Although a growing number of people in Turkey identify themselves as more conservative than in previous decades, there has been a steady decline in the number of people who actually pray, according to research.
Several surveys indicate that Turks have become less conservative in their daily lives. They are now consuming more alcohol, increasingly accepting homosexuals as neighbors, and there is a decrease in both their desire to have religious children and their religious practices.
However, when asked about their faith in God, an increase is seen in the belief in God, compared to the past. Yet, they do not seem to be carrying out religious obligations.
The sixth wave of the World Values Survey (WVS) – conducted periodically in 100 countries that represent almost 90 percent of the world’s population, using a common questionnaire – which was conducted in Turkey from June to August 2012, has revealed significant results regarding Turkish people’s beliefs and their daily religious practices.
When those polled were asked whether they define themselves as religious (without considering mosque attendance) 84 percent of respondents said they are. Since 1993, there has been an 11 percent increase in the number of people who define themselves as religious; however, there has been a 10 percent decrease in the number of people who go regularly to mosques. Today, only 25 percent of Turks go to the mosque, according to the WVS survey. This number represents a remarkable decrease over the last 10 years. There has been a 10 percent decrease overall in the number of people who go to mosques.
According to this year’s survey, there has been an increase in the number of people in Turkey who believe in God. Even though about 98 percent of respondents say they believe in God, only 68 percent say that God is very important to them, which indicates a sharp decline of 20 percent since 2004.
Those seemingly contradictory findings are explained by the overemphasizing of political Islam in Turkey by the current Justice and Development (AK Party) government.
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Mahmut Akpınar, a political scientist and lecturer at Turgut Özal University, said, “The decrease in people practicing, combined with the increase of people saying that they are religious, is related to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dominant political discourse.”
Akpınar emphasized that more and more people think that if they pretend to be seen as conservative by the government, they may have a better chance of accessing public employment opportunities that are handled by the government. He says this is an idea supported by the political Islamist government.
The fall in the level of conservatism in Turkey is seen in the importance given to the institution of the family, which is a key factor when contextualizing conservatism. According to the survey, the percentage of people in Turkey who attach importance to the family has declined from 97 percent to 95 percent, and those who do not want homosexuals as neighbors has decreased from 90 percent to 85 percent in the last decade. Moreover, there is a decrease in the marriage rate in Turkey. Since 2004 there has been a decrease from 73 percent to 68 percent of people who are married, and people cohabiting has increased from 0.3 percent to 0.8 percent.
People also prefer their children to be less religious. There has been a 4 percent decrease in the number of people who want their children to follow their religious faith since 2004.
According to Gökhan Bacık, a political scientist and lecturer at İpek University, Turkey is becoming a more secular country. “We, as scientists, take European countries such as the United Kingdom and the US as role models in our studies. Whenever there is development economically, there is also a rise in secularism; therefore, Turkey as a country that is part of the capitalist process results in rising secularism, just as happened in European countries. Hence, worshiping is becoming something cultural among the people in Turkey [instead of being a religious ritual],” he said.
Another indicator that shows conservatism is not on the rise in Turkey is the increase in alcohol consumption. According to Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) data from 2012, households with individuals in the habit of consuming alcoholic beverages increased from 5.6 percent to 6.3 percent of the population from 2010 to 2012.
According to research conducted on religious life in Turkey by the Religious Affairs Directorate, among men in Turkey only 57.4 percent regularly perform Cuma prayer, which is an obligatory religious practice for males according to Islam. Only about 66 percent of people say they are quite religious and regularly perform prayer five times a day, and 6 percent of people who never perform prayer define themselves as quite religious.
People who perform voluntary prayer rarely and never amount to 55 percent of the population. Also, only 40 percent of Turks said they want to perform prayer in a mosque. Although 42 percent of Turks know how to read the Quran in Arabic, only 21 percent said they read the Quran every day. Only 4 percent of Turks read the Quran in the Turkish language. Regarding halal and haram (things that Islam allows and prohibits, respectively), 46 percent said they wish the meaning of halal and haram would be revised and 44.5 percent said they do not want such a thing.
Statistics indicate that 68 percent of Turks believe that Islam limits the relationship between men and women prior to marriage, for example in not having a sexual relationship.
Moreover, 6.4 percent said that consuming an amount of alcohol that does not make you drunk is not considered a sin, while 9 percent said telling a small number of lies is also not seen as a sin.
Only 65 percent said they have a lifestyle shaped by Islam. About 37 percent of people in Turkey say the most important criterion of being religious is faith in God and having a pure heart.
Therefore, we can see that there has been a decline in the number of people who both believe and are carrying out their religious obligations at the same time.
It is mentioned in the Religious Affairs Directorate’s survey that 85 percent of people in Turkey fast for Ramadan if they are healthy. However, this result contradicts the results of a survey on conservatism conducted earlier by Hakan Yazıcı, a professor at Boğaziçi University. According to the results of his survey, people fasting during Ramadan decreased from 60.4 percent to 53.1 percent between 2006-2012.
According to Akşam daily columnist Etyen Mahçupyan, a counselor at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV): “A considerable decline in conservatism in Turkey is related to the transformation of Turkish society since the 1990s that has brought about more individualism. With the rise of individualism, the profile of people who identify themselves as religious varies. Thus, a new type of religious understanding which does not attach importance to the practice of religion is emerging. For instance, when the man on the street is asked about what religion is, he first mentions religious practices. Then, when asked about how many times prayer should be said in a day in Islam, he responds five times, but he thinks performing prayer only once in a day is enough for himself individually.”
The transformation of religious identity of the people is seen in the words of Akpınar, who gives as an example former EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış’s alleged comments shared on YouTube, “… every day, I share a verse from the Quran,” as an indicator of decreasing conservatism. Recalling Bağış’s appalling statements in an audio recording in March making fun of the Holy Quran, Akpınar said this shows the erosion of religious values in people’s minds. He sees this transformation as a degeneration in the people’s religious identity. On the other hand, when asked whether this is related to Turkey’s economic growth, he asserted that given the government’s increasing discourse of political Islam, that increase is eroding people’s argument that they are conservative.
Although there are different opinions on the reasons for the changing faces of conservatism, all agree on the issue that conservatism has decreased in Turkey. Additionally, the studies revealed that faith in God does not also mean an increase in practicing religion.