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 sure to hit subscribe for new videos daily

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