• Walter

Understanding Turkey’s Secularism Within the Muslim World

Interpretations of what constitutes a secular state and analyse it from what Turkey claims to be its perspective of secularism, pluralism (if not democracy) and from the standpoint of Islam and state-law relations. (Presented as a research paper for Islamic Law course at University of Winnipeg, Nov. 2018)

Secularism is a way of life which should be adopted by an individual. A secular individual should confine religion in the sacred place of his [or her] conscience and not allow his [or her] belief to affect this world.”

– Necdet Sezer, former president of Turkey

The legal order of the Ottoman state, which maintained its sovereign existence for over six centuries, from 1280 to 1922, was based not only on Islamic religious law—the Shari’a, but also qānūn, courts of law and an exceptionally bureaucratic system of public administration. On October 29, 1923 the Republic of Turkey was founded as a nation-state based on the modern paradigm of secularism or “laiklik.”[1] Still, Islamic practice was carried over in the society from the Ottoman state to the new Turkish Republic that allowed republican elites to declare a new structural order and without losing hegemonic power over religion. At the same time, the older Ottoman tradition of state management of religion was retained. Since 1937 that Turkey has been officially defined as a secular state, albeit with a Muslim-majority population. Within these parameters where definitions or labels can be wide-ranging or too subjective to define, we may question what Turkey defines as secular or, better yet, under what premise is Turkey’s understanding of what constitute secular.

To try to answer those questions and to understand today’s Turkish democratic constitution and particular form of secularism, this research paper will bring the genealogy of this process starting with the Ottoman experience, with the key role of the Sultan as well as the process that ended ijtihad of Shari‘a, while analyzing Turkey’s reasons for its constitutional developments. Throughout this outline, it will be imperative to examine interpretations of what constitutes a secular state and analyse it from what Turkey claims to be its perspective of secularism, pluralism (if not democracy) and from the standpoint of Islam and state-law relations. Secularism, in the Turkish context, is somewhat unique just like it is in many other constitutional-democratic countries, as it is the result of its particular historical experience and developments. The Ottoman ancestries and contemporary “Turkey’s Kemalist”[2] are both key decisive factors in the evolution of Turkish secularism (laiklik). This distinctiveness sets Turkey apart from other modern secular states but mostly from other Muslim-majority countries. As stated, to comprehend Turkey’s constitutional developments within the spectrum of its secular discourse and of Islam and state-law relations, we need to start by highlighting the Ottoman experience.

The early 1500s claim to be the beginning of a modern, strong and increasingly well-developed state power that survived for centuries; the new power with fundamental changes for the law that took the state-society relationship to a different level. The central figure was the Sultan, synonym of state, with control of the legal field and most aspects of the legal system. The Ottoman sultan made edicts, in Turkish kanun,[3] that were later collected and formalized in separate books called kanunname. These edits were only valid in the lifetime of the sultan who had issued them, but new sultans tended increasingly to adjust or provide revisions he found necessary. Just like in any state, the sultan had legal officials as part of the state employees, the qadis whom he could depose at will. The most important change for Ottoman qadis was that they hereafter should judge not only according to the Shari’a but also to kanun. It is important to remark that the distinction between kanun and Shari’a resides not so much on the content of the rules, but that kanun is based on the sultan’s authority and nothing else. It is a unitary and “systematic system of law, more akin to a low code than the Shari’a which is based on a diverse and contradictory legal literature and the mufti’s interpretation and adaptation of this.”[4] In short, the sultan could issue an emr (or order) to the qadi and this had the same relation to kanun as a fatwa had to the Shari’a. This was a radical change from the Islamic classical system (where a Shari’a court only operated within the limits of the Shari’a) to the Ottoman-sultan unification of the law into kanun. By near the middle of the sixteenth century these kanuns developed into complete codes of law that were bound not to the Shari’a but to the power of the sultan. We may see that the latter is another example of secularization of systems of law that developed from the religious sphere where we find, more or less, a quasi-adaptation embedded with nothing more than political ramifications rather than a secularization per se.

