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Foreign Policy Analysis

Is Turkey An Islamic Or Secular Country?


Throughout early 2016, Turkey’s Parliament
struggled to agree over the country’s proposed constitutional overhaul. The Parliamentary Speaker suggested that Turkey
adopt a religious constitution, as it would reflect the country’s majority Muslim population. But the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dismissed
the idea of a religious constitution while supporting the country’s Muslim culture. Caught between East and West, Turkey has grappled
with its religious and cultural identity for as long as it has existed. So, is Turkey a Muslim nation? Or is it Secular? Well, according to its current constitution,
Turkey is secular, and has been since its birth as a nation in the early 1920’s. Turkey’s founder and first president, Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk, transformed the former Ottoman-Turkish state into a secular republic, with the belief
that Western politics and values were the only way the new country would modernize. This Western, secular ideology, called “Kemalism”,
came to define Turkey’s identity, and remained largely unchallenged until a coup d’etat
in 1980. The country’s new military government reversed
course and encouraged the practice of Islam in public life, in an attempt to drum up nationalism
and prevent communist or leftist sympathies. This effectively brought Islam back into the
political conversation, and paved the way for Islam-focused politicians like Erdogan
to gain popularity. One of the best representations of Turkey’s
ongoing religious debate can been seen in its public school system. Throughout the second half of the 20th century,
religious education was gradually integrated into public schools. But the 1980 military coup made such Islamic
studies mandatory, and also facilitated a sharp increase in “Imam Hatip” schools,
which base their curriculum on the teachings of Islam. After Erdogan took power in 2002, the number
of students attending these religious public schools nearly doubled, as many secular ones
were converted into religious schools. The change has been met with resistance from
secular parents, many of whom have no choice but to place their child in such an institution. This and countless other attempts by Erdogan
and his ruling party to “Islamize” the country have been met with widespread public
opposition. This may come as a surprise, as official reports
show that the country’s population is somewhere between 95 and 99 percent Muslim. However, these numbers have raised questions,
as every Turkish citizen is automatically registered as Muslim at birth. We spoke with Istanbul-based Journalist Suzy
Hansen, who told us that many Turks self-identify as Muslim, but are not religious, just as
many Americans call themselves Christian, even if they don’t follow Christianity. It’s safe to say that Turkey is a predominantly
Muslim country. However, a 2016 Pew Report showed that only
13 percent of Turks believe that the Quran should directly influence their country’s
laws. Suzy Hansen says that most of Turkey’s current
polarization is not along religious lines, but political and ethnic ones. That is, those who are for Erdogan versus
those who oppose him, and those who support Kurdish rights versus those who do not. As the ruling party continues to wield power,
the debate will undoubtedly continue. The growing sovereignty of Erdogan and his
ruling party recently led to a failed attempt at a coup d’etat. For an explainer on why President Erdogan
is so controversial, watch our video. Thanks for tuning in to Seeker Daily, make
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