Before we embark on the subject of the social changes that have taken place in Turkey during the era of the Justice and Development Party [Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi or AKP], first we need to take a look at the country’s modern history in order to learn about the changes that took place in the aftermath of the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. It was then that Turkey transformed itself from a country of a socially Islamic nature based on the Ottoman Caliphate, to one in which republican secularism was forced on it, and in which the Republic engaged in a fierce conflict with the large majority of Turkish society and which also failed in its attempt to force this majority to abandon their Islamic traditions and conservative customs.
Ataturk’s Social Revolution
The revolution by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to modernise Turkey brought with it many consequences for the Turkish people socially, religiously and politically. In relation to the social and religious aspects, the renunciation of Islamic traditions and culture may be seen as one of the major factors that wrought religious and social changes in modern Turkey.
Ataturk’s reforms created a new system of life based on the Western norms, following which Turkey became a completely secular country. In fact, Kamal Ataturk’s policies to end the political role of Islam or to eradicate Islam from political life, were apparently also an attempt to erase Islam in most aspects of social life.
By the end of the last century, religious institutions only played a marginal role or assumed responsibility for minor religious institutions only, in contrast to the role they played during the Ottoman era. In this context, it has now become evident that during the first decades of the Republic, urban society were more influenced by these reforms than rural areas. In Istanbul and Ankara, for example, large numbers of people began to ignore the fast during Ramadan, and children were not taught to perform their daily prayers.
With, what appeared to be, the gradual disappearance of Shari’a from the lives of ordinary people, religious interdictions, which normally prohibited people from doing all that is right or wrong in the religious sense, turned into a reactionary or regressive phenomenon. There were, however, different attitudes in rural areas where although many religious and conservative people refused to accept Kemal Ataturk’s reforms, they nevertheless opposed them quietly, avoided confrontation with state’ssecular institutions, and continued to practise Islamic traditions and secretly set up their own religious institutions.