Even though the rulers were practising Muslims and tried to base their arguments and legal reasoning and decisions on Shari’a, the Ottomans had a pseudo-secular political and legal system that had a major power in the central Islamic lands. The reason for being pseudo secular will be justified ahead when we highlight its regulations toward the public. If we look at the actual content of their reasoning or political decisions and political structures, one can see that “their empire was not much different from any other empire either in the East or in the West.”[5] More so, and as per leadership and succession of the monarchy, a son would inherit his father’s throne just as we see it from the British experience; during the Ottoman rule the office of the Caliph and the Sultan was held by the same person. On the one hand, the Caliph of the Ottoman empire was the Representative of God on earth having jurisdiction in theory over all Muslims’ affairs. On the other hand, the Sultan was the Head of the Ottoman state. Throughout the early period of Ottoman history all power was concentrated in the hands of the Sultan, but in Ottoman legal theory “the source of power of the Sultan was subject to the limitations imposed by the Shari’a.”[6] In other words, in accordance with Islamic law, the Caliph did not have the power of legislation (yet he was the executor and the defender of the principles of Islam) and was responsible for administration and justice and could enact laws for a proper performance of these duties all bounded by the Shari’a.

At the height of the Ottoman glory we find its advanced and progressive system hardly found in other systems in Europe. Beyond its extremely well-organized civil service where education was not compulsory, we find policies of protection of minorities where “the original Islamic division of people into nationalities resulted in the creation of a class system.”[7] The policy resulted in the categorization where (e.g.) only the Turks were in the Army while the Jews and the Greeks (being key economic players) had the monopoly of banking. The policies came as a result of more than an economic outcome, it was due the persecution of minorities in Europe. It was this policy of protection of minorities that resulted in a large-scale migration of the persecuted people of the Christian word to the Ottoman Empire. Treaties with other nations included Russia, giving the right to erect an Orthodox church in

Constantinople administrated by Russian ecclesiastics; France, where exempted French traders from being judged by the Ottoman jurisprudence system and guaranteeing “full religious liberty as well as the custody of the Christian holy places.”[8] Reforms carried on throughout the second half of the nineteenth century proclaimed equality of all citizens of the Ottoman Empire before the law irrespective of race or religion. However, some of these reforms were shattered by the very people for whose benefit they were promulgated as “the minorities were thinking of establishing Christian kingdoms after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.”[9] Based on these historical notes, it may be reasonable to conclude that the Ottoman state was not republican but autocratic; not nationalist as it embraced many nationalities; not secular in today’s sense of the word; not revolutionary as it could not have survived as such for over six centuries.

The significance of the Ottoman state remains in its liberal attitude toward other nationalities, its tolerance of other creeds, and its adaptabilities to new concepts and flexibility around government domains. Although these characteristics which proved to work very well during the early age, later resulted in reasons for the decline of the Ottoman state. The corruption and nepotism, the rigidity of Shari’a as applied by the Ottoman Empire, the manipulations of the Court, the Sultan-Caliph dualism, and the hierarchy of the Army, ended up in the so-called Young Turk revolution. What is surprisingly ironic is that this movement started from the Army and supported by the ulama (the class of scholars), widely known as “the two most corrupted fields of the Ottoman state.”[10] The long conspiracy between the Sultan-Caliph, the Army, and the ulama came to an end while talks about the proclamation of a constitution began by end of the nineteenth century that also saw the formation of the Young Turks. When they came to power they were in favour of maintaining the basic fabric of the Ottoman Empire and intended to develop a system of constitutional monarchy where a new cabinet included two Christians.

