Why Islam in Turkey is different ?

Harun Reşit Aydin
7 min readJun 8, 2020

We can categorize this into three points:

culture, religious orientation, historical evolution.

Culture:

The Turks are in their origin a nomadic folk who has settled after centuries of travel into Anatolia what is the main soil of Turkey today. Nomadic folks have to keep a habit of fast adaptation into the environment they live in, otherwise it will be a huge conflict with the folks whom they interact with. Therefore it was essential to follow their religion in the sense of mutual understanding in a place where many different religions, cultures and ethnicities have lived together.

Another aspect of this is, that nomadic folks can’t follow every strict act of religion what is typical for urbanized people who have most of the time the comfort and luxury to follow troughout their life, but on other hand lack the possibilities most of the time to learn new things about religion and daily life in other places of the world because they are static. They have to be pragmatic because of the harsh climates they travel through and up to date when they arrive in new places which they call as a home. That doesn’t mean that they don’t follow strictly Islam or invent new things, but much more that they knew to make the best out of it of the easiness of their own religion and sophisticated the judgments with time and it evolved until today even when they are settled mostly.

When Islam has arrived in the Arabian peninsula, one of the most important rulings was to change the role of women in the society and gave them a certain freedom which was not present to that time, because the tribal culture of the desert during the time before the Prophet has seen the women mainly as a subject to use, not particularly at the level of a men or even human being. This was not the issue with the Turks, very early on the Turkish tradition gave enormous importance to the women, they were not only the caretaker at home, but also a second leader, sometimes even on the battlefield as a warrior.

That’s why you’ll see mainly in historical works that the role of the women in the Turkish society during the 13th century was not different than it is today.

Religious orientation:

Turks have also Alawis, Shias (Jafaris mainly), Atheists, Christians, Jews, but the main orientation is Sunni Islam to which the majority belongs. As you know, there are four thought of schools in Sunnism, Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki and Hanbalis. They are named according to the leader of this thought. Then there are Wahhabis, Salafis who also partially agree with these school of thougts, but strictly reject any madhab. Actually even among these school of thoughts there is a confusion if it’s a madhab at all or a judgment school, which I think the second is more close to the truth, therefore the madness of the Wahhabis and Salafis is totally nonsense.

Now, the Turks belong to the school of Hanafi, just like in eastern Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia. Additionally, their itikad madhab is Maturidi, a school who gives importance to ‘’questioning’’ and the use of scientific research even in religious matters, whereas other regions of the Islamic world is based mainly at the ‘’Ashari’’ thought, which indeed is also seen from us as a right understanding, but some minor differences sometimes, especially in nowadays times can be huge, because the ‘’Ashari’’ school rejects on certain topics the ‘’questioning’’ and is more on the line of ‘’submitting yourself to the rulings as it is told’’. (This is a very easy explanation so people outside of Islam understands it, not a subject now to discuss with other Muslims.)

Therefore from very begin the things are different for us, because we follow Imamı Azam (Hanafi school), which emphasizes enormous amount of scientific research, questioning, weighing of the incidents and adaptation of the religious matters to the time where you live in because every time a new issue arises and some old judgments can’t be anymore up to date. (This is not valid for clear haraams or duties) This and the idea of the Maturidi school of thought gave the Turks and others who belong to this line more flexibility in their understandings and made the difference which you even see today.

Historical evolution:

The picture was taken from Istanbul for 91 days, owner Jürgen Horn

After the end of the Umayyads and Abbasids and the destruction of Baghdad school of thought with the invasion of the Mongols, most of the valuable works in the Islamic world regarding theology was either lost or separated from each other and left into the hands of single sheikhs of tribal clans. When the Turks then came to Anatolia and the rise of the Turkic empires has began in the region and conquered one by one most of the Islamic world, they gave huge emphasis to collect the Islamic thoughts from all the regions and after a long time Islam was again institutionalized.

Most of the works were brought to Istanbul, the Ottoman empire established a de-facto state religion under the observation of strong Islamic clerics, who kept always an upper hand over the differet religious groups and jamaats, sufi orders. They lived together, accepted each other, but it was never allowed to question or rebel against the supreme leadership of the state. This kept the religion most of the time in the hand of the state who has not allowed certain fractions with new ideas to gain controll over the population and in the times when this happened, they crushed them with utmost brutality. (You can see these rebellions mainly in Najd where later Wahhabism has arrived or sometimes from Kurdish tribes in the eastern provinces who belong to the Shafii school)

With that, most of the empire was controlled with a standardized version of Islam and has co-existed peacefully where different school of thoughts has adapted most of the rulings from each other, debated, but not went into war. So most of the Islamic world has listened to two main intelligentsia of clerics in the schools of Istabul or Cairo (todays Egypt) and both of them were in most of the subjects aligned, even when the latter was another school of thought but also Sunni.

Exactly this institualization has helped later also Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey to make the last changes according to the new era and kept also the religion under controll with the establishment of the ‘’religious ministry.’’

But when it comes to the rest of the Islamic world, they were no more together and separated from each other. The focus of Turkey was more to integrate himself into the western devloped world and to heal its own wounds of the 100 years lasting numerous wars until the independence war which has ruined the country totally and they tried to give more importance to build up the country rather than have any interest in the Islamic world or the leadership. This gave later newcomers such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries the leverage with oil money and the help of USA to spread different Islamic thoughts througout the Islamic world which actually was a small friction during the Ottoman empire and was numerous times crushed down.

If you remember, at the begin of the explanation I have told the countries who actually belongs to the Hanafi school, orientation of itikad is the Maturidi school and has given importance also to Tasavvuf/Sufism such as Pakistan, India, Afghanistan etc. Sadly because of the interruption with Turkey for more than 100 years and the increasing funding of the Gulf countries and the relaxed attitute of their governments to send millions of workers into that direction, the Hanafi school as I have experienced over there exists most of the time in words, but is infiltrated with the Salafist ideas of the Saudis which most of the people don’t recognize.

That’s why you’ll meet today countries who match Turkey in religious thoughts only partially in India and Pakistan, almost no more in Afghanistan, but mainly in eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Maghreb states (even different school) in North Africa.

I really tried to explain this story so that a layman from outside of our religion understands the differences, otherwise it would also take pages and pages. As you see it has less to do with the religion itself but more the interpretation, culture and the historical evolution why today there are so many differences between countries and regions when it comes to the practice of Islam.

Thanks.

picture sources: google images

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Harun Reşit Aydin

Ex Nato-Officer. Economist. Advertisement Professional. Brand Consulting. Politic and Strategy Analyst. 83 countries visited. Turkey-India Expert. Storyteller.