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December 17, 2012, Monday

Turkey’s Islam

What should we make of the phrase “Turkey’s Islam”? In addition to the current campaign to impose Turkey as a “model country” for the Muslim world, it hints at a sort of national and nationalist quest for identity.

Adopting such an identity is also intended to separate Turkey from other Muslim communities living in the Muslim world. There are other designations which are of an auxiliary nature: “Anatolian Islam,” “Turkish Islam,” etc.

Turkey’s Islam is quickly associated with a different strand of Islam due to its emphasis on “ethnic origins.” While in official parlance “Turkishness” (Turkish identity) is claimed to be completely divorced from ethnic associations and to pertain to a purely legal notion of citizenship, it is not realistic to reduce Islam, a universal doctrine, to a secondary/auxiliary function that aims to reinforce the bonds of people living in a specific country with the state. Indeed, in any case, religion per se is the source of creating legal bonds and it is greater, deeper and more comprehensive than this.

Among the abovementioned phrases, Turkey’s Islam sounds the most plausible term to many. The word “Turkey” apparently refers to a specific region. As in the past, Muslims today live in various regions. This is not odd but a very natural thing. Whether it is a “country” as a political unit or merely a “piece of land that offers a habitable space” for people, the result is the same. And this natural situation does not entail us to undermine the sense of being an ummah (Muslim nation or community) that must exist among Muslims living in diverse parts of the globe.

Muslims may differ relatively from other Muslims in terms of the experiences they have acquired in their respective lands. In the terminology of Islamic law, this may be referred to as the “variability of customs.” Customs form a valid source of laws and quite naturally, established legal and social practices vary depending on changing customs. In addition, there may be changes in terms of clothing, arts, literature, music, cuisine, food and administrative, social and economic institutions as well. Two perspectives may be adopted:

1. Islam is universally an ummah but unlike modern culture, it does not aim to destroy local and regional diversities and homogenize everything. Rather, diverse practices and perceptions are assets like colorful flowers in a garden. In this regard, Islam is “cultural pluralism.”

2. The general provisions of the Quran and the Sunnah, i.e., the revealed Shariah, offer the main framework for differing customs, established practices and assets. No nation or country can destroy this main framework or suggest that its unique Islamic mentality entails something different and diverging from other Muslim communities. This is because rules about what is forbidden and what is permitted in religion apply to everyone.

Those who claim that a different strand of Islam has developed in Turkey are actually trying to lend “religious legitimacy” to a secret nationalism and the project to make Turkey a pro-Western model for the Muslim world. Indeed, they are also keen to persuade us that our Islam is better than the Arabs’ or Persians’ Islam and that we don’t have to understand Islam the way they do, but adopt a completely different perspective on the rules of religious prohibitions and permissions. But Islam’s message and its basic rules are universal. Whoever understands Islam with an emphasis on its true message and provisions is a better and acceptable Muslim.

Previous articles of the columnist