Islam+Modernity: A Class Blog

Hello, again, readers!

This is the class blog of Islam and Modernity. The course has now been offered twice, so here you’ll find posts from REL195A in Fall 2015 as well as REL196A in Spring 2018.  The posts represent the semester-long research projects of two excellent classes with pretty similar syllabi.

In both iterations, our course took, as its premise, that both “Islam” and “modernity” are not fixed categories with fixed definitions, but rather, terms in flux, defined operationally by a myriad actors (scholars, activists, imperial and colonial agents, journalists, practitioners, clergy, & etc.). Our goals included examining how “Islam” and “modernity” were defined in opposition to, alongside, and co-constitutively of each other in three historically and geographically rooted cases.

As part of a scaffolded research project, students were asked to develop a question and topic, bibliography, and final project in the context of one of these historical and geographic locations, using sources we’d read in class as well as those they’d found through individual research. Additionally, each student was to find an image that either drove their blog post or complimented it.

I hope you’ll read on! Posts address theoretical concepts like power, privilege, race, secularism, and identity as well as studies of literature, veiling, post-colonial nation-state boundaries, law, and fashion, among other topics. I’m pleased with our conversations, the research results students achieved, and their willingness to distill that research into blog-sized morsels.

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Veiling in Turkey not oppression but expression

Ozbilici, Burhan. “Women shout slogans to protest against a ban on the wearing Islamic head scarves in universities, in Ankara, Turkey.” Digital image. Http:// National Geographic, 12 Oct. 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.


When I first saw women wearing headscarves (known as hijab) or veils (known as a niqab) I had no idea it was a Muslim custom. It was only after I heard Westerners talk about Islam and the “oppression” of Muslim woman did I realize the significance of those articles of clothing. According to the western media and certain American feminists, veiled women are seen as a sign of oppression since they are forced to wear something that men do not have to wear. (Carpenter, 2001: pg 1) This is a biased view that goes as far back as the colonial days in which colonists and Orientalists saw Muslim women as “oppressed” subjects, which in simple terms means “ women cover themselves because they are either brainwashed or forced to do so.” (Sandikei and Gur, 2010:pg 18) (Anwar, and McKay 2004: pg 722). Westerners have also used term “backwards” to describe veiled women which is a cruel way of saying that these women are primitive or un-modern. (Sandikei and Gur, 2010:pg 18)

However, I strongly disagree with this assessment. If it were a sign of oppression why would Muslim women wear veils in countries that wouldn’t force them to wear it? In fact Muslims women in Turkey are encouraged not to wear headscarves, yet many women there, have protested against the headscarf ban in Turkey. (Smith, 2013:pg 1) Why would they do that if wearing headscarves made them feel oppressed? Could it be that to them (and other Muslim women) the headscarves aren’t symbols of oppression but are rather symbols of their freedom to religion and expression? That is what I intend to explore.

In order to determine why women wear headsrcaves or veils it is best to ask veil women themselves why they put on their headscarves or veils instead of relying on accounts of people who have no experience in wearing those articles of clothing . For how can someone understand what it means to wear a veil when they themselves don’t wear one? According to Shalina Litt, a popular Muslim presenter who lectures about human rights “it was her personal choice that she wears a hijab and that she feels liberated when she wears her headscarf. Since she felt that the hijab is an expression of her faith, and modesty.” (Smith, 2013:pg 1). Homa Hoodfar also asks Muslim women how they felt about the westerners’ views on the veil and they said that they were angry and frustrated by the west’s false assumptions about the veil. (Hoodfar, 1988:pg 5) In fact, the Quran itself doesn’t state that Muslim women are required to cover their heads, although it asks both men and women to “lower their gaze and guard their modesty,” (Anwar, and McKay 2004: pg 721). To me, this doesn’t sound like the Quran is forcing women to wear certain types of clothing but rather it simply states that men and women should be modest with each other, and perhaps certain people (this includes women) feel that in order to show modesty women need to dress differently then men in order to prevent men from looking at them with lust. In fact, Fadwa EI-Guindi argues, that some feminists in Egypt have adopted wearing concealing clothing like veils and headscarves partly as a symbolic or mental shield against being treated as sex objects. (Olson 1985: pg 163) Of course that is not to say that in some countries women aren’t being force to wear veils (like in Iran), however in countries where there is a choice on whether or not women can wear veils, (or when there is a veiling ban in place) many women have decided to wear veils despite having to face heavy criticism when they choose to cover their heads. (Yusuf,2015)

