Turkey’s islamization was inevitable

Andy Bostom has posted a very interesting article namely

Uriel Heyd on Turkey’s Re-Islamization, Circa 1968: Over Four Decades Ahead of Today’s Vacuous “Analysts”

Evidently an Israeli academic saw Turkish islamization coming forty years ago. In part because its inherent in Islam.

What follows are a series of extracts from Uriel Heyd’s March 28, 1968 lecture, “Revival of Islam in Modern Turkey,” at the dedication ceremony for the Eliyahu Elath Chair of The History of the Muslim Peoples.

    As far as nevertheless there was resistance to the changes, it was checked by Mustafa Kemal’s authoritarian regime and in a few cases, such as the Kurdish rebellion of 1925, suppressed by draconian countermeasures.

    When Ataturk died in 1938, many people believed that he had not only succeeded in transforming Turkey into a modern secular state but that Islam was doomed as a vital force in Turkish social and cultural life. It soon, however, became manifest that this judgment was premature, if not altogether wrong. Following the end of World War II both internal and external factors brought about great changes in the Turkish body politic. New parties were permitted to challenge the hitherto exclusive rule of Ataturk’s Republican People’s Party. In conformity with their ideology and in the hope of winning the votes of the predominantly conservative masses of the population, some of these parties demanded a less rigid application of the principle of secularism or even an openly favorable attitude towards Islam. Under the pressure of the opposition, the party in power had to make some concessions in the late forties. Limited and optional religious functionaries were organized and the University of Ankara established a Faculty of Theology.

    A new phrase in the retreat from secularism opened with the victory of the Democratic Party in the general elections of May 1950. Significantly, one of the first measures of the new government headed by Adnan Menderes was to permit again the ezan, the call to prayer from the minarets, to be delivered in Arabic…In the following years the Turkish Government made further concessions to conservative public opinion. During the ten year rule of the Democratic Party innumerable new mosques were built and old ones repaired, partly with private contributions. Qur’an recitations and religious sermons were introduced into the program of the State-owned broadcasting stations, and for the first time large-scale financial and other support was given to those going on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Religious education was enlarged in the primary and extended to the lower secondary schools. (As from the current year [i.e., 1968] the upper secondary schools, lise, have also resumed religious instruction.) Most important, Menderes authorized the opening of a large number of religious secondary schools….As a result of the great increase in the number of new mosques and the rapid expansion of religious instruction after World War II there was…an acute shortage of competent religious functionaries and teachers of religion…After the training of men of religion had practically ceased for almost a generation, there existed a grave danger that the vacancies would be filled by illiterate obscurantists…In these schools…“religious” subjects, such as Arabic and Persian, Qur’an and its exegesis, Hadith, Islamic law, theology and philosophy, etc., amount to over 40 percent of the curriculum…Whether they will succeed in producing the desired type of graduates who are both good Muslims and enlightened modern men, loyal to both the precepts of religion and the secular principles of the Turkish Republic, is still to early to say…

    The importance of these schools and institutes for the future religious and cultural development of Turkey is considerable. They train a new generation of religious-minded men, whose education and outlook will be markedly more Islamic than Western. It is noteworthy, for instance, that compared with the very many hours a week they devote to the teaching of Arabic and Persian, the time set aside for that of a European language is negligible. Though the overwhelming majority of the students are village boys, many of them after graduation find employment in the cities and smaller towns. Repeatedly demands have even been made to permit graduates of these schools to serve also as teachers of general subjects in primary schools.

    In addition to these institutions private instruction in religion, disapproved in Ataturk’s time, seems to increase from year to year, often with the blessings and even the support of the authorities. Local imams in towns and villages teach children, both boys and girls, the rudiments of Islam, the Arabic script and the traditional recitation of the Qur’an in Arabic, often, as I noticed without teaching them to translate a single verse into Turkish. The earnestness and single-minded fervor of the students in those religious schools and courses are well known. I personally remember a visit, a few years ago, to a derelict small mosque in a remote part of Istanbul. There I found a small group of obviously poor Anatolian youths engaged in the study of a medieval compendium of Arabic grammar. The devotion with which they tried to learn by heart its rather dry and uninspiring rules, as if they were a scared text, was quite moving. The graduates of these religious schools and private courses will in due course form a new class of Turkish men of religion. How strong and influential they will be and what attitude they will adopt towards the modernization and Westernization of their society are crucial questions for the future of the Turkish Republic.

