There is an interesting figure: Almost half of the civil society organizations in Turkey are associations for the construction of mosques. In this way, religiosity manifests itself in a practical and concrete manner, and sustains itself. But there is a side-effect to this manifestation of religiosity in the form of the construction of mosques: There are many mosques, more than are needed, in Turkey. This does not apply to the number of mosques alone. Once built, the mosques should be assigned an imam and muezzin by the Religious Affairs Directorate.
The belief that the number of mosques in Turkey is excessive may be a subjective one, given that large numbers of people attend Friday prayers in these mosques, but compared to other Muslim countries it is obvious that the number of mosques being constructed is greater.
The manifestation of religiosity in the form of other social charities is also visible and strong. Aiding the poor, by for example supplying food to Muslims suffering from hunger in Africa, is pretty popular among religious people in Turkey. The construction of schools, the funding of education for poor students and the building of dorms for their use are services performed through collective and complex efforts. In short, in respect to the universal social manifestations of religiosity, Turks should be considered extremely religious.
How about the political manifestations of religiosity? The mosque opened by the prime minister has become the center of a broad debate. The VIP section in the mosque and the prime minister’s plans to build a huge mosque complex on Çamlıca Hill have been viewed as the political dimension of traditional manifestations of religiosity. But there is something that has gone unnoticed: The social manifestations of religiosity offset its political manifestations.
As is the case in other Muslim countries, a strong wave of Islamism washed over Turkey during the Cold War era. Turkish Islamists have lagged behind Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan’s Jamaat Islami because the latter had the potential and opportunities to fulfill their goals in the democratic sphere. The current administration in Turkey is a product of the struggle of former Islamists for democracy over the last three decades. Their harsh ways were not evident in the democratic struggle. The ruling administration reduced Islamism to religiosity manifested in the opening of mosques.
Ramadan is a holy month where religiosity reaches a peak. All media organs produce publications in accordance with this. Most restaurants are closed during the daytime, while fast-breaking events are held in public spaces. People attend the mosques. All these strong manifestations highlight another powerful and visible change: The political dimension of Islam becomes less important and visible at this time. Islamism becomes less popular because the people are able to enjoy their religiosity.
Religiosity is the antidote for the transformation of Islamism into a political enterprise. As religiosity expresses itself in the social sphere, political demands become less visible. This is another outcome that seems to be paradoxical. The increase in manifestations of religiosity does not mean that religiosity become stronger. If we could track changes in the state of religiosity over the years, it would probably be seen that profanity is becoming more popular in daily life.
In the past, Islamists were eager to seize control of the state and govern it with the guidance of Islamic rules. Now the state they have seized has changed them, and caused them to drop their political demands. This is why no one argues that the political administration is Islamist. Rather, “conservative” seems to be the best way to describe it.