Istanbul – The number of Turks saying they are atheist is rising whilst the number of those say they are Muslim is declining. The is based on the findings of a recent survey by Konda, a Turkish polling agency, reported by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), which found that the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropped from 55 per cent to 51 per cent.
The survey results suggest that the neo-Ottoman Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has based his policies on the moralistic principles of Islam, has sparked a flight towards atheism in reaction to the religiosity of the all-powerful president, especially as it is applied in the public administration.
The pervasive presence of Islamic conformism in Turkish daily life is felt as an imposition and is starting to annoy many people, especially in large centres, even if still finds a positive echo in Anatolia.
Some wonder whether the country’s close association with Islam’s moralistic dictates, to which Erdogan often appeals, represents the real Turkey. At the same though, it must not be overlooked that republican Turkey was founded on the notion that true a Turk is a Muslim. This is why conservative circles believe that 99 per cent of the Turkish population is made up of Muslims, a figure repeated by the Diyanet, Turkey’s official directorate of religious affairs.
For Turkish writer and theologian Cemil Kılıç, even if 99 per cent declare themselves Muslim, this does not mean that religion shapes the life of Turks. Going to the mosque to pray, fasting or for women, wearing the veil, do not mean, according to Kılıç, that they practise the Islamic faith. What is important is whether they follow the ethical principles of Islam. Based on this, no more than 60 per cent of Turks actually practise Islam.
The widespread conformism and political opportunism in today’s Turkey, as some Turkey insiders put it, are comparable to what existed in the 7th century under the Umayyad who – contrary to what the Qurʾān says, namely that prayer is an act against injustices – saw prayer an act of obedience to the sultan. Now it is obedience to Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Finally, Zehra Pala, president of the Association of Turkish Atheists, believes that President Erdogan’s insistent pressures on younger people to embrace the moralistic dictates of Islam have achieved the opposite effect, especially among the well-educated people who are taking to the road to flee abroad.
Meanwhile, Erdogan gave the green light to the construction of a Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul. Once completed, it will be the first Christian church built in Turkey since the founding of the republic. Just another example of Turkey’s many contradictions, a place in perennial search for an identity.