Fight over religious affairs directorate

Fight over religious affairs directorate

There is currently an argument happening over the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). In order to get the head of Diyanet, Mehmet Görmez, to forcefully resign, he has been accused of being a member of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). 

This fight is significant because the stance of Diyanet is very important regarding religion, which is a delicate matter concerning wide segments of the society.  

The academic-based understanding of religion by the theology community in Turkey has always been different from an understanding based on mysticism and the anecdotes of certain communities; they have even been conflicting. 

In line with its founding principle, Diyanet is a religious institution where more and more theology academics are employed. As opposed to the old madrasa, Diyanet represents a religious understanding that is more open to scientific methods such as history and sociology and thus capable of reconsidering religious sciences such as interpretation, hadith and kalam in terms of “methodology.” 

Diyanet encourages reaching a religious knowledge through reading and reviewing books and researching, instead of relying on popular mystic authorities such as the sheikh - “his highness effendi.”

These two functions of Diyanet will of course advance further in time. Considering what the religious understandings of other Muslim countries have caused, the significance and the positive role of Diyanet can easily be acknowledged. 

Professor Görmez started his academic career studying Musa Jarullah Bigeev, who was a much respected philosopher and theologian from the Kazan Turks; he was an innovative thinker. 

His academic focus is on hadith, which are the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad. This is a field where endless debates have been held in the past and today. In history, there have been severe discussions between the traditionalist hadith interpreters and theologians who bring new interpretations. 

In one of his books, Görmez wrote that a great scholar in the 8th century Abu Yusuf has said: “The rumors of hadith are constantly increasing.”

Several hadiths have been made up later for certain reasons such as to excite the masses, feed the mystic sentiment, to collect supporters and to get in someone’s good books. This was fed by legends and rumors in different cultures. 

The repetition of this heritage as it is without reviewing it causes several issues today, as you can see around. 

The doctorate thesis of Görmez is the “methodology issue” on this topic. For instance, how do hadiths look when viewed in terms of the difference between “everyday language” and “higher language?” 

Or the extremely important difference between the “language of religion” and the “language of law.” Islamic Law (fiqh) experts, with the habit of their field of study, have viewed and read the hadiths as texts of law to draw conclusions from. Görmez explains, with examples, how hadiths should be reviewed according to their essence and their features.

The importance of these topics for today is this: In his speech at the Council of Religion, Görmez criticized the bigoted understandings of religion that “perceives religious texts as legal texts… that puts the wisdom and aptitudes God has granted to the human being opposite the revelation.” He stated that these understandings lay the groundwork for movements like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

These kinds of Salafi mentalities and anecdotal mystic groups should be kept away from Diyanet. 
It is a must, in our times, to acknowledge that religion and law are separate fields for Muslim societies to be able to reach an organized and settled state and the level of rule of law.  

All in all, Diyanet should continue with its staff from high academia of theology. 

The structural issue is of course that Diyanet is a government institution. To prevent politics from intervening into religious affairs and the Diyanet institution, the directorate should be autonomous.