By the 1920s, historical events underlining the effects of the end of the Great War, the leaders of the Turkish revolution saw that it was necessary a constitution. The founders of the new republic rejected the entire legacy of the Ottomans and undertook radical reforms and structural transformation in order to establish a secular republic and westernized society while the caliphate was abolished by an act of the Assembly on March 3, 1924, and the new constitution of 1924 was adopted on April 20 of the same year; that constitution contained a provision declaring Islam as the state’s official religion (article 2). Yet, this constitutional provision was repealed in 1928, and in 1937 the principle of secularism (laiklik) received constitutional status ,in article 2, in order to “better reflect modern Turkey’s adherence to a strict separation of state and religion.”[11] Today, this “official state policy of laicism” is reflected in the 1982 Turkish Constitution, according to which the state is a republic (article 1), and its characteristics are that it is a “democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law; bearing in mind the concepts of public peace, national solidarity and justice; respecting human rights; loyal to the nationalism of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Turkey’s founder), and based on the fundamental tenets set forth in the Preamble,” which also establishes the principle of secularism, stating that there should be “no interference whatsoever of sacred religious feelings in state affairs and politics.” A very important note must be added to what Kemal(ism) brought to the political revolution: Kemalist secularism did not merely mean separation of state and religion, but also the separation of religion from educational, cultural and legal affairs. It meant independence of thought and independence of institutions from the dominance of religious thinking and religious institutions. Thus, the Kemalist revolution was also a secularist revolution. Many Kemalist reforms were made to bring about secularism, and others were realized because secularism had been achieved. More so, the Kemalist principle of secularism did not advocate atheism. It was not an anti-God principle but was a rationalist and anti-clerical secularism. The Kemalist principle of secularism “was not against an enlightened Islam, but against an Islam which was opposed to modernization.”[12]

These key antecedents provide a fair understanding of the foundational roots of what established the Turkish constitutional state as we know it today. Both, the Ottoman heritage and Kemalist founding fathers’ apprehension were decisive factors in the evolution of Turkey’s secularism (laiklik) and set the country’s experience apart from that of other modern secular states. However, there is one crucial point that must be addressed and that is of the Turkish understanding of secularism because it “has never had an explicit interpretation in Turkey.”[13] Therefore, if there is no clear interpretation, can Turkey be considered a secular country? If so, what form of secularism? The first and general definition the reader might suggest is that secularism implies that a democratic state must be neutral or impartial in its relation with the different circles of faiths or that a state should not be totally blind to religious issues, but also should never favour one particular religion over another. More so, it must also treat equally citizens who act on religious beliefs as well as those who do not. In other words, the state must “be neutral in relation to the different worldviews and conceptions of the good–secular, spiritual, and religious–with which citizens identify.”[14] With that said, we ought to analyse the term secular within its historical formations to then see how the secular operates in Turkey’s Muslim context. Let is first consider some of the notions within the wide spectrum of thoughts regarding secularism and religion, more precisely, secularism and Islam.

One of the significant areas of dispute in the debate about Islam and secularism resides on the question of ‘what constitutes a secular state.’ While the prevalent definition has been that secularism is the political separation of church/religion and state, history has demonstrated that this exercise in the Muslim world and elsewhere has been far more complex. In modern states such as France and Turkey, for example, “secularism (or laïcisme as both countries may define it) has often represented a distinctly anti-religious or anti-clerical doctrine seeking to control all religious expression and symbols and abolish them from the public sphere.”[15] In addition, under a regime of secular fundamentalism, “the mixing of religion and politics is regarded as necessarily abnormal (departing from the norm), irrational, dangerous and extremist.”[16] An example of two polar positions of the religion-secularism relationship to the state can be found in the way Saudi Arabia and Turkey established themselves as states. Saudi Arabia was founded as a self-proclaimed Islamic State based upon the Qur’an as its constitution; on the opposite end of the spectrum, Ataturk (Mustafa Kamel) created a secular Turkish Republic where the traces of the Ottoman Empire, the caliph/sultan, the Sharia, Islamic institutions and schools were replaced by European-inspired political, legal, and educational systems. It is significant to interject and stress that in Turkey there is no constitutional reference to Islam or Shari’a as source of legislation to the point where in this state, an Islamic political party in fact was banned in 1997 because of suspicion that it wanted to introduce elements of Shari’a.

