The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition

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Masyumi was banned in because some of its leaders took part in an armed rebellion against the government. The NU remained firmly allied with Sukarno, along with the Communist party! There had previously been competition between the NU and Muhammadiyah for control of the Ministry of Religious Affairs but since the late s the Ministry had become a bastion of the NU. The political fervour and mobilisation of the Sukarno years gave way to coerced compliance with a program of economic development and military-led surveillance of society.

Less prominent former Masyumi leaders were allowed to establish a successor party, which however never gained much credibility and remained small. The Christian and nationalist parties had to merge into a second party, while a military-dominated corporatist body was made into the all-powerful government party, Golkar.

A decade later, all associations and parties were forced to renounce all ideological foundations other than Pancasila ; Muslim associations might define Islam as their belief and identity but not as the source of their political ideology Bruinessen ; Ramage It was considered as one of the greatest successes of the Minister of Religious Affairs of those years, Munawir Syadzali, that he managed to persuade the NU and Muhammadiyah to accept those policies.

The few organisations that did not comply were effectively marginalised.

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Various actors in Muslim civil society including some groups that can hardly be called civil have been struggling to gain control of powers that previously were monopolised by the state — including the power to define what orthodoxy is. MORA became again an arena of contestation between rival Muslim associations, and various radical Islamic groups gained influence in the MUI, which loosened its ties with the state. The major forms of Muslim sociability are the formations known as cemaat religious congregations , which lack a formal associational structure and have no overt form of membership but are structured by informal hierarchical relations of authority.

Some of the cemaat have their origins in Sufi orders, which following the formal ban of all tarikat in did not entirely disappear but survived as loose networks of followers loyal to families of charismatic Sufi shaykhs. In the multi-party period, cemaat s could consolidate themselves to some extent through alliances of convenience with the major right-of-centre parties, in exchange for block votes in the elections. Public gatherings and other formal activities, however, remained proscribed and each military intervention was accompanied by a wave of repression of the cemaat s. Since the mids, cemaat s have become increasingly visible and have expanded their activities in the fields of publishing, education and economic enterprise.

During the years , rivalry between the various cemaat s for influence was, in fact, a major factor in the internal dynamics of Diyanet. The knowledgeable Ismail Kara gives a few interesting examples, which also indicate that some of these cemaat s at times wielded considerable influence in the state apparatus: a Diyanet president Erdem was fired for refusing to publish an anti-Nurcu pamphlet written by his deputy, who himself belonged to a tarikat.

Erdem responded with a pamphlet against the tarikat concerned, published in the name of Diyanet Kara Diyanet in those years only sent imams to Europe during Ramadan, the month of highest participation in collective worship, but was not very successful in imposing its authority. I remember cases of actual fights in mosques between the supporters of cemaat and Diyanet imams over who could lead the tarawih prayers; in one case even a firearm was drawn. Such events must have been among the reasons for the concerted effort to impose state authority on the Turkish diaspora through Diyanet purged of cemaat members and under military control after the military coup.

The MSP took part in several government coalitions during the s and gained a considerable influence in Diyanet during that decade and lost it again in the course of the purges carried out in the wake of the coup. It is not clear to what extent it infiltrated Diyanet; its priorities lay definitely with other organs of the state. An important part of the political struggle between secularists and Islamists in the s concerned the careers to which an Imam Hatip diploma might give access.

The spectacular rise and success of the AKP in the new millennium may serve as an illustration of the successful social mobility of the Imam Hatip community. The conditions that made this possible were those of the multiparty system and coalition governments that had to please major sections of the electorate. Military interventions served to slow down this process but failed to revert it. It was primarily a political organisation but it built up a strong mosque network; its imams had Imam Hatip and Theology Faculty backgrounds.

The Imam Hatip network and its strong roots in the previously marginalised conservative religious segment of the population constituted a major factor in the electoral success of the AKP in the new millennium. By , the AKP government, which presumably had more sympathisers among the Diyanet personnel than any previous government, gained full control of the institution and gradually turned it into an instrument of AKP policies. Diyanet became one of the most reliable fortresses of the AKP government, not only through the political appointments of its Directors but also because many of its staff had the same background as the AKP leadership.

The crucial historical moment at which the changed role of Diyanet became apparent was the night of the coup attempt of July Diyanet had become a vital tool in the mobilisation, rather than the governance, of the pious masses. The change began, in fact, a decade earlier when, due to the end of the Cold War, Suharto could no longer count on the unconditional support of the United States and sought to broaden his domestic support by accommodating former Islamist critics and allowing Islam a greater visibility in the public sphere. Strictly practising Muslims came to replace abangan and Christians as the dominant group in the military and the bureaucracy as well as in the government cabinets of the s Liddle ; Bruinessen Vocal Islamic groups gained an increasing influence on public discourse, and this trend was accelerated after the fall of the Suharto regime.

Secular politicians, perceiving that they needed to win over Muslim constituencies, tended to make symbolic gestures serving the agenda of the most vocal and not necessarily most representative Muslim groups. The longest-serving president since Suharto, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono , allowed conservative, bigoted and intolerant voices within the umma to gain discursive dominance and did little to protect minorities.

