Turkey seeing a rise in young people rejecting Islam

Although the current Turkish government is supportive of Islam, various observations confirm a trend among a number of young Turkish people of rejecting institutional religion and turning either to deism or to atheism, writes Mucahit Bilici (City University of New York) in the Middle East Report (Fall). He quotes a Muslim professor of philosophy at a university in Istanbul, to whom several young women reportedly confided that though they continued wearing their headscarfs they had actually become atheists. Bilici explains that the current Muslim elites in Turkey were convinced that they would be able to raise a “pious generation” after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 and continued to get wide support since then. But the reality is one of “an internal collapse of religiosity among the new generation of pious Turks.” Apparently, not a few of them are disappointed with the moral failure and perceived hypocrisy of those who are supposed to represent Islam, including politicians. Moreover, now that the pressure of state secularism has disappeared in Turkey, a number of parochial Islamic preachers and leaders feel free to express eccentric views that are seen as embarrassing to young, intellectual people (and even to the regime itself, actually).

Such reports have displeased religious and political leaders. The initial reaction of religious authorities was to reject the very existence of such developments or—not untypically—to attribute them to foreign conspiracies, although the trend is clearly indigenous. Subsequently, however, the existence of the problem was acknowledged, although a consultative body that gathered in September 2018 argued—while conceding that youth were drifting away from religion—“that deism belongs to a European context and as such cannot be found in Turkish society.” Bilici remarks that this is a grassroot phenomenon of organic secularization, in contrast with the state-enforced secularizing attempts of previous decades. The use of Islam by politicians has left a number of youth disillusioned “not only with institutional religion, but with faith as a whole.” And this is happening at the very moment that access to the Internet has allowed for the easy discovery of various criticisms of Islamic practices, including criticism coming from Muslims themselves.

(Middle East Report, https://merip.org/)