Again, the debate about whether or not Turkey is a secular state still resides on how we define secularism and ‘what constitutes the secular state.’

The general idea of what being secular means often implies that it is a system that best promote tolerance, pluralism and fairness in a society in which a state is not dominated by any particular religious’ ideology. We ought to keep in mind that this form of definition comes as a result of the Euro-centric view of history where secularism emerges as a reaction to the religious oppression and wars that troubled medieval Europe. Nevertheless, according to Talal Asad secularism, in spite of its origins and history, does not necessarily guarantee peace and tolerance:

“The difficulty with secularism as a doctrine of war and peace in the world is not that it is European (and therefore alien to the non-West) but that it is closely connected with the rise of a system of capitalist nation-states — mutually suspicious and grossly unequal in power and prosperity, each possessing a collective personality that is differently mediated and therefore differently guaranteed and threatened.”[17]

Asad reminds us that a secular state does not guarantee toleration as it also puts into play different structures of ambition and fear. As a state has the monopoly of security, the law never seeks to eliminate violence “since its object is always to regulate violence.”[18] On the subject of control and regulation, the Turkish government–today plays an active role in shaping the structure of religious institutions and the content of religious teaching that it seems consistent with French secularism. To a certain extent, one can find a parallelism between the political outcomes the Protestant Reform left in Europe and the secularization of Turkey as a result of the historical events highlighted above; there is an implicit Protestant bias in Turkey’s concepts of religion that probably derives from a generalized Protestant bias in Western countries that includes anthropological understandings of religion. Other similarities between the Ottoman-Turkish progress toward nationhood and secularism and the historical accounts from the Reformation included Turkish translations of the Qur’an “as a milestone on the path to modernity, enlightenment and civilization.”[19] In the process of aligning themselves with translations and attempted to follow the path that took Europe as a model by considering the Protestant Reformation and its translations of the Bible in other languages as an ideal of religious reform. In addition, “many Turkish intellectuals and politicians understood religious reform to be the cornerstone of modernization”[20] viewing Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible as a defining moment in the “rationalisation of religion and the birth of national consciousness.”[21]

In spite of this, European counterparts such as France where “secularism is rather laik (or laicist) as in Turkey,”[22] we must stress that it is in Turkey, not in France, where the state controls all aspects of public religious practice through the Directorate of Religious Affairs (or Diyanet). According to the Constitution of Turkey, the Diyanet, which is within the general administration, “controls religious education, ordination/licensing, the construction of mosques, the appointment of Imams, and has even dictated the specific content of Friday sermons throughout the country.”[23] The Diyanet is, in some sense, the successor to the Sheikh ul-Islam that represents the highest Islamic religious authority in the country; has a budget of nearly a billion (U.S.) dollars and plays a very important role in Turkish society. Through it, the government formulates all Qur’anic curricula and overseas the training of prayer leaders and preachers. Although there is no official content or method attributed to Shari’a, the position of Diyanet does imply a particular approach to law and theology which might be considered an alternative to traditional fiqh. The organization issues legal opinions that “usually concerns referencing the Qur’an, hadith, and Hanafi texts.”[24] The Diyanet, according to Turkish opinion, it is also modern in its attempts to harmonize the tradition with Turkish republicanism and secularism and to provide religious counsel to its citizens. In all its official views, “Diyanet officials are very careful to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Turkish Republic and its secular Constitution,”[25] thus Islam tends to be imagined as a religious and moral system that speaks to all aspects of life but is not imposed on the legal system. Although official Islam in the country as understood by Diyanet officials in not private per se, it is viewed as having a sphere that is protected from politics and separate from civil law. What we clearly read from these accounts is that the Turkish laicist state has not rejected or separated Islam from the public sphere that much as has promoted a particular kind of Islam–one of “belief and conscience rather than a political involvement that better suited the Turkish Republic’s goals of rationalization and Westernization.”[26] This belief and conscience is embedded in the making of modern Turkey.

