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Erdoğan’s Stance on Sharia and Turkey’s Decline in the Islamicity Index: A Critical Analysis

Speaking at the Graduation Ceremony of the Directorate of Religious Affairs Academy, Erdoğan stated, “There is hostility towards Sharia under different masks. Hostility towards Sharia is, in essence, hostility towards religion itself. Believing or not believing, living according to it or not is certainly a matter of choice. However, speaking against the commands of religion is another matter… In Turkey, although few in number, the recklessness displayed by some circles towards Sharia stems from ignorance and lack of knowledge.”

Sharia, like the Caliphate, is a controversial concept. Its meaning changes depending on who is looking at it. From the perspective of Kemalists, Sharia is seen as “reactionary, bigotry, a religious state, an outdated approach trying to undermine Kemalism.” Just as Erdoğan accuses those who are hostile to Sharia of “ignorance and lack of knowledge,” Kemalists accuse those who want Sharia of “being outdated, ignorant, and uninformed.”

For political Islamists, Sharia is a miraculous form of governance, a regime beyond the principles in the Qur’an. They do not care about the content of Sharia or consider its principles. They see Sharia like any other “ism.” Just as socialists believe everything will be wonderful with socialism, an Islamist believes that with Sharia as the regime, everything will be in a state of wonders and will be corrected. According to them, the problem is in the form of governance, in the name of the regime.

As we have mentioned in previous years’ writings, two academics from George Washington University in the USA (Şeherazade Rahman and Hüseyin Askari) have been preparing and publishing the Islamicity Index of countries for years. In their work, the academics do not base their criteria on rhetoric, the names of regimes, or the beliefs of leaders. They base their criteria on verses from the Qur’an and the life, practices, and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

The Islamicity Index consists of four sub-categories: economy, law and governance, human rights and political rights, and international relations. Whether a country is Muslim or not is not considered. The index does not evaluate personal religious practices such as prayer or fasting. It considers legal integrity, combating corruption, security, state effectiveness, security of property rights, accountability, effectiveness of governance structures, human rights, level of welfare, social justice, social capital, personal freedom, civil and political rights, women’s rights, access to education, and access to health services. Unlike states governed by Sharia, the study looks at the ideal society and state concept based on the Qur’an and the life of Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, in these and similar studies, Muslim countries do not rank among the best, with the top 40 being unattainable. Countries governed by Sharia, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Sudan, are at the bottom of the list. The top ranks are dominated by European and Scandinavian countries, while the last four or five ranks are consistently occupied by Muslim countries.

The dramatic decline of Turkey under the AKP government led by Islamists is clearly visible in the index. We already know that Erdoğan’s regime has dragged the country down in terms of the rule of law, transparency, human rights, democracy, and fair income distribution. However, there are also sharp declines in areas related to Islam, which they exploit and sloganize. As Erdoğan keeps mentioning “Sharia” and using Islam, the country’s connection to Islamic values weakens. As they remain in power, atheism rises, society moves away from religion, and the state drifts away from the principles of the Qur’an.

Let’s look at Turkey’s sharp decline in the Islamicity Index over the last 10 years:

In the index published in 2015, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland took the top three spots, while the highest-ranked Muslim country was Qatar at 39th place. Turkey was in 65th place. In 2016, New Zealand took the top spot, with the Netherlands in 2nd and Sweden in 3rd. Malaysia was the best-performing Muslim country that year, ranking 41st. Turkey fell to 73rd place. Turkey dropped to 81st place in 2017, to 95th in 2018, to 96th in 2019, to 100th in 2020, and to 102nd in 2021. Somehow, it rose back to 100th place in 2022. The last four countries in 2022 were Chad, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria. I expect the 2023 indexes to be published soon.

As can be seen, as Erdoğan and the AKP shout “Sharia,” both the state and society drift away from the spirit of the Qur’an and the fundamental principles of Islam. This is also true for states that claim to be governed by Sharia, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some Muslims mistake hanging a “Sharia” sign on the country’s door for Islam.

The Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) do not propose a form of governance or regime to Muslims. They define fundamental principles for life, society, and governance. If these are to be called “Sharia,” then Sharia is primarily about justice, the supremacy of law. It’s about reading and balancing the equation between the universe, the creator, and humanity well. It’s about promoting righteous deeds.

Sharia is about consultation, preserving life, safety of life and property, commanding the good and forbidding the evil, spreading peace, fulfilling agreements, truthfulness, respecting trusts, protecting the rights of orphans, supporting the weak and the poor, sharing, paying workers their dues before their sweat dries, avoiding oppression, not corruption but reform, not extending hands to public wealth unjustly, giving rights to their rightful owners, spreading goodness, and respecting the limits set by Allah.

Mecelle-i Ahkamı Adliye (the written text of Sharia), a significant work of Islamic jurisprudence, was codified under the leadership of Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, a prominent scholar and statesman with madrasa background, and came into effect in 1869. However, the Mecelle could not prevent the dissolution of the Ottoman society, which had drifted away from the fundamental principles of Islam, lost touch with the truth of things, destroyed justice, and become corrupt, nor could it prevent the collapse of the state.

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Mahmut Akpinar
Mahmut Akpinar
Dr. Mahmut Akpinar is a political scientist focusing on international relations and Turkish politics.
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