    The latter trend (…viz. to withdraw more into themselves, to increase their self-confidence by turning to their religious and cultural traditions and the greatness of their national past…), the relative strength of which cannot yet be assessed, is facilitated by the very nature of Islam…Even for a secularist Muslim Turk attachment to his religious community retains therefore considerable social and political significance…[F]or most Turks only a Muslim is a real Turk. It is not easily forgotten that for many centuries being a Muslim meant membership in the ruling class. The fact that, unlike many Arab countries, Turkey has today [1968] no sizable Christian and Jewish minorities and that the latter took almost no part in the Turkish national movement further strengthens the identification of Turk with Muslims…[D]espite the solemn guarantee of freedom of conscience and religious belief in the Turkish Constitution (Art. 19), Christian missionary activities are restricted in modern Turkey…[U]ntil this day another Muslim nation, even if it has no particularly cordial relations with Turkey, is styled in the Turkish press kardes millet, “sister-nation.” On the other hand, any tension between Turkey and a Christian country still evokes in the Turkish public memories of the age-long struggle of Islam with Christendom…

    [O]ne of the foremost authorities on modern Islam W.C. [William Cantwell] Smith, tends to believe that because of the separation of state and religion by Ataturk and for other reasons the modern Turks may be expected to play a leading role in Islamic reform. For the time being, however, there is little to justify this hope. Turkish books and pamphlets published in recent years on Islam, its past and future, are generally of poor quality, most of them being destined for the uneducated masses of the population. The fact that the religious problem is so closely linked with day-to-day party strife explains the violently political character of the discussions…

    Ataturk’s secular reforms had not penetrated very deeply into the religious masses of the urban and particularly the rural population. Their political consciousness and influence has been constantly growing since the establishment of a multi-party regime and as a result of the economic development of the village and especially of the small town, the traditional center of religious conservatism… Turkish nationalism and Western civilization, the two main pillars of Ataturk’s cultural orientation, have proved incapable of filling, even for many educated Turks, the spiritual vacuum created by the elimination of Islam.

    [I]n the last twenty years or so there has been an impressive resurgence of religious feeling and interest in Turkish society. An increasing number of people—unfortunately no breakdown according to classes and age-groups is available—go to the mosques, fast in the month of Ramadan and take part in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The tombs of great Islamic mystics, such as Celaluddin Rumi at Konya and Hacci Bektashi Kirshehir, attract many thousands of visitors (or pilgrims) who come to witness the traditional dances, music and singing. Reference has been made before to the rapidly growing number of children who go to religious schools or receive private instruction in Islam and the Arabic language. Very many women again put on the carshaf, the traditional garb draped over the head, and some even dare veil their face completely. Inscribed religious mottoes in Arabic are once more publicly displayed in shops, taxis, and elsewhere. Religious books, tracts and periodicals appear in ever increasing numbers and many newspapers almost daily publish popular stories of Islamic heroes and saints. Due to the loudspeakers recently installed in most minarets the calls to prayer five times a day drown the traffic sounds in the cities. These and many other phenomena of the same kind, all forbidden or at least disapproved until the late forties, do much to restore Republican Turkey the aspect of a distinctly Muslim country.

    Can all this be truly called a religious revival? Until a few years ago many foreign observers, including, I admit, myself, were inclined to think that this development [Turkey’s re-Islamization] was no more than a renewed expression of sentiments which for a long time could not be freely manifested and that the overall process of secularization was going on very slowly but irresistibly. Today I doubt whether this view is still tenable.

    …This survival and –if my interpretation is correct—revival of Islam in Turkey, the most secular of all Muslim countries, are obviously a fact of great significance for the future in the modern world.

Of course I have left out a great deal of this fascinating post.

August 16, 2010 | Comments »

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