Reaching deeper into the principles of secularism, according to Charles Taylor, it “must be understood within the context of the more general ideal of neutrality, to which the state must aspire if it wishes to treat citizens fairly,”[27] but the notion of secularism cannot be grasped through simple formulations such as the classic separation of church and state, the neutrality of the state toward religions, or the privatization of religion, though all these ideas do embrace certain truth. One particular understanding of secularity is in term of the public, which will be addressed more deeply later on, where the space “have been allegedly emptied of God or of any reference to ultimate reality.”[28] Using Talal Asad’s epistemological interpretation of the secular, we see that his view focuses on considering the results rather than the origins of the process referred to as secularization; this is necessary because historical events differ from state to state making difficult to define models such as of the secular, just as we confront similar dilemmas when trying to define democracy. Asad insists that the secular “should not be thought of as the space in which real human life gradually emancipates itself from the controlling power of religion,”[29] since this assumption encourages us to think of religious ideas as ‘infecting’ the secular domain.

The concept of the secular today is part of a doctrine called secularism. We see that secularism does not simply valorize the human and world and does not simply demand that religious deeds and beliefs be restrained to a circle where they cannot threaten political stability or the liberties of citizens. Secularism postulates a particular conception of the world and of the problems generated by that world. Regarding the religious threat to the political discourse, Asad reaches an interesting point when citing the historical processes of secularization in Europe after the Reformation. He stresses that at one time “the secular was part of a theological discourse where secularization at first denoted a legal transition from monastic life to the life of canons.”[30] Then, after the Reformation, it signified the transfer of ecclesiastical real property to the “freeing” of property from church hands into the hands of private owners. Consequently, in the discourse of modernity the secular presents itself as the ground from which theological discourse was generated and from which it gradually emancipated itself in its march to ‘freedom.’ The most remarkable thing about this view is that religion seems to be regarded as alien to the secular or that the proper domain of religion is distinguished from and separated by the state in modern secular constitutions such as the Turkish. On the one hand, the nation-state has clearly demarcated spaces that it can classify and regulate (e.g. education, religion, health, leisure, work, income, justice); on the other hand, others cannot be confined within the exclusive space of what secularists name religion (e.g. practices, words, representations, minds and bodies of worshipers) as this is inherently linked to particularities of an individual. This assessment seems to be framed within a classic dualistic view of the secular (the common-public spaces versus the private ones) that emerges as a result of the state’s historical developments.

The principle of equal respect requires “the state to be neutral regarding religious and other deep convictions [and] it must not be biased for or against any of them.”[31]

Referencing Taylor again, the state can gain respect from all citizens once it is able to justify to everyone the decisions it makes, which “it will be unable to do if it favours one particular conception of the world and of the good.”[32] The aim of setting in place a secular state is therefore also to protect citizens’ freedom of conscience. With that said, Turkey appears to embrace plurality however it leans toward a single-view of control. Let is examine further views of the secular that may assist us understand Turkey’s distinctive elements of modern secularism within the Muslim world.