It is not just biased Western views that Muslim women are frustrated with. In Turkey, Muslim women protested against the headscarf ban created by the Turkish government. Previously, this Turkish law had restricted women from wearing religious-oriented attire such as hijab and niqabs in certain civil services, political and educational places (Smith, 2013:pg 1). The purpose of this was to create a secular state that was designed to keep religious symbolism out of civil services and politics. Not only that but it was also Turkey’s attempt to become more Westernized and modern (Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 18). Since the Turkish government began to view the veiling as a remnant of Turkey’s Islamic Ottoman past. Therefore the government started to encourage woman to remove their veils to show their dedication to secularism. (Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 18) I found this amusing because Western media has stated that Muslim men force woman to wear veils, yet here is evidence of the contrary.

However while unveiling did occur, women suddenly started to re-veil in the 1980’s. Despite the fact that wearing headscarves, particularly the tesettu ̈r,had become politically stigmatized (which means that the practice has become disgraceful due to going against the norm of society) (Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 17). In fact the amount of women wearing tesettu ̈rs increased as more Muslim women began to wear tesettu ̈r by their own violation despite the stigmatization caused by the secularist Turkey Government and the threat at being called “backwards” by the Westerners. (Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 19) I find it ironic that Westerns say women who wear headscarves are backwards or primitive because surveys have shown that a decent amount of women that wear headscarves are young, well-educated, and middle class women .(Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 20) Which to me sounds that these women are the opposite to “backwards” since when I think of some one who is “backwards” I think of some one who isn’t well educated. In fact it was shown that doctors, teachers, students, journalists and women that are part of the municipality owned enterprise (MOE) and/or the organization for women (OFW), wear headscarves, which to me indicates veiled women are far from backwards if they have well-respected or well-educated jobs. (Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 20) It is also ironic that veiled women are called oppressed because it may have been oppression and the desire to fight that oppression that spurred many Muslim women to re-veil themselves. For example a prominent activist in a religious women’s organization named Serap, said that she decided to wear a headscarf after she witnessed a teacher forcing another student to take her headscarf off.(Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 22) She then stated that the scene angered her and after reading many religious texts she made a choice, She was either going to give up being faithful or she would take her faith seriously and practice it properly.(Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 22) She was not the only one, in the 1980s many educational and theological publications with the common thread of emphasizing new interpretations of Islam and a vision of life shaped by the Islamic principles, began to proliferate.(Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 22) In response to agreeing with and being influenced by these ideas many Muslim women with Serap line of thinking decided that if a Muslim woman was to take her faith seriously, wearing a scarf and non-revealing clothes was a duty. It is likely this obligation and duty to their faith was what led Turkish women to protest against the headscarf ban. (Sandikci and Gur, 2010:pg 22) While some critics may say that the ban didn’t stop Turkish women from expressing their faith if they wanted to since they could still wear veils in certain areas, women like Dr.Koru said the restriction abridged their constitutional rights since according to the third article of the Constitution, freedom of religion and conscience is protected for everyone and therefore women have the right to express their religion, and if veils allow them to express their religion they should have the right to wear them. (Olson, 1985: pg 161)

Overall by reading these articles and interviews I felt that I agreed with the authors in that Westerners have greatly misinterpreted the meaning behind veils in Turkey. In Turkey veils are most likely not a sign of oppression nor are they a sign of ill intent. Veils and headscarves are instead a choice that women make out of their own free will, and even if they are influenced by their interpretations of religious texts, they aren’t being forced to make the decision to put on the veil or headscarf in Turkey.

