Turkish PM seeks restitution of top religious body’s ‘honor’

Turkish PM seeks restitution of top religious body’s ‘honor’

Turkish PM seeks restitution of top religious body’s ‘honor’

PM Davutoğlu during a visit to the grave of former Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) leader Necmettin Erbakan, Sept. 5. DHA Photo

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said his government attributes an "international mission" to Turkey's Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), also indicating that the country needs to make “reforms in religion.”

His words echo President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent suggestion that the Diyanet’s “honor” as a key state body should be restituted

Recalling the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, Davutoğlu argued that the Diyanet’s role as a body involved in people’s social lives had grown only after democratization began in Turkey. 

“With the transition to democracy, efforts for a restitution of honor were exerted. It was always considered as an institution that arranges religious life,” he said late Sept. 4, speaking in a televised interview.

His words came following a recent change in the Diyanet’s status. As part of the reassignments in the new Cabinet, Prime Minister Davutoğlu sought to bring the Diyanet under his subordination. Though previously subordinated to another ministry, the Diyanet is the highest religious authority in Turkey – which, although a majority Muslim country, has been a secular state since the 1920s – and will henceforth be under Davutoğlu’s personal responsibility.

Earlier on Sept. 4, speaking with a group of journalists on board the new presidential plane, registered as TR-TUR, during his official trip from Azerbaijan to Wales for the NATO Summit, Erdoğan also touched on the matter.

According to Erdoğan, Davutoğlu may not be able to fully focus on Diyanet and will eventually hand over the de facto responsibility to a deputy prime minister as he will have to deal with a hectic schedule both inside the country and abroad.

“[Davutoğlu] made such an assessment [to change the Diyanet’s status] to dignify the Diyanet’s position, particularly with regard to spirituality, as a restitution of honor,” he said.

Davutoğlu, meanwhile, also voiced his uneasiness with the perception of religious authorities as limited to their bureaucratic positions.

“When I took office as the foreign minister [in 2009], the first instruction I gave was to apply the same protocol that I receive to both the head of the Diyanet and to the Fener Greek patriarch. Positioning the Diyanet as an institution that solely has a bureaucratic function was personally annoying me. This also applies to other religious authorities,” he said.

Davutoğlu said he made a change in the Diyanet’s status to “more closely follow the reforms Turkey needs in the field of religion, such as Alevi-Sunni relations, the arrangement of sectarian relations and meeting Alevi citizens’ religious needs.”

The Diyanet was created in 1924 to replace the Ottoman Sheikh al-Islam, the mufti with the authority to confirm the new sultans and who also served as the chief legal adviser. The caliphate itself was abolished in 1924, part of early modernizing efforts by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the secular Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

As the highest religious authority today, the Diyanet drafts the weekly sermon delivered at the nation’s 85,000 mosques, which it supervises. It also employs all of Turkey’s imams – Muslim preachers who are technically civil servants trained by the state.