From separation between state and religion to religion-freeing state: the changing faces of secularism in Turkey

Mohd Roslan Mohd Nor, Muhammad Khalis Ibrahim


From the very beginning, the establishment of modern Turkey adhered to the
secularisation process, namely to separate the state from religious influence.
Although religion has been marginalised, Islam remained a major societal force in
Turkey. This scenario raises some questions: What is the idea of Turkish secularism?
How can religion possess influence in the context of Turkey as a secular state?
What is the form and orientation of secularism in Turkey? Therefore, this study
aims to answer these questions by scrutinising the idea, history, and orientation of
secularism in Turkey. To fulfil this objective, we scrutinised documents and previous
studies related to Turkish secularism. Then, the idea of Turkish secularism was 

critically and chronologically analysed from the early time it was implemented up
to the present time to assume its orientation. In the early time, Turkish secularism
did not solely separate the state from religion, but perceived that the state should
control religion as well. Its assertive nature has forced the emergence of a more
liberal version of secularism, which treats the idea of separation between the state
and religion according to the notion of democracy, and hence, freed religion from
the strict, tutelary state. Secularism in Turkey under the present regime is different
from before, as religious (Islamic) manifestation is increasingly visible in public
spaces even though the state remains secular. We argue that the present Turkish
secularism can become a “model” for other Muslim countries that are still dealing
with the conflict regarding the religion-state relationship.


Turkish secularism; Public space; Islam; Kemalists; AKP

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