Islamic theology in the Republic of Turkey


In a comprehensive review of Islamic theology in Turkey, Phillip Dorroll’s book examines how Islam was able to flourish within a seemingly secular system and how the contradictions inherent in Turkey make it an interesting comparative study.

Erdogan’s AKP party was able to use contemporary forms of Islamic orthopraxy to tighten its political grip on Turkey [Edinburgh University Press]

that of Philippe Dorroll Islamic theology in the Republic of Turkey makes a bold claim, while we traditionally speak of Islamic schools of thought in terms of 4 main schools in Sunni Islam and 3 in Shiism, Dorroll proposes that we consider Turkey to have its own unique school of thought within the sunnism.

Often times, Turkey’s Islamic experiences are overlooked as it is not an Arab country and the Arab problems are assumed to be Turkish as well, which has led to both widespread presumptions about Islam in Turkey and a general neglect on the part of religious researchers.

The heart of modern Turkish theology, suggests Dorroll, “Islamic theology in the modern Turkish language … revolves around the question of what it means to believe in one God in the context of modernity.”

“Islamic theology in the Republic of Turkey will become a key study on Turkey and will also be used in comparative frameworks examining the religious traditions of other countries. religion”

Thematic work organized by sections on origins, nation, god, humanity and the future, Islamic theology takes us from the end of the Ottoman period until 2019. Theology in Turkey is flourishing: “To the at the end of the 1980s, only nine theological faculties existed. in Turkey.

In January 2019, according to the head of Diyanet [Turkish religious ministry] Ali Erbas, there was [now] 105. “The increase in theological colleges has also facilitated a gender revolution with 60% of enrollees being women, since the AKP party took over there have been more women appointed to leadership positions within of the Turkish religious establishment, including positions as vice-mufti in Istanbul.

The growth in women’s participation in religious institutes stems from state policy, which takes into account one of the unique characteristics of Turkish theology, which is that it is shaped by the governments of their day.

The Republic of Turkey is a secular state which follows the secular model, which requires not only that the state cannot have any religious character itself or be controlled by specific religious domination, but also that the state have full centralized control. on religious institutions and can define public religious behavior. in terms of impact on public order.

Control of public religious life in Turkey is the responsibility of the country’s religious ministry, the Dinyanet, which was established in the early years of the republic. While this is a peculiar feature of the Turkish Republic, the centralizing control of religious theology is a distinctly Ottoman feature that dates back to the beginning of the Ottoman state. Full centralized state control of theological schools is unusual in Islamic history, most states had no control or had some control over certain institutes in the Middle Ages.

From the 19th century, Turkish theology was interested in the decline of the Ottoman Empire as well as new ideas coming from Europe. Many have sought to reform the Islamic tradition to take into account modern science and the philosophical ideas of Europe, including the ideas of human rights, democracy and freedom.

A major theme for Turkish scholars was a distinction between essential and non-essential beliefs and practices, between what could be changed and what could not be changed. Many also looked outside of traditional theological frameworks and began to incorporate findings into sociology to help build a new theology.

The tendency to turn to the social sciences and focus on concepts like the scope of human freedom under state patronage is what gives Turkey its distinct theology. It was during the search for a new theological approach that modern Turkish thinkers rediscovered the works of a 10th century Islamic theologian, Abu Mansur A-Maturidi, what attracted them to him is: “[he] defended the bases of traditional Sunni belief, but sought to do so in a way that did not depend on irrational submission to religious tradition.

His rational approaches allowed a spirit of inquiry, the Turkish thinkers were looking, moreover, Al-Maturidi was born in Central Asia, which in Turkish nationalism was also the origins of the Turks and therefore he could also serve as a nationalist icon. Al-Maturidi’s approaches have been broadened and methods systematized throughout Turkey, “According to the Turkish Higher Education Council, since 1987 some eight-nine master’s and doctoral theses have been written concerning Maturidi theology. . This is in addition to countless other Turkish publications about his work.

“Diving into the character of Turkish religious life, its contradictions, tensions and conflicts gives us a critical insight into the life and politics of the country”

State sponsorship of theology has its limits, that is, it depends on the wishes of the ruling party. When the AKP party came to power in the 2000s with the slogan “no one is free until everyone is free”, there was initially a greater diversification and pluralization of Turkish theological life. New fields seeking to explore the expansion of personal freedom, minority and women’s rights and dissent have flourished.

But even that had its limits, as Dorroll points out, the AKP government became more authoritarian and the shutdown of dissenting opinions became the norm in the 2010s. For Dorroll, the limits of liberation offered by the AK party could be explored through the lens of positive LGBTQI + theology, many gay rights groups initially welcomed the AKP to power. Their talk about diversification and releases encouraged them to think that the expansion of gay rights was on the horizon, in 2008 there was a buzz in the Turkish press about new religious interpretations, which affirmed LGBTQI + rights. and divine love and acceptance people.

However, those hopes were dashed when the AKP reacted badly to the suggestion of a gay-friendly theology and party officials increased their use of homophobic rhetoric. The AKP’s tough stance has ended the notion of broad acceptance of such an interpretation, and given state controls over religious institutions, it leaves it unexplored.

Philip Dorroll’s book comes to us at a critical juncture, despite being a highly globalized place with millions of tourists flocking each year, Turkey remains a misunderstood place. Entering into the character of Turkish religious life, its contradictions, tensions and conflicts gives us a critical insight into the life and politics of the country. I think Islamic theology in the Republic of Turkey will become a key study on Turkey and will also be used in comparative frameworks examining religious traditions in other countries. The book is not long but it is packed with insight and will surely become the benchmark work on Turkish religion.

Usman Butt is a London-based multimedia television researcher, filmmaker and writer. Usman studied international relations and the Arabic language at the University of Westminster and obtained an MA in Palestinian studies at the University of Exeter.

Follow him on Twitter: @TheUsmanButt


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