Anwar, Ghazala, and Liz McKay. “Veiling.” Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Ed. Richard C. Martin. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 721-722.

Carpenter, Mackenzie. “Muslim Women Say Veil Is More about Expression than Oppression.” Post-Gazette News [Pittsburgh] 28 Oct. 2001.

Emelie A. Olson, “Muslim Identity and Secularism in Contemporary Turkey: “The Headscarf Dispute” Anthropological Quarterly. Vol. 58, No. 4, Self & Society in the Middle East (Oct., 1985), pp. 161-171

Hoodfar Homa, “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads: The Persistence of Colonial Images of Muslim Women” RFR/DRF Vol.22 No.3/4 1993 pp. 5-17

Özlem Sandikci and Güliz Ger, “Veiling in Style: How Does a Stigmatized Practice Become Fashionable?” Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 37, No. 1 (June 2010), pp. 15-36.

Smith, Roff. “Why Turkey Lifted Its Ban on the Islamic Headscarf.” Http:// National Geographic, 12 Oct. 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

Yusuf, Hanna. “My Hijab Has Nothing to Do with Oppression. It’s a Feminist Statement.” Dir. Hanna Yusuf, Maya Wolfe-Robinson, Leah Green, Caterina Monzani, and Bruno Rinvolucri. Http:// Theguardian, 24 June 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.


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Turkey: Can a Unique Democracy be Accepted?

According to Charles Kurzman secularism is a “concept in many Muslim communities, where it is associated with atheism and Western cultural imperialism” (Kurzman, 615). Kurzman summarizes the idea present amongst Muslims that secularism as a uniquely European ideology that has come about because of European dominance of the Middle East during the nineteenth century. Although I will not argue against the notion that secularism is a “Western” ideal, I will argue that Turkey, a country split between its strict secular Kemalist ideology and its Islamist identity, is negatively affected by the perception that Islam and liberal democracy are incompatible with each other.

First, it is important to note that Turkish secularism reflects French secularism, or laicite. This is different from Anglo- or American secularism. For a long period of time in Turkey, secularism was enforced very strictly to keep religion out of the public sphere, the government, and its institutions, very much like the French model. In the United States, secularism is meant to keep the government out of religion, a policy that Thomas Jefferson defined as the “separation of church and state.” While for years the Turkish government has followed the strict French model, recently with the dominance of the AKP in Turkey there has been a shift in policy toward making secularism less radical. In Ayla Göl’s article, “The Identity of Turkey: Muslim and Secular,” she addresses the question of the AKP’s policy shift head on:

Muslim identity is not merely religious, but is an historical political marker and part of collective identity. Meanwhile, the AKP’s policies demonstrated that the public visibility of Islam usually functioned through ambivalence, which allowed a crossover between Islam and modernity and between secular and religious practices and identities. (Göl, 808)

Muslim identity is an essential part of Turkish culture that needs to be addressed in the country. While many fear that the AKP is “Islamizing” and threating Kemalist ideals, it is extremely important to note that the suffocation of Islam in Turkey, has detrimental effects the majority of its people who associate themselves very closely with Islam. For example, for years Turkish women were barred from wearing headscarves in public places, including public universities. The AKP has in fact, through its model of democracy and secularism based on Western principles, made a democratic leap, which allows Turkish people to express their religion. Recently, we see how this leap has the Turkish government focusing more on protecting religion rather then discarding it, a model that our very own country, the United States, is based on.turkiye-eu

