Different understandings of Islam

Different understandings of Islam

According to the “2017-2021 Strategic Action Plan” of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a number of issues have been identified through surveys and consultations.  

One of them is that while attention and interest toward religion are increasing, erosion in moral values is becoming more widespread. Another is the need to advance the culture of living together. On the other hand, the unregulated growth in the number of graduates from theology departments and imam high schools has raised issues of quality and qualifications.

The unregulated building of mosques and Quran courses by associations and foundations is also problematic. Also, there is a general perception in society that there is political influence over Diyanet.   

It is important, though, that the Diyanet itself has realized the issue of “political influence.” The founding aim of Diyanet is to prevent religious sentiments from being used against the republic. 

Like civilian intellectual life, the institution of the Diyanet and religious life in general have been under tight political control. This is not sustainable in democracies. Moreover, in Turkey, respectful and open-minded religious scholars began being educated in theology faculties. The books of the “modernist Islamist,” the great jurist Seyyid Bey, who convinced conservatives to agree to the abolition of the caliphate, are prepared and published by Diyanet. 

Today, Diyanet has to be an autonomous institution apart from the political authority; the format of this should be discussed calmly. 

Also in the “Action Plan” document, it is possible to see the quality of theology academics within the Diyanet staff. 

The “Action Plans” are serious texts prepared by all public institutions according to the reforms introduced during the term of Ömer Dinçer’s stint as undersecretary at the Prime Ministry.  

Of course, the Diyanet can be criticized, but the reason why certain communities are attacking the Diyanet is their intolerance toward “academic quality” and their efforts to widen their sphere of influence. 

Perhaps the finding of the Diyanet that “while interest in religion is increasing, moral values are eroding” is the most important issue. 

Ali Bardakoğlu, who headed the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) between 2003 and 2010, was upset at the use of Islam for commercial purposes. 

We hear similar cries of desperation from other valuable scholars, asking, “Can there be immoral piousness?” 
We do have crime charts that widen every year from harassment of women to burglary. The erosion of values – what sociology has called “anomie” (a lacking of norms and rules) since Durkheim – is also emptying the moral content of religion. 

This problematic “transition period” when traditional values are disintegrating but modern values have not yet replaced them has created an “anomie” that has been the subject of sociological research. 

When the moral and knowledge aspect of religion is neglected and piousness is downgraded to image and political advocacy, then religion also suffers its share in the erosion of values in the society. 

When the moral and wisdom aspect of religion is forgotten, then the “demonstration” of piousness in form and in politics becomes more outrageous. The erosion of human, moral and spiritual values that would enable us to cohabit sharpens differences. 

According to the Diyanet, “the culture of cohabitation should be advanced.” Which religious culture would open our hearts to each other? Is it Islam, the religion of responsibility, love, respect and compassion? Or is it the angry, harsh and scary understanding of Islam? 

Is it Yunus Emre, the Turkish poet and Sufi mystic who greatly influenced Anatolian culture with his humanism, or Molla Kasım, a traditionalist believed to have destroyed some of the transcripts of Yunus Emre’s poems because they were against Islam?