Especially his second five-year term, when he made a particularly unfortunate choice of man to lead MORA, was a dark period for religious minorities and further empowered the more conservative segments of the umma as well as non-violent Islamic radicals Bush ; Bruinessen Although continuing to receive a modest amount of support from the government, it found a more important source of financing in the lucrative business of halal labelling, for the food and cosmetics industries as well as for banks moving into Shariah-compliant forms of banking.

It organised national congresses at which it co-opted new members. In other words, new staff and functionaries were no longer selected by the government, but neither did any representative body outside MUI itself have a say in this. The new members included predominantly men affiliated with conservative and radical movements, and largely excluded liberals and progressives.

This composition was reflected in the fatwas that the MUI issued in the following years. The MUI began to issue unsolicited advice to the government, and lobbied to have its fatwa s — including anti-minority fatwa s— adopted as the basis of legislation Ichwan ; Crouch The MUI allowed itself to become a vehicle for Islamist groups that wanted to change the existing secular order. In both countries, conservative religious segments of the population that had been marginalised if not oppressed by military-backed authoritarian secularist regimes during the Cold War period have gained a great amount of political leverage.

Each of the six recognised religions has its official body of representatives that acts as an interface with the government as well as with the other religious communities, and the government favours interreligious dialogue.

Turkey’s Troubled Experiment with Secularism

Each of the religions is to some extent represented in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, although the main task of the Ministry has undoubtedly been the administration of Islam. Under Suharto, the Ministry adopted positions independent of the major Muslim associations and their demands, but in the post-Suharto period various factions of the Muslim umma have gained a foothold in the Ministry and made it a vehicle for partisan, often conservative, agendas. The Council liberated itself from its role as passive legitimiser of authoritarian government policies and positioned itself as part government adviser part spokesman for the umma — and especially for the more conservative sections of the umma.

The major Muslim associations have their representatives in the MUI, but also the more radical Islamist fringes. For the past fifteen years, the MUI has been at the forefront of a conservative backlash against progressive interpretations of Islam and tolerance of religious pluralism. In several cases it has acted in concert with violent vigilante groups intimidating religious minorities. Officially, the state continues the policy of equal distance to the recognised religions, but government has repeatedly failed to protect religious minority rights, if only out of fear of losing legitimacy in the eyes of the Muslim majority.

Radical preachers speaking in the name of Islam have gained a dominant voice in the public sphere and impact on policy decisions at various levels of government. The state of the secular order is precarious. After the coup, the military-backed government sought to promote a conservative religious-nationalistic doctrine, the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, as a means of fighting socialism and communism as well as political Islam.

Diyanet was given an important role in this project, and the number of mosques and imams under its control rapidly expanded. Diyanet was moreover tasked with the surveillance of the Turkish diaspora. Capable and reliable religious functionaries were needed, and the number of Imam Hatip schools expanded accordingly.

The Religious Opposition

These schools became popular among conservative Muslim families because of the limited religious part of the curriculum. Many graduates, however, had little desire to become mere prayer leaders and preachers; they sought to continue their education in various professional or academic institutions. The educational and professional mobility of the community of Imam Hatip graduates was closely correlated with the emergence of a successful, conservative Muslim business community, and both lay at the roots of the rise of the AKP.

The Imam Hatip schools played a part in the emancipation process. It is true that the government endorses conservative values, discourages alcohol consumption, and looks kindly on female veiling. Structurally, however, little has changed. Religious thinkers, ulama and Sufi shaykhs have not been empowered, the Shariah is not accepted as a source of legislation, religious thought has no significant influence in the political process, the state retains its monopoly on religious education and outreach, and religious congregations [ cemaat s ] are tightly controlled. All of this is quite unlike the situation in Indonesia.

The budget of Diyanet has continued to increase and most of its personnel no doubt are close to the AKP in social background and social-religious convictions. However, this has not given the institution a greater influence in shaping policy and reconceptualising state-Islam relations. Diyanet remains an instrument of government policy and state interest, as it was before. Tauris, p. Aktay, Yasin Yaran eds. Change and essence: dialectical relations between change and continuity in the Turkish intellectual tradition , Washington DC, The Council for Values and Philosophy, p.

Asad, Talal Formations of the secular: Christianity, Islam, modernity. Beatty, Andrew Varieties of Javanese religion: an anthropological account. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bellah, Robert N. Benda, Harry J. The Hague, W. Boland, B. The Struggle of Islam in Modern Indonesia.

The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff. Bruinessen, Martin van Indonesien am Ende des Jahrhunderts , Hamburg, Abera-Verlag, p. Le monde turco-iranien en question , Paris: Karthala, p. Bush, Robin Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press. Istanbul, Metis. Rethinking secularism. Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date. For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Javascript is not enabled in your browser. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site. Learn how to enable JavaScript on your browser. This is the only volume dedicated to the Alevis available in English and based on sustained fieldwork in Turkey. The Alevis now have an increasingly high profile for those interested in the diverse cultures of contemporary Turkey, and in the role of Islam in the modern world.

As a heterodox Islamic group, the Alevis have no established doctrine. This book reveals that as the Alevi move from rural to urban sites, they grow increasingly secular, and their religious life becomes more a guiding moral culture than a religious message to be followed literally. Robert Spencer. Anjali Gera Roy. Leila Ahmed.


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