HomeTop Stories On TurkeyHOW RELIGIOUS GROUPS POLITICIZED UNDER GOVERNMENT CONTROL IN TURKEY

HOW RELIGIOUS GROUPS POLITICIZED UNDER GOVERNMENT CONTROL IN TURKEY

Religious communities had started to be formed after the second century of the Hegira calendar. The people had gathered around and imitated the elders, who were the symbols of ethics, propriety, and worshipping, and acted as role models with their lives, generosity, and depth to the communities. The religious groups, which had been institutionalized by time, had systematized the dhikrs and reciting based on the life of The Prophet (PBUH). The main purpose of the religion sects, which are divided into many branches, is to raise people who have love in their hearts, mercy deep down and dhikr in their mouths, know about haram and halal, and desire to reach to Allah. From Anatolia to the Balkans, and from Maghreb to Far East, saints and elders of Islamic sufism carried the tolerance, ethics, and compassion of Islam everywhere. They supported the spread of Islam and helped Islam to be absorbed everywhere by conquering the hearts. Sufism had been the core strength of Islam for hundreds of years, and made people enjoy Islam. 

Due to the intense pressure against religion and the religious people during the single party regime in Turkey, people of action and ideas such as Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan, Bediuzzaman, and Ahmet Arvasi started showing up. The purpose of these individuals was not to form jamaats, or gain followers. They felt the obligation to teach Islam, Quran, and ethics, and also wanted to share their knowledges and energies they had possessed during the tough conditions at the time. They started to show the true path to their entourage with these people. Some wrote interpretations, while the others taught Quran in in haylofts, and some of them taught prayers and dhikr to the Anatolian people in order for them not to have their hearts become arid. These people, who had taken the road without any expectations, did not see comfort throughout their lives. They were taken into dungeons one after another, and faced intense physical and psychological tortures. They always supported the people against the tyranny of the government, and always backed up the oppressed. They always had been in rush to save the people’s afterlives and spiritual lives despite the unlawful and relentless practices. 

All of the religious groups/jamaats, which had tried to keep the faith and belief of the Muslims alive, were formed by civilians. They were not representing the state, power, government, or money; but the citizen, community, and the civil area. This was the reason why they were always targeted by the states including throughout the Ottoman dynasty. During every authoritarian period, they were the ones who had received the beating first, and their pioneers were the ones who had been arrested and jailed. They faced absurd accusations and slanders. Their modest institutions and courses, which had been established in order to raise people, were demonized and shut down. However, the oppression eras could not manage to extinguish jamaats or the religious cults, nor discouraged them. They continued with their advices, and taught people about morals and spirituality during the time when joining in a dhikr session or going to classes were being punished with an arrest. They did not declare anybody an unbeliever or a twisted group in front of the media even during the toughest time. As a part of the oppressed, they united against the oppression of the state. When the Welfare Party was in power, even if there were political polarization as standing by Erbakan or disapproving him, this never turned into a destructive hatred, or a lynching attempt. 

There is some criticism against the religious groups for them not being able to raise real qualified people of heart and demeanor, and that they only carry out religious rituals for the last 3-4 centuries. However, the religious groups/jamaats played a huge role in order to provide minimal religious-moral-faith education for the generations, and also protected them. They fought against the conversion plans of the positivist education towards generations. They both managed to protect and educate the children of the poor and countryside based Anatolian people. Thanks to their huge efforts and devotion, generations were raised for the last 40-50 years who know their religion, history, and values. The rich sacrificed their possessions in order to raise such a generation by building dormitories, schools, and Quran courses. 

However, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government, instrumentalized the jamaat and the religious groups, and saw them as vote depot. He made them get used to the meetings, slogans, and public squares. Erdogan played with the internal balance of the jamaats/religious sects, and started searching ways for controlling and redirecting them with operations. AKP did not only polluted itself, but also infected the jamaats and religious sects with tenders. The jamaats/religious sects, which always had chosen to stay civilian and been chary of the state, could not resist the easy opportunities, competent authorities, and privileges of the state during the AKP reign. Instead of the modest and pristine buildings they managed to build by collecting pennies in the past, they started to build luxurious and flamboyant plaza-looking structures which are supported by public funding and built on public lands. The members of the jamaat, who had problems becoming high-level bureaucrats-officers due to their records and avoided doing business with the state, founded themselves in pretentious offices and positions which also support politics. Their children started to work in AKP’s party organizations, and benefit unscrupulously from the political gains. The crafty political Erdogan, who knows very well how to destroy opponents and the strategies for gaining more followers, disregarded the knowledge of the jamaats/religious sects, human resources, and dignity, and made them instruments for his politics. He managed to make the disciples party militants. The fact that Erdogan’s relationship with the jamaats/religious sects is very much based on his interests and threats is another discussion topic. However, the jamaats, which had not even submitted to the military governments or made concessions to their activities, submitted to Erdogan’s carrot or staff this time. It is also important to point out that a very low number of jamaats are challenge the unlawfulness, cruelty, and robbery, and stay stand upright at the cost of being lynched. 

The jamaats/religious groups, which are supposed to stay away from politics, produce social services, and focus on raising ethical and virtuous believers, are now legitimizing oppression, unlawfulness, becoming authoritarian, corruption, and getting dirty. Expecting the religious sects, which lean back on the state and got used to the gains coming from politics, to tell the truth, and raise virtuous, moral, and honest generations is nearly impossible now. The high level management of the jamaats and the government  are so much interbedded now, the administrative staff cannot solve the puzzle even if they wanted to do so. We do not know how much their followers are aware or uncomfortable from this relationship, but since there is no transparency, questioning culture, self-criticism, or democratic values in the religious cults and jamaats, it seems impossible for them to get out of this peccable and spoiled circle they entered. If the jamaats/religious sects would have been structures based on consultancy, which could be transparent and accountable, they could have generated great functionality towards our moral lives and the institutionalization of our democracy. However, they are far being civilians now, and became semi official corporate structures.  

Jamaats did not only waste themselves by submitting to politics, but also they sacrificed generations too. The jamaats, which were established with great work, intimacy, and sufferings, are racing with each other today in order to legitimize the corruption and autocracy of an individual/group today. Furthermore, they are after taking advantage or receiving a share when a jamaat, which they idolize about many things and pray to the same qibla direction together, gets plundered by the state, and they do not feel any remorse about this. The jamaats are stuck between the wheels of politics and interest. They are experiencing flux and reflux between the threats and bribes of Erdogan. 

Religious groups and the jamaats managed to protect their essence as long as they stayed civilian and independent. Even though the ones which submitted to the state or power were at rest, they are doomed to be extinguished. Christians had faced Roma’s intense oppression, but they had managed to maintain their essence and purity. Whenever the emperor of Rome take Christianity under control and made it the official religion of the country, Christianity suffered from a very fast retrogressing period. The more the jamaats are supported by the state, the more they waive their reason for existence, get melted, and finally extinguish. They got lost in between the religious affairs. The structures of jamaats/religious sects will be effective the way they focus on raising people, good morals, staying away from the state and politics to avoid any arguments, isolated from the “partisan” or “opponent” identities. Even though leading to drastic changes about goals and methods, and adopting a reactionist attitude according to the conjuncture causes some gains in short term, these will corrupt these structures in the long run, and forces them not to carry out actions in accordance with Allah’s will. 

There are many educated, qualified, clear sighted individuals within the jamaats/religious sects. However, we do not know how active they are in bureaucratic structures. There are of course many people in jamaats, who are experts of conscience and fairness. However, we do not know how they legitimize the arresting of thousands of members of another jamaat that basically carries out same activities, seizing the goods of many merchants, cuffing 17000 kerchiefed-religious women and sending them to prison, and imprisoning the women the day after they had a caesarean section while they are still bleeding. We wonder how they tell these things to their consciences? Are all of those offices, opportunities, and buildings they had received from the government enough to keep the voice of their consciences silent? They should know that they will be questioned about their silence in the afterlife, how do they explain this degradation? 

Aren’t some of these jamaats aware of the fact that the oppression/haram/pillage order of AKP is being recorded for all of the jamaats and the religious people, and they will be remembered with this disgrace after this process is all over?

Aren’t these jamaats, which support the oppression, seeing that they drain the excellence and honor of Islam beyond themselves? 

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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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