started interfering in the daily affairs of the country.

A few changes were introduced. The official calendar was changed from Islamic to Gregorian. The Arabic script was replaced with the Latin alphabets hence if the Turks could not understand Arabic anymore; they could not understand the Holy Quran either.

The call to prayer i.e. Adhan in Arabic was forbidden in the mosques and was ordered to be re-written and called out in Turkish. However, this caused resentment among the faithful Muslims that was later repelled. The Imams were appointed and regulated strictly by the government and the sermons preached in the mosques were also supervised by the government.

Moreover, Friday which used to be a part of the weekend was turned into a working day. The last of the Islamic touch from the region was gone with the ban that was placed on wearing traditional Islamic dress. Mustafa Kemal passed away in 1938 but his reform brought to Turkey stayed intact.

In the last few years, many religious leaders have risen and fought against the reforms which have helped to revive Islam in the country. The modern president of the country can be taken as an example.

Erdogan, a graduate of Imam and preacher-training school has risen through a pro-Islamist and marginal movement. He was elected as the mayor of Istanbul in 1994. Erdogan then co-established his own party, the AKP, and ran in the elections. He was elected as the Prime Minister in 2002.

Alongside bringing in great progress for Turkey as the infrastructure of the country and the living standards of the people improved meanwhile Inflation rate slowed down, he also made efforts to revive Islam in the country. He took certain steps.

He lifted the ban on headscarves in universities and public building hence freeing the religious women. He placed certain criticisms on the content of the television and public display of affection.

He imposed certain restrictions on the use of alcohol. For his efforts, he was opposed and criticized by a lot of Turks who are now habitual of the lifestyle Ataturk introduced them to.

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Steve has been living in Saudi Arabia since 2013 and writing about Saudi rules, regulations, guides, and procedures since then.