Prior to rise of Ataturk and his radical secularist Turkish reformation, the Ottoman Empire governed with Islamic Sharia law, which dominated its judicial system. As secularist ideals, science, and Western philosophy began to infiltrate the Empire, Muslim writers, like that of Musa Kazim began to write in defense of Islamic religion in reaction to these new ideals. While Kazim’s writings may be dated (1908), his message resonates in modern day Turkey, with the implication that Islam and its institutions can evolve over time. He states, “the literature shows that all of the ‘ulama’ in every era wrote books in accordance with the needs of the day…We must also reform the theological books in accordance with the needs of our era (Kazim, 180).” Like Kazim’s approach to Islam, Turkey has also slowly accustomed itself to changing over time, in that its policies are becoming more lenient toward Islam as an identity in the country, not as a threat. Kazim’s writings are important because they defend the Islamic culture that Turkey inherently has, which is something that needs to be resonated in present day Turkey, even if the West or the European Union uses this Islamphobia as a basis for not fully recognizing Turkey in the EU, highlighting the pro-Christian/Protestant ethic that infects the EU.

This fear is most clearly highlighted in Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, in which he argues that people’s cultural and religious identities will inherently be the biggest problem our world will face post-Cold War. In his analysis he has a pro-Western ideology:

…common experiences of European history-feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they (the West) are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east…The peoples to the east and south…are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. (Huntington, 30-31)

With this statement, Huntington puts Muslim countries under a category of being inherently undemocratic. Throughout his paper he continues to use this hypothesis by using Turkey as a case study stating that “the most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey” (Huntington, 40). By establishing that Turkey is a torn country, it gives to the assumption that Turkey cannot be fully democratic because of its Islamist majority, thus making it undemocratic (Dixon, 44). This view does much harm to Turkey and further negates big strides that the country has made in order to become a more democratic nation, such as its efforts to allow more religious freedoms that were previously strictly prohibited.

In conclusion, scholarly articles, like that of Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, and simple encyclopedic definitions that Charles Kuzman gives us, leave Turkey to be characterized as a Muslim country that cannot fully be democratic or “Western.” These Eurocentric views that infect our writings and our vocabulary negate the culture of other civilizations like that of Turkey. If Turkish secularism removes religion from the public-sphere it “creates an undemocratic and oppositional state-society relationship” (Somer, 585). There is nothing wrong in trying to replicate another country’s democratic system, but it’s extremely important to realize that one’s own culture, like that of religion in Turkey, gives the people of that country identity. As the West keeps pushing for uniformity, more problems will occur in Turkey unless they begin to recognize the differences that make them so unique and important to this global world, which we have seen in the past years.



  1. Musa Kazim “The Principles of Consultation and Liberty in Islam and Reform and Review of Religious Writings,” in Modernist Islam: a Sourcebook, ed. Charles Kurzman (New York: Oxford U P, 2002) 175-180.
  2. Ayla Göl “The Identity of Turkey: Muslim and Secular,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 4 (2009), pp. 795-810.
  3. Charles Kurzman, “Islamic Secularism” Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World.  Richard C. Martin. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 614-615.
  4. Kjell Nilsson-Maki. Turkey-EU. October 10, 2005.
  5. Murat Somer. “Is Turkish Secularism Antireligious, Reformist, Separationist, Integrationist, or Simply Undemocratic?” Journal of Church and State. Berna Turam. New York: Palgrave, 2013. 585-597.
  6. Samuel P. Huntington. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs72 (3). Council on Foreign Relations, 1993. 22–49.
  7. Jeffery Dixon. “Turkey Islam, and the EU”. Contexts8 (4). Sage Publications, Inc. 2009. 42–46.
  8. Monshipouri, Mahmood. “Secularization.”Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World.  Richard C. Martin. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 615-616.
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Indian Divorce Laws Adapting to Muslim Law

Muslims ruled in India before Britain stepped in and took down the Mughal Empire. Since then, the Muslims in India have had to deal drastic changes in power of the course of Indian history. First they lost their powerful ruling status to the British Empire during the revolution, then they had to live in the significantly regulated government of British India, and finally they now deal with living in the modern independent India. During these changes the laws of the area changed along with the Muslims’ status.  For example, laws on divorce during the Mughal Empire to contemporary India have changed significantly within the Indian government. During the Mogul Empire there was little to no overarching laws on divorce, however in the current government there are legally binding methods about to how couples can get a divorce. Muslim law has changed dramatically since the time of the British colonization as compared to contemporary times, especially in how divorce laws have changed and survived in the government and in Muslim law.

