Why not the Turkey way?

Diyanet is worth emulating in Pakistan where the clergy, religiopolitical parties have been using religion at will.

Imtiaz Gul March 14, 2012

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey in 1923, with the aim of reigning in religious forces and making religion irrelevant to the sociopolitical climate of the country. He considered Islam to be a source of sectarian divide and social polarisation.

The system that Ataturk devised completely separated state and religion. Religious matters went to the Presidency of Religious Affairs — the Diyanet, which was set up in 1924, under Article 136 of the Constitution after the abolition of the caliphate. Founded under an act passed by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, it represents the highest Islamic religious authority in the country, which works under the prime minister’s office.

The Diyanet became the guardian of all matters pertaining to Islam, as well as carrying out the role of a watchdog that looked over religious establishments.  It comprises 1,000 people, including scholars from various segments and schools of thoughts. Almost 970 muftis in 81 cities are associated with the Diyanet. It also oversees 85,000 mosques, where 120,000 government-hired imams lead prayers and impart religious education.

Education is central to all the functions that belong to, or come under the purview of the Diyanet; all top officials of the Diyanet are required to undergo a three-year training (besides their masters or doctoral degrees). Imams, too, must be at least graduates to be able to lead Friday prayers. To move beyond this role, they must take specialised courses in Hadith, Fiqh, Uloome Islami and the Quran to become a khateeb or a mufti. All courses are devised from Islamic sources under the guidance and control of the state.

All imams and khateebs must use sermons cleared only by the Diyanet. This injunction is clearly meant to prevent propagation of hate speech and sectarian discrimination. Under the existing laws, religious establishments i.e., sociopolitical groups or parties, are barred from direct participation in political activities to prevent them from practising faith-based politics.

So far this has worked. The secular nature of the state is very much in place. Although the ruling party and its allies are increasingly using religion as a motivating force, yet the state remains non-intrusive as far as religion is concerned, with no interference in peoples’ lives.

The question now arises about the state of affairs prevalent in Pakistan. Are we expecting a miracle to extricate the country from the religiopolitical crisis and the sectarian strife it is facing, or will the political leadership rise above personal expedience to close ranks and emulate some of the good work that has protected Turkey from these ills so far? For that matter, there is plenty to learn from even Indonesia and Malaysia, where the state managed to keep religion separate from politics.

Nowhere in these countries, can an individual or group, illegally occupy a public or private piece of land to turn it into a mosque, madrassa or church.

In Turkey, while the Justice and Development Party rule may have created some space for individual and unauthorised initiation of religious institutions, yet no mosque or seminary can be built without the Diyanet’s approval. Nor is the clergy permitted to serve as the ultimate, self-righteous arbiter of religious matters. The Diyanet, in fact, sends in inspectors if there is a complaint of misuse of a mosque or a madrassa, or of sectarian incitement.

The Diyanet adjudicates matters in light of the sources of Islamic law and regularly organises refresher courses to update the knowledge and understanding of imams and khateebs, who must be graduates in Islamic Studies and must also be equipped with knowledge of comparative religions.

Recently, a Norwegian delegation comprising some very important religious scholars, including Qari Hanif Jallandhry, as well as members of civil society, visited Turkey to study the its model of secularism, and how the Diyanet works. Most returned pretty impressed. They also met with Mustafa Akyol, the enterprising author of the book Islam Without Extremes, who believes Turkey has escaped sectarian and political upheaval largely because of its secular political model in which political parties are not allowed to mesh their ideologies with religion. Nor are religious parties allowed to participate in political matters.

This is a model worth emulating in Pakistan as well, where the clergy, as well as the religiopolitical parties have been using religion at will.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2012.


M. Airomloo | 9 years ago | Reply

I am an Iranian; brought up during the secular administration of the last king of Iran, have lived more than half of my life in the USA and in Europe. Now that the idea of secularism has become attractive in many Muslim countries it is important to be objectively aware of not following any dictated idea blindly. Secularism as a concept explains a process whereby religious beliefs, practices and institutions lose their significance in people’s social lives. The focus of secularism is on the law, state and standard behavior. However human being believes in religion because it is about values. It can be observed easily even in secularized societies in the West, where millions of people believe in religion regardless of practicing it strictly or not. for example; according to Anthony Giddens, every three Europeans believe in God and in the USA the church is still of great importance and respect still being a standard way of living/thinking in the West. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the economical, political and social structures of the societies in the West are very different from the similar structures in the Muslin countries. I believe that the Muslim countries must be empowered through a process which is based on their own identity and values so they can have their fair share of power and learn how to rule themselves independently and realistically, not finding the solutions in extreme manners or reactions.

A Peshawary | 9 years ago | Reply Do'nt we have our own systems of doing the things? What is ministry of Religious Affairs and Awqaf is doing? Perhaps, getting salaries and underhand financial benifits. We must study other models as there is no subtitute to seeking the knowledge. But we of course, are capble of performing on our own modules, in our way instead of copying somebody else. The real problem is implemenation of existing systems, procedures and modules. Our esteblished and accredited writers, experts and scholars may have to reponder on their approach as well. We need not to be the followers, rather be master of our own desitiny. In order to achieve this goal one has to be innovater and initiater rather than talker and follower. These scholars are beating the drums for quite some times and no one is listening to or dancing on to thier beats. Have they ever thought! why majority of the people are not listening to them? They may be answer the question with colourful writtings and ideas (which could be very impresive but not appealing) even than they will not be able to quench the thirsty throat. A Peshawary
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