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The Rise of Religious Zealots in the Shadow of Political Islam

A 10,000-kilometer distance, a 7-hour time difference, the daily struggle for livelihood, and the emotional disconnect caused by being declared a terrorist by the state of the country you gave everything to until the age of 56 have kept me less preoccupied with and disconnected from the Turkish agenda. Nevertheless, a part of my heart still beats there, and Turkey continues to hold a place in the corner of my mind.

Recently, there has been a growing number of people traveling from Turkey to the United States. We sit down and talk with them on various occasions. One person made a particularly important observation.

“On Fridays, even the main prayer areas of mosques are only half full. In the past, the lower floor, upper floor, and even the mosque courtyards would be completely packed. Now, they are empty. Young people are hardly present,” they remarked.

Of course, this person was speaking specifically about the mosque they attended, so it cannot be generalized. Nevertheless, I hear so many people sharing such observations that it cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, the news on social media does not yield different results.

Now, let me take you on a journey back in time through the timeline. During the period when theft and corruption were rampant, Ali Bulaç stated, “The AKP is hollowing out religiosity.”

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He was right.

Ali Bulaç had firsthand knowledge and experience. His evaluations, as both a sociologist and a religious scholar, were based on solid ground. However, he was mistaken at one point. The AKP was emptying out not religiosity but the essence of religion itself. Indeed, I believe time has proven me right in this regard. Even one example given above is sufficient evidence.


Because the place of the Friday prayer in worship is well-defined, both in 14 centuries of practice and in the witnessed experiences of our own lifetimes. As our witnesses, even those who do not perform the five daily prayers would not miss the Friday prayer. I don’t know, maybe it would be more accurate to say “they wouldn’t miss it” after hearing these accounts. Yes, our people would certainly perform the two-unit Friday prayer, even if their hands were stained with blood or even if they did not listen to the sermon. Therefore, I am sorry, but this is a sign that not religiosity but the essence of religion has been emptied.

Just a few days ago, a viewer commented under a program on my YouTube channel. I may not know whether it is right or wrong, but I can confidently say that the weight of truth prevails.

“When the Gülen movement withdrew from the field, certain religious figures who are labeled as tele-evangelists are completely severing our people’s already delicate connection with religion with the statements they make on social media and TV programs. They say things that go so far that, with no one to respond, especially our young people are distancing themselves from religion.”

These so-called “tele-evangelists” have been identified as responsible for religious disconnection. The viewer even provided the topics of discussion that contribute to this disconnect, starting with belief in fate, the unacceptability of 99% of hadiths, and the claim that Imam Bukhari from the Umayyad era declared Imam Azam a heretic, among many other issues.

The Gülen Movement, in addition to formal education, was the most significant institution that provided our people with true religious education based on Sunni tradition and mainstream Islamic interpretations. No one can deny this. Quran lessons, hadith lessons, catechism lessons, the reading of Risale-i Nur, and Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi’s ‘Pırlanta’ series provided genuine religious education to our people, based on sound knowledge. As the viewer mentioned, when this era ended, the stage was left to the religious zealots—those who manipulate religion for personal gain.

In summary, political Islamists who exploited religion for their corruption, theft, lust, power, and ambition have sadly emptied the essence of religion. In a cliché phrase, “If we could go back 21 years, we would be 50 years ahead.”

In other words, if we could return to the conditions of 2001 when the AKP came to power, we might be 50 years ahead of our current situation. The meaning is clear: in 21 years, the country lost 50 years, and religion is unfortunately at the top of the list of losers.

What can I say? May Allah bless our fate and outcomes.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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