Divorce for Muslims before British rule was not under a unified ruling and could be easily gained. If a Muslim did not like the ruling of one court, he or she could easily go to another court to find a result that the couple and families preferred. “In pre-British  India there were innumerable, overlapping local jurisdictions and many groups enjoyed one or another degree of autonomy in administering law to themselves” (Galanter, 66). Each religious group in each region had different local courts that had similar but not the same system and did not have to rely on an overlapping set of laws. Divorce was achieved if the circumstances were acceptable in Shari’a law, with no overarching rule of divorce stopping a Muslim couple from gaining a divorce.

British colonization drastically transformed the system of government in India. However, this caused a lot of drawbacks experienced by Muslims. For example, he British believed that Muslims could not exist under the secular government that the British put in place to rule over the Indians. According to William Wilson Hunter, a Muslim must choose “whether he shall play the part of a devoted follower of Islam or of a peaceable subject of the Queen” (Hunter, 11). This was the perspective of many British people ruling over Muslims. During this time, Muslims’ ability to get a divorce changed from local authority to governmental courts that had very little to no interest in catering to traditional laws, since the courts were based on the British secular justice system. When the local tribunals made a decision they “sought compromise or face-saving solutions acceptable to all parties, the government’s courts dispensed clear-cut ‘all or none’ decisions” (Galanter, 70). This new system of government changed how Muslims were able to get divorces drastically.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were Muslim Indians that argued that Muslims could live and work in a secular government while maintaining their ability to be a Muslim and still get divorces in a legal method that works with Islam. Khan states that Muslims can live in a secular government while still being Muslim and gives the example that even “[Muhammad] himself ordered his staunchest followers to take refuge in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. To say, therefore, that zealous [Muslims] could not remain quietly in British territory, and that they felt themselves bound to repair to the frontier is as untrue as it is uncalled for” (Khan, 23). The laws around divorce are going to change, yet the Muslim laws can and still exist. The schools of jurisprudence are different ways that groups of people interpret the sources of Islamic law, and they are flexible to new environments. Chiragh ‘Ali explains that even though there are schools of jurisprudence, the founders and followers never claim to make their beliefs final and unchangeable for future generations (‘Ali, 279). The laws around divorce in these schools are not set in stone for future generations; these divorce laws are adaptable to this new government of British India.

Contemporary India has changed much since the late nineteenth century. Shari’a law has been integrated into the Indian government and this integration has helped solve legal problems that are heavily involved with Shari’a law while balancing the secular ideals of the government. The main problem in divorce laws during contemporary times as compared to the 1800’s is how much involvement from the government is there that is specifically catering to Muslim Laws and how much the court is altering Muslim Law because of its involvement. For example in debates in the 1970’s around whether a man is required to permanently pay for his ex-wife or just the three months was inflamed by the passing of the Criminal Procedure Code which required men to pay permanent alimony (Subramanian, 14). Contrary to the 1800’s, when the state often disregarded Muslim law and pushed for Muslims to stop practicing or minimally practice, in modern times, the government is passing laws that specifically influence Shari’a.

Although the government is becoming more heavily involved, it is trying to be general by passing uniform civil code for both Hindus and Muslims and it is becoming more prevalent that court cases are more contradictory when dealing with Hindus versus Muslims (Rudolph, 34). The government is trying to pass laws to support and allow the use of traditional laws in Hinduism and Islam on divorce, yet it is creating more conflict between the two religious groups within the government. In morerecent debates, women are calling for an end to the traditional law where if a man tells his wife three times he wants to divorce her, they become divorced. As seen by this image, many women have gathered to pray for this Muslim law to be banned by the government and pushing for governmental involvement in the Muslim laws on divorce (Fenton).