If the aim of secularism is equal respect for citizens and the protection of freedom of conscience, the rationale becomes more obvious when we take the historical development of secularism in Europe into account. These notions came into being as a result of the bitter disappointments of single-faith political system and were instituted with the intention to put an end to religious wars; it was necessary to remove Catholics or Protestants from their hegemonic rule controlling states. Just like in any other political systems, secularism took (and still does) a slow and progressive development where the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are guaranteed; in conformance with a will to establish equal justice for all and the state remains neutral toward the various conceptions of the good that coexist in society.”[33] Therefore, if respect for equality regarding moral values of citizens and the protection of their freedom of conscience are the ends of secularism, and if the guarantee of space between politics and religion and the state’s religious neutrality are means that make it possible to achieve a balance between those ends, these objectives essentially become ranked above those ends. In other words, the separation between church/religion and state, or the state’s religious neutrality as goals, appears to assume greater importance than the ultimate purpose of this exercise, which is the individual’s freedom of conscience. Today we can see public debates on secularism where often “focus more on the operative modes of secularism than on their ends.”[34] Ironically enough, secular discourses that seek to promote the freedom of conscience are, at the same time, promoting the emancipation of individuals from religion, or may wish individuals to refrain from public display of religious beliefs. This seems to contradict the view of the individual’s autonomy. In such cases, secularism becomes an instrument to be used “in the emancipation of individuals by means of a critique or marginalization of religion;”[35] in this standpoint, secularism must liberate citizens from the influence of those who hold temporal power who become the ‘custodians’ of the public instead of being their guarantors of their freedom of conscience. The reader may wonder how all this operates in Turkey’s Muslim context.

In today’s Turkey, many practising Muslims affirm that “democracy is not against the tenets of Islam because, at the end of the day, Islam is about free choice.”[36] The free choice is associated with the intellect that makes us human beings and “through that intellect is that we are responsible servants of God”[37] hence, in the view of the majority of Turkish Muslims, that intellect is also at the centre of Islamic jurisprudence where the freedom of choice applies to political matters too. As their fate is in their own hands, “they can discuss their social and political affairs; similar idea was understood and applied in Ottoman times.”[38] The Republic of Turkey, executing one of the most rigorous secular projects in the Muslim world, used all measures available to either eliminate Islamic norms from the public arena or to translate them into moral principles that became universalized. These moral principles include trust, honesty, self-discipline, charity, solidarity, and peace. According to Sabri Ulgener, a well-known Turkish sociologist, “religion in Turkey provides the most effective and flexible shared core values of social unity;”[39] they find that symbolism, vocabulary and implicit assumptions of Shari’a “offer social integration”[40] and one could treat Islam as the social grammar of Turkish society. It facilitates public conversation and debate as well as empowers different groups that form their own political arguments concerning the public good. Many Turkish citizens, including the modern ones that this writer have met while travelling the country, no longer find certain cultural accretions acceptable and some recognize that particular practices are historically encased and do not belong to the modern period. More so, even Islamic activism in Turkey stresses ethicalized Islam instead of Islamic law enforced by the state. One may suggest that the classic Islamic law is now embedded in their society and became part of the normativity of Turkey’s social life.

Religious expression and practices fluctuate to stretch secularism to–one may say bond around the structure of the democratic core belief, and in a society where democracy is internalized, religious circles and discourses remain as the most effective inner-voice element that motivates and shape daily-public life. By extension, this new understanding of Islam is also a product of this public life. The public and its implied notion that it should remain neutral where religion must be opt-out, may have two very meanings. One, it refers to public institutions (the state and its institutions); two, it entails that the public spaces (in a broader manner) must be freed from any religious references. These two associations of the word public are often combined when citizens manifest views that favour secularism. Two significant cases can be brought to exemplify the last thought. The first one is from France where the state prohibited the wearing of the hijab and other visible religious symbols in the public schools; the second one is from Turkey where the country invalidated a law, adopted in 2008 by the party in power, that allowed the hijab to be worn on university campuses. What we need to examine from these two examples are the attempts made to justify decisions enforced by the state with reference to the meaning of public. In both situations we see public institutions (schools and universities) that are under the state control and as such they ought not to be identified with any particular religion. What is especially interesting is that these rules do not apply for students because wearing religious symbols are circumscribed by their individual act of expression who has no bearing on the institution. Beyond the dichotomy these cases present, we must agree that schools and universities are public spaces where individuals meet and interact with one another. Based on what is presented in these cases, the distinctions the promoters of secularism make toward the separation between the public and the private (or freedom of conscience and expression) seems to be inconsistent. The pro-secularist argument cannot be clearly justified as there is always an inconsistent distinction between the different threats. As a teacher myself (and peers may agree), is not part of a successful education outcome the assurance that students see in classrooms a reflection of what they can see outside of it? If we remove symbols that are meaningful to the individuals and are part of their core personal self to instead prioritize and adopt a homogeneous and ever-consistent message, students may fail to see in their classes the multiplicity of views experienced in the real world.

The wearing of religious symbols by state officials in Turkey is justified under the premise that the “principle of secularism justifies a prohibition on state officials wearing visible symbols”[41] because the officials personify (or represent) the state’s neutrality toward religions. Yet, we may wonder how this sort of privatization of personal values can ultimately affect the consciences of those who do not subscribe to notion of secularization of the public space. Ironically, in the same side of the spectrum of opinions, they are tutored on their rights to embrace freedom of conscience. At first sight the position of neutrality seems reasonable and legitimate, however, we cannot ignore the fact that we have “heterogeneity modern societies and nothing can be identified as a collective moral sensibility.”[42] The official interpretation of religion’s role in Turkish society is that Islam is defined primarily by a particular belief or “faith”, whereas religious practice–especially “certain practices that violate the Republican state’s understanding of religion–is subsidiary to belief and therefore may be discarded without harm to the practitioner or to Islam itself.”[43] In other words, the tacit assumption of official Islam is that religious belief is a matter of the heart, something that one accepts, and belief or faith is the essence of religion. As belief is more important than deed, it “is not imperative to wear a hijab, refrain from alcohol, or pray five times a day to be a ‘true’ Muslim. All you have to do is believe,”[44] just Like Martin Luther claimed in his time...

This paper intended to bring an understanding of Turkey’s secularism within the Muslim World. In order to reach it, it brought the genealogical process that started with the Ottoman Empire experience, the significance of the role of the Sultan as well as the process that replaced ijtihad of Shari‘a with a constitutional Democracy. Analyzed Turkey’s reasons for its constitutional developments and extensively examined interpretations of what constitutes a secular state while contrasting them to Turkey’s claims on the matter. Secularism, in the Turkish context, is somewhat unique due to its particular historical experience and developments. Turkey is not secular in the Canadian sense of the word; it is laik, or laicist, in the French sense. Laicism in Turkey bring religion under the control of the state to ensure that it should not be in the hands of a powerful clerical elite the can rival government power, but should be brought under the control of the nonreligious state, where it no longer poses a potential threat to government hegemony. In conclusion, secularism in modern states manifest different spectrum of ideas as a consequence of their country’s historical endeavours and this infers undergoing oppression from religious-political hegemonic power in place. The secular Turkey displays similarities to those of Europe’s (e.g. France with a long history of religious-power oppression), whereas Turkey did not have a colonial experience to depart from.


Asad, Talal. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Asad, Talal. “Religion, Nation-State, Secularism.” In Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia, edited by Peter van der Veer and Hartmut Lehmann, 178-196. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Esposito, John L. Islam and Secularism in the Middle East, edited by Azzam Tamimi. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Khan, Mohamed Samin. "Religion and State in Turkey." Pakistan Horizon 11, no. 3 and 4 (1958): 146-237.

M. Brett Wilson, Translating the Quran in an Age of Nationalism: Print Culture and Modern Islam in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Maclure, Jocelyn and Charles Taylor. Secularism and Freedom of Conscience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Öztürk, Ahmet Erdi, and İştar Gözaydın. “Politics and Islam in Turkey.” Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets, n.d. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780199743292-0212.

Powell, Russell. "Evolving Views of Islamic Law in Turkey." Journal of Law and Religion 28, no. 2 (2012): 467-87.

Price, Phillip M. A History of Turkey From Empire To Republic. London: Nabu Press, 2013.

Shaw, Stanford J. and Ezel Kural Shaw. Volume 2: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey 1808–1975. Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Shively, Kim. “Defining Islam in Secular Turkey.” In Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa. , edited by Sherine Hafez and Susan Slyomovics, 203-221. Indiana University Press, 2013.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

Vikør, Knut S. Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Yavuz, M. H. (2011). Turkey: Islam without Shari'a? In Shari'a Politics: Islamic Law and Society in the Modern World (pp. 146-178). Indiana University Press.

Yilmaz, Ihsan. "Contemporary Politics and State-Law Relations in Turkey." Pakistan Horizon 65, no. 1 (2012): 11-20.

[1] Stanford J. Shaw & Ezel Kural Shaw, Volume 2: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey 1808–1975, (Cambridge University Press, 1977), 340.

[2] Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the founder of the Republic of Turkey. Atatürk's principles can be summed up in six fundamentals called "Six Arrows": Republicanism, Populism, Secularism, Reformism, Nationalism, and Statism.

[3] Latin for canon or rule of law.

[4] Knut S. Vikor, Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 207.

2 Ihsan Yilmaz, "Contemporary Politics and State-Law Relations in Turkey," Pakistan Horizon 65, last modified 2012: 12.

[6] Mohamed Samin Khan, "Religion and State in Turkey," Pakistan Horizon 11, no. 3 and 4 (1958): 147.

[7] Khan, "Religion and State in Turkey," 150.

[8] Ibid., 151.

[9] Phillip M. Price, A History of Turkey From Empire To Republic (London: Nabu Press, 2013), 73-74.

[10] Khan, 153.

[11] Ran Hirschl, The Rise of Constitutional Theocracy, 49 HARV. INT’L L.J. ONLINE 72, 75 (2008), available at

[12] Khan, 230.

[13] Ahmet Erdi Öztürk and İştar Gözaydın. “Politics and Islam in Turkey.” Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets, n.d. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780199743292-0212.

[14] Jocelyn Maclure and Charles Taylor, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 9-10.

[15] John L. Esposito. “Islam and Secularism in the Twenty-First Century” in Islam and Secularism in the Middle East, eds. Azzam Tamimi and John L. Esposito, (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 9.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6-7.

[18] Ibid., 8.

[19] Brett Wilson, M., Translating the Quran in an Age of Nationalism: Print Culture and Modern Islam in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2014), 6-7.

[20] Wilson, Translating the Quran in an Age of Nationalism, 8.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Kim Shively, “Defining Islam in Secular Turkey” in Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Sherine Hafez and Susan Slyomovics, 203-221, (Indiana University Press, 2013), 208.

[23] Russell Powell, "Evolving Views of Islamic Law in Turkey," in Journal of Law and Religion 28, no. 2 (2012): 480, last accessed November 1, 2018,

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Shively, “Defining Islam in Secular Turkey”, 209.

[27] Maclure and Taylor, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience, 19.

[28] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 7.

[29] Talal Asad, “Religion, Nation-State, Secularism,” in Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia, edited by Peter van der Veer and Hartmut Lehmann, 178-196, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999), 185.

[30] Asad, “Religion, Nation-State, Secularism,” 186.

[31] Maclure and Taylor, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience, 21.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.,

[34] Ibid., 29.

[35] Ibid., 31.

[36] Yilmaz, "Contemporary Politics and State-Law Relations in Turkey," 13.

[37] Yilmaz, 14.

[38] Ibid.

[39] M. H. Yavuz, Turkey: Islam without Shari’a, in Shari'a Politics: Islamic Law and Society in the Modern World, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2011), 146.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Maclure and Taylor, 42.

[42] Asad, “Religion, Nation-State, Secularism,” 182.

[43] Shively, 209.

[44] Ibid.


© 2020 by Walter Luzzi