A new era of ‘spiritual engineering’

A new era of ‘spiritual engineering’

I will ask the question in my mind by clearly naming it: In Turkey, a new era of “spiritual engineering” has started. The recent debate that started in İzmir about “introducing scholarly wisdom” to the city’s spiritual life was actually the start of a new era in the Republic of Turkey’s “religious affairs policies.”

For three days, we have been conducting this debate on the axis of “introducing scholarly wisdom to İzmir” only.

Those sentences should be evaluated within the framework of the full text of the speech of the Head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Professor Mehmet Görmez, while he addressed 2,500 religious officers that day.

This speech could be regarded the Religious Affairs Directorate’s “2023 targets.” Now, I will write down for you the main points of that speech, which I think constitutes a milestone in the history of Turkish religious affairs:

- Time for review

Countries, nations from time to time should stop life and review their account books. Now, it is time for Turkey to make such a review.

- Comprehension delay

As an institution, we have experienced from time to time a delay in comprehension. While Turkey was urbanizing quickly, we as the Religious Affairs Directorate have been stuck in villages.

- We have been late in cities

When the situation was as such, we were late in accommodating the spiritual lives of cities.

- Time for change

Turkey is changing; humanity is changing. The perception of children and the youth is changing. The world is changing, human kind is changing.

- Mihrab duties

Since the perception, understanding and language of our audience has changed, we cannot continue with the definition of the “duties of mihrab” and an ordinary mosque preacher of 10 years ago.

- Will Islam also change?

We have to be in a state of change, a state of renewal, without distracting from the constants of Islam, from those compassionate messages.

- Getting off the road

There is no difference between going off the road and being stuck at a station dated six centuries ago. Islam’s unchanging constant is that it has an axis based on movement.

- New mission for mosques

It is incorrect to regard mosques only as places of prayer and where the Muslim ritual worship five times a day (namaz) is conducted. Mosques should also be venues where broken hearts and broken souls are healed, where minds crossed with each other make peace. We should revive the mission that God and our Prophet have attributed to mosques.

- A new perception for the Office of the Mufti

We should now focus on a more participative and more accommodating system for the muftis. The position of the mufti cannot be converted into an ordinary bureaucratic mechanism. It should become the center managing the entire religious life of the city, a center where the pulse of spiritual life can be taken.

Is this the ‘İzmir Congress’ of the new spiritual era?

How would you evaluate a newly appointed mufti to İzmir within the context of these words?

1. An optimist outlook: Since the Head of the Directorate has said, “Islam should also change, should harmonize with the times. The imams should assume the role of a kind of ‘Güzin Abla’ [the brand name for ‘agony aunt’ in Turkey] and understand the new perception of the youth,” then these words can be seen as the manifesto for modernization.

2. A pessimistic look: These concepts, such as a “new mission for mosques, the task of ‘interfering even in individual domains where faith exists,’ moving outside the boundaries of being a mosque preacher and organizing the spiritual life of urban dwellers” are complicated concepts for a skeptical secularist.

I don’t like the word “mission,” moreover, I find it dangerous. For this reason I have this question in my mind now: Is the Directorate of Religious Affairs now opening a “spiritual engineering era”?

If viewed from that angle, then this interpretation could also be made:

The ideological foundations of the Republic’s new economy were laid at the “İzmir Economy Congress” in 1923.
The foundation of the new era of spiritual ideology has been laid March 19 at the “İzmir Religious Affairs Congress.”

Ertuğrul Özkök is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on March 28. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.