Shari’a law is not an immutable justice system, it adapts to new environments, as explained above, the laws have changed and adapted into the government of contemporary times as during the mid to late nineteenth century. India has a very diverse culture and keeping the laws as equal or general as possible to be compatible with most of the people views. To ensure this,  many traditions have to change or adapt in order to still exist within the system. The case of divorce in Muslim law is a prime example of the law changing so that it can function within the Indian governmental system.

Works Cited

Moulavi Chiragh Ali, “The Proposed Political, Legal, and Social Reforms,” in Modernist Islam, 1840-1940, ed. Charles Kurzman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 277-290.

Fenton, Siobhan. “Muslim Women Call for an End to ‘verbal Divorces’ in India.” The Independent. August 1, 2015. Accessed November 4, 2015.

Galanter, Marc. “The Displacement of Traditional Law in Modern India*.” Journal of Social Issues. April 14, 2010. Pp 65-91. Accessed October 14, 2015.

  1. W. Hunter,Indian Musalmans: Are they bound in conscience to rebel against the Queen? 2nded., (London: 1871 [1872]).

Syed Ahmed Khan, Review of Dr Hunter’s Indian Musalmans (London: 1872).

Rudolph, Susanne, and Lloyd Rudolph. “Living with Difference in India.” The Political Quarterly. December 22, 2002. Pp 20-38. Accessed October 14, 2015.

Subramanian, Narendra. “Legal Change and Gender Inequality: Changes in Muslim Family Law in India.” Law and Social Inquiry. August 22, 2008. Pp 631-672. Accessed October 14, 2015.

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To Veil or no to Veil—Iranian Women’s Interaction with Modernity

Iran, one of the most powerful Islamic countries in the world, is highly affected by Western domination. It influences people’s daily life, their culture’s customs, and people’s ways of thinking; Majeed describes it as modernization (2004). I lacked knowledge about Iran until I did the research for this post, and one thing that interested me as I was reading was the way in which Iranian women were interacting uniquely with modernity, in terms of Western ideologies. From the resources I have read, I strongly believe that internal connections people have with God are more important than blindly following the rules that Iranian people are struggling with.

First of all, we need to give a definition of modernity, and explain how Iranian females interacted with it at the start of the revolution. As John Wilson states, “It is much more helpful to use it in a pre-reified or no-reified way as a means of recognizing that cultural change and awareness of that change are pervasive in contemporary societies” (2005: p132). Modernity involves with culture changes, and people’s consciousness about this change is significant. When the Iranian revolution started, the lives of Iranian people were totally changed. Those changed laws especially affected Iranian women, who were always the social minority group in Iran, and had to start to wear hijabs in public, and along with many other rigid religious rules (Kamran Talattof 2011, 95).

In the movie Persepolis (2007), Marjane Satrapi showed audiences how Iranian women reacted negatively to that change. In the beginning of the movie, the fictionalized Marjane herself fights against wearing a hijab, and her grandmother speaks of the days when she was young and did not have to veil. This particular scenario was not only fictional, but she was also projecting the relationship Iranian women had with modernity by showing her personal experiences. However, some people might question the authenticity of the movie. When Marjane responded in the interview with Robert L. Root, she said she did not use the same names and exact things from real life in the movie. Still, we need to be highly aware of what she was trying to present to her audiences (2004).

Similarly and currently, another American-Iranian woman Masih Alinejad started the movement called “My Stealthy Freedom”, which was about making the individual choices about veiling. Masih was confused with her identity because of all the religious rules she needs to obey and along with the American cultures she experienced. Masih believed that she was a truly Muslim woman, so the decision on whether to veil or not to veil should be her personal choice, because to her, a personal, internal connection with God is more important than following rigid rules. Therefore, by posting pictures of herself unveiled, Masih started the trend of not veiling in Iran, especially (2014).

