A Pious Generation: education as means of politics in Erdogan's Turkey

By Yash Tyagi


The idea of a pious generation comes from Turkey which has been experiencing significant reforms in the education system since the rise of populism in the form of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Keeping Turkey at the forefront, this piece tends to examine the Islamic teachings and its effects on the future of Islamic politics.  


The idea, as the title suggests, not only restricts itself and focuses on the present rather it sheds light on the probable change in the upcoming generations. The blog also tends to analyse the politics, ideals and practises of the Islamic education in modern times through looking at various aspects of it. The blog would bring out the modern world perceptions of Islamic teachings and vice versa. To begin with, we look at the diverse background of islamic teachings and how (if) the modern world changes influenced the teachings.. Furthermore, we bring out the state's role in reforming islamic education and the path that islamic education would take going forward in this world of increasing globalization. 


Distinct notions of Islamic teachings

Erdogan (Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey from 2003- 2014 and since then took over as the President of the state) has been a proponent of the Imam- Hatip schools and has increased quite a few of them in the past couple of years. This approach of his has largely followed a conservative notion and has been appreciated as a form of religious education by the conservative sect that aims to encompass the teachings of the future generation solely on Islamic lines. With the powers Erdogan exercises in the country he possesses the ability to reshape the country as per his own terms. The difference in opinion comes from another sect that argues it to be an instrument of coercion of  the state to forcefully shape Islam as a religion. 


Looking at it solely through Turkey’s perspective we may also sense an alarm towards Turkey’s notion of secularism. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s populist and authoritarian leadership has put the citizens of Turkey in a weak spot wherein they are not entitled to any say in scholastic decisions of their own child. There have also been numerous displays of resentment such as the “don’t touch my school” initiative and other small uprisings against the same but none has resulted in any significant change to the policies introduced.  The question raised may also shed light upon science diplomacy’s point of view wherein the citizens question Turkey’s international position in the future, considering fewer scientific developments due to the education being more theoretical and religious in nature. This may be linked to the brain drain theory that the great powers may benefit from. Last but not the least, the schooling patterns are ultimately going to act as a barrier for a student willing to pursue higher education in their desired field for the sole reason that they are not specialising in any relevant discipline. 

Turkey vouches as a secular state and hence complying with the constitution of the state, education must be an integration of Islamic as well as a general(secular) education. As indicated by Turkish laws and guidelines, all Imam-Hatip in Turkey are government funded schools and are supervised by the state. The Ministry of National Education chooses the educational programs, plans course readings, and names instructors and heads of Imam-Hatip schools. Neither do Imam-Hatips represent a madrasa nor a conventional training centre. However, what they do represent is a new advanced model proposed by Erdogan which he believes acts as a modernised alternative to madrasas. Imam-Hatip secondary schools are state funded schools that not only restrict themselves to teaching the upcoming generations but they also spread state propaganda through faculty training and changes in the curriculum. The voluntary participation of children in these schools is something that can be regarded as a personal choice but when the state decides to convert general high schools into Imam Hatip claiming that students no more need to stress about the entrance exam of these schools and uniformity would be introduced then it appears as the state's attempt at trivializing the problem rather than resolving it. Keeping all the factors in mind the number of students in Imam-Hatip schools have decreased as compared to general schools. The incentive based strategies are the X factor that Erdogan has been using to alter policies throughout his tenure and continues to do so. 


The teaching pattern has been set up as such that the co-ed education system which is a modernised and more of a western thought has also been boycotted. The Imam- Hatip schools tend to be inclined a lot towards the religious ideas of Islam and hence around 13-14hrs per week are devoted to Islamic teachings and the rest comprises of all the other general "modern" teachings. 


Future of Islamic politics in Turkey and how does it impact the world?


After being through with the example of Turkey, understanding the impacts on the “pious generation” becomes easier. Turkey being one of the most prominent players of the Muslim World has had an influence when it comes to Islamic politics. Their policies and stances have acted as a symbol for the Islamic World. 

The Adalet ve Kalkinma Paritisi (AKP), the rulling party in Turkey since 2002, has been accused for undermining Turkey’s secular nature by harbouring an islamist Agenda. The AKP has severely damaged the nationalistic approach that was was propagated in the late 1900s throughout Turkey. 

The idea behind the piece was to analyze the future role played by the upcoming generation. Two likely outcomes are either becoming a part of the propaganda whose foundation has been laid by the current president or bringing in a reformative approach towards Islamic politics. Despite reforms to modernize Islamic education, it continues to hold on to its conservative roots. 


Concluding, we may argue that certainly what the future holds for political Islam is inevitable and unpredictable. What we need to focus on is to identify all the possible outcomes of the upcoming world order and how Islamic teachings are playing a role in it. By the example of Turkey it’s evident that the islamic teachings have increased to a great extent and have concurred a whole nation state with the force of populism. Turkey being a key member state to whom other Islamic states look forward to can be a reason for the increase in religious teachings in other parts of the world. These reforms in the education system go way back in Islamic history. 


Syed sir Ahmed khan, who was one of the first proponents of modernised Islam was the one to bring forth reforms in order to safeguard the religion from the colonizers. He brought in numerous reforms to enhance the efficiency of the education system which was then not capable of providing a space to Muslims in Southeast Asia. Similarly, Turkey’s attempts to increase religious education as a means to transform the ongoing system  will  severely affect the world order. Hence, with the argument that Islamic teachings are meant to stay and eventually alter politics, the only question to be put forth is the extent of this change. 




World Bank. “Promoting Excellence in Turkey’s Schools.” Washington, DC: The World Bank, March 1, 2013. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/03/18023851/promoting-excellence-turkeys-schools


Christie-Miller, Alexander. “Erdogan Launches Sunni Islamist Revival in Turkish Schools.” Newsweek, December 16, 2014. http://europe.newsweek.com/erdogan-launches-sunni-islamist-revival-turkish-schools-292237


Butler, D. (2018, January 25). Special Report: With more Islamic schooling, Erdogan aims to reshape Turkey. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-erdogan-education-idUSKBN1FE1CD

Rise of Turkish Islamic Schooling Upsets Secular Parents. Voice of America. (n.d.). https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/rise-turkish-islamic-schooling-upsets-secular-parents

World Bank. “Promoting Excellence in Turkey’s Schools.” Washington, DC: The World Bank, March 1, 2013. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/03/18023851/promoting-excellence-turkeys-schools 


Christie-Miller, Alexander. “Erdogan Launches Sunni Islamist Revival in Turkish Schools.” Newsweek, December 16, 2014. http://europe.newsweek.com/erdogan-launches-sunni-islamist-revival-turkish-schools-292237 


Butler, D. (2018, January 25). Special Report: With more Islamic schooling, Erdogan aims to reshape Turkey. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-erdogan-education-idUSKBN1FE1CD