Secular Turkey to construct an ‘Worldwide Islamic College’

Turkey’s high cleric, Mehmet Gormez, the top of the Directorate of Non secular Affairs (DRA), unveiled a brand new mission earlier this week whereas chatting with a bunch of Turkish journalists. Turkey will quickly have an “Worldwide Islamic College,” Gormez mentioned, including that Islamic universities in Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Malaysia have been “unable to seek out options to issues on the earth.” By that remark, he implicitly signaled that Turkey is on the brink of make bolder claims within the Islamic market of concepts.

First, a couple of observations: Gormez’s remarks got here in Mecca, the place he was heading the Turkish delegation for the hajj, or the Islamic pilgrimage. Furthermore, Gormez had additionally criticized Saudi authorities throughout the identical journey, blaming them for “destroying historical past” by constructing large skyscrapers that overshadow the Kaaba. This was, in addition to being a private comment, an objection by the history-sensitive “Turkish Islam” to the literalist “Saudi Islam.”

Second, the establishment that Gormez heads, the DRA — a peculiar quasi-ministry of faith in a supposedly secular Turkey — would by no means have the ability to make statements about training earlier than the period of the incumbent Justice and Growth Celebration (AKP), i.e., the period from 2002 to immediately. Earlier than then, Turkish training, like different “strategic” points, was below the thumb of hard-core secularist generals. So, neither an “Worldwide Islamic College” can be allowed, nor would the DRA be lively in its formation.

But, within the AKP’s “New Turkey” many taboos have been damaged and new patterns are rising. The state’s assist for spiritual training — akin to “Imam Hatip” faculties, or excessive faculties with a quasi-religious curriculum — has dramatically elevated. In the meantime, theology colleges that existed through the pre-AKP period however which have been marginal have gained extra state assist, funding and status.

The rise of ISAM, the Middle for Islamic Research, an Istanbul-based institute based in 1988, is an instance of this development. Below the AKP, ISAM grew, and in the end was reworked into the Might 29 College in 2010. (Might 29 is historically accepted because the date of the conquest of Istanbul, which was then referred to as Constantinople, by the Ottomans in 1453.) A brand new, trendy and colossal constructing for the college is being constructed within the Umraniye district of Istanbul. Notably, as Gormez famous, it’s this college that shall be reworked into the “Worldwide Islamic College” of Turkey.

Whereas this mission is likely to be admirable for Turkey’s educational life itself, it’s clear that it additionally displays an effort to have a stronger voice from Turkey concerning Islam within the worldwide scene. No surprise Gormez talked about different main Islamic universities in his remarks — akin to Al-Azhar College in Cairo, the Medina Islamic College or the Islamabad Islamic College in Pakistan — and added:

“I’ve been engaged on the problem for 3 years and see that the curriculum of those universities doesn’t assist in offering options to the issues of Muslims. The students who graduate from these universities have gotten the issue themselves, quite than fixing the issues.”

It’s doable that the AKP authorities is especially disturbed by the prominence of Egypt’s Al-Azhar as the principle spiritual authority within the Muslim world, particularly after the assist given by Al-Azhar authorities to the navy coup of July 3, 2013, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Erdogan had publicly slammed the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar in a speech in August 2013 for “siding with the coup.”

However will Turkey’s personal heart of Islamic studying assist advance democracy and different much-needed civic values within the Muslim world? If the projected college could be a heart of educational freedom, openness and variety, then sure, in fact. Certainly, Turkey does have a era of certified and open-minded theologians, who’ve revealed vital works on issues akin to reinterpretation of Islamic regulation, revitalizing rational thought inside Islamic theology and introducing extra essential considering to the Islamic custom. It has been a pity that their books and articles, written virtually solely in Turkish, have remained largely unknown to the skin world. If the proposed Worldwide Islamic College may also help make this Turkish scholarship extra accessible to different societies, and create room for extra reformist views in Islamic thought, it could make a big contribution.

Fortunately, that is what Gormez appears to take note of, as he’s recognized to have “re-interpretive” views on Islamic texts, particularly concerning hadiths, or the reported sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. (Gormez was, in reality, the top of the DRA’s “hadith mission,” which was hailed within the Western media as “radical revision of Islamic texts.”) In his remarks in Mecca, too, Gormez notably mentioned: “Muslims stress exterior elements [for problems], however chorus from admitting inner causes,” in distinction to the conspiratorial thought that explains the shortcomings of the Muslim world just by blaming “imperialists” or “Zionists.”

Nonetheless, Turkey itself is an mental (and political) battleground between the aforementioned rational, reformist views of recent theologians and the extra dogmatic, stagnant views of extra conservative students. Furthermore, the latter camp is thought to have some weight inside AKP circles. Considered one of their controversial efforts was to get rid of required philosophy lessons in theology departments, a 2013 choice by the Increased Training Council (YOK), which was happily retracted within the face of sturdy criticism. (I wrote about this controversy in Al-Monitor: “A Salafi Assault on Turkish Theology?”)

Subsequently, whereas Turkey’s Worldwide Islamic College is nice information, will probably be a significant contribution to the Islamic world provided that it isn’t dominated by the ultra-conservative faculty of jurisprudence and theology, of which Turkey has its share. The AKP authorities must also not body this faculty as a mere foundation for its short-term political and social wants, however as a long-term mission that can assist introduce new concepts and contemporary views to an Islamic civilization that has been intellectually stagnant for hundreds of years.

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