Some scenarios from Persepolis have direct relationships with this social movement as well. For instance, when Marjane first returned from Europe, she took off her hijab while she was driving. I think the reason why Marjane took this risk was not only because of her personality, but also because she had experienced Western customs when she studied abroad. She knew the feeling of freedom, and she wanted to bring this freedom back to her home country. I found this really interesting, because Iranian women have the desires of freedom, but due to the social construction in Iran, they have to obey those rules. However, from the examples of Marjane and Masih, it is not hard to see their internal connections with God are more important than passively following religious rules.

Additionally, we see proof of this from other interviews and articles about Islamic women, who are the minority groups in their communities, yet still bravely speak out for themselves. For example, the young woman whose picture is in blow, is one of the interviewees from Dubai, and has to veil based on the rule, but she fights back with a desire to make her own choice about veiling (Panetta, Claire, 2011).

87-image-hijab-teenager-mod-photoby-ranooshIt’s easy to tell that most Iranian women want to gain their social rights, as well as religious rights. Since the Iranian Revolution, the whole country has been indirectly shaped by Western domination; Iranian women showed their unique ways of handling modernity, as the group who fights against “traditional” religious rules, which are part of the side-effects of modernity. Marjane, Masih, and those Iranian immigration movement activists are the most powerful examples for us. To think of Iran in modernity, it doesn’t have to change completely, but find the right spot for themselves as contributing to modernity. And I really like the brave female Iranian leaders who have spoken out, and inspire others who find themselves in similar dilemmas, as they have also showed us their uniqueness!



“My Stealthy Freedom.” My Stealthy Freedom. May 3, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2015.

Javed Majeed, “Modernity,” Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Ed. Richard C. Martin. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 456-458. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

John F Wilson, “Modernity,” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 9. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 6108-6112. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Talattof, Kamran. ““Seduction, Sin, and Salvation”.” In Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran the Life and Legacy of a Popular Female Artist. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2011.

Panetta, Claire. “Documentary: (Un)veiled: Muslim Women Talk About Hijab.” Wnn Interviews Global. N.p., 07 July 2011. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.

Persepolis. Dir. Marjane Satrapi. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008. DVD.


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The Reorganization of Indian Modernity

The ideals of modernity through a highly Westernized lens forcefully permeated its way through Indian culture, social life, politics, and religion. I will be focusing on the alteration and/or complete loss of countless Islamic religious traditions, and the emergence of a new modernity, solely due to the imposition and forced infliction of an European hegemony. This occurred in multiple areas of an incompatible environment for both parties to maintain an equally beneficial relationship. British customs, values, institutional structures, laws, ideals and narratives forced their way into a society that had to compromise itself and struggle to retain a Muslim or national identity. Two drastically differing structures could not achieve a clean integration of the two.

Historian Ira Lapidus addresses Islamic revival and modernity in a post-colonial age, states that the emphasis on Islamic values during this period was reactionary to contemporary issues constituting modernity instead of an attempt to return to a past era. It was an embracement of basic principles without the historical details (Lapidus, 444). The act of expression against modernity is ironic in the sense that it is also an expression of modernity, and this was exactly that in response to changing political and economic spheres. In doing so, Indians and Muslims in other revivalist countries alike, were creating a new version of Islam that became more a product of modernization rather than a reaction against it. “Islamic revivalism represents not a return to the past, but a form of modernity” (Lapidus, 455). New social conditions prompted the reorganization of everyday lives and a new range of Islam, that better adapted to the current situation.

Blog 5bWe might take into consideration modernity as inclusionary, blending, cross-fertilizing rather than excluding. To observe the rise of modernity from a point of view decentralized from the West in order to generate new conceptualizations of modernity. The British created state sovereignty and spheres of social life that governed Indian society much like those that dominated European society at the time. They were implemented through the establishment of the East India Company via its performance of state functions and the familiarization of that territory to its foreign administrators until it became a colonial state (Kaviraj, 143). English education was introduced to create a class of Indians that could assist British rule and strengthen their political authority. Within a few decades of the introduction of a new civil structure, Indians produced an intellectual class that had acquired knowledge of a foreign language and a conceptualization of rationalism according to Western modernity (Kaviraj, 146). A secular state and democratic politics were administered through a single constitutional settlement. It is said to have emerged only due to the dominance of congress by modernist elites. The spread of the English language incorporated the education of Western rationality, democracy, and modern outlook.

The contemporary Islamic revivalist movement in the first half of the twentieth century was not only and Islamic reaction but a direct product of Western modernity as well. Muslim scholars of the time proposed that the Muslim world was suffering due to “stagnation and loss of social, political, and religious vitality” (Abu-Rabi, 13), referring to its increasing periphery in contrast to its prosperous and territorially far reaching past. The scholars believed they could revitalize their religion through adopting Western philosophies of modernity and rationality. To create a new Islam that was legitimate through a Western frame in order to make Islam globally viable again. We find traces of this through the apologetic writings of Islamic scholars.

Through processes of colonialism and its remnants, Muslim society’s collective history grows to solely include nationalized versions of hegemonic Islam that were altered, reduce, and codified. Colonial influence was far reaching in its alteration of social, and cultural spheres. My image depicts a cartoon in reaction to the efforts made to oust Hindi as the official national language of communication. It illustrates opposition, which is rather ironic, and an example of the parting gifts colonialism left behind. There is loss represented in the image, and in this case, it is language due to the implementation of English education by the hand of British rule that went on to become the language of the educated individuals in India.

English has surpassed native languages as a formal mode of communication due to its widespread establishment by administrative British powers, and therefore, future generations learned to normalize that way of life. Much like the example of language, the creation of a new form of religion that arises from modernity bears British influence due to the globally hegemonic ideals of modernity that stemmed from their authority. The interaction of a global hegemonic power with religion prompts its practitioners to adapt, legitimize and justify their “other” beliefs within a Western framework. Much like the aforementioned example, remnants of old colonial power hierarchies are still extremely evident within society today.


Lapidus, Ira N. “Islamic Revival and Modernity: The Contemporary Movements and the Historical Paradigms.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 40.4 (n.d.): 444-60. JSTOR. Web.

Kaviraj, Sudipta. “Modernity and Politics in India”. Daedalus 129.1 (2000): 137–162. Web.

Abu-Rabi, Ibrahim. “Facing Modernity: Ideological Origins of Islamic Revivalism”. Harvard International Review 19.2 (1997): 12–15. Web.

Hasan, Mushirul. “Muslim Intellectuals, Institutions, and the Post-colonial Predicament”. Economic and Political Weekly 30.47 (1995): 2995–3000. Web.

Rahman, Anisur. “Islamic Law and the Colonial Encounter: On the Discourse of ‘Muhammedan’ Law in British India.” SSRN Electronic Journal SSRN Journal (n.d.): 1-15. Web.

‘Ali, Chiragh. “The Proposed Political, Legal, and Social Reforms.” (n.d.): 277-90. Web.

Voll, John Obert. “Islam, Continuity and Change in the Modern World.” JSTOR. Syracuse University Press, n.d. Web.

Digital image. Geo Currents. N.p., n.d. Web.

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Replacing Silence with Voice in Iranian Literature

Replacing Silence with Voice in Iranian Literature: How postmodernism allows for expression in post-revolution Iran

In her piece regarding reform in modern Iran, Amy Motlagh discusses the stress many Iranian artists felt regarding censorship under the new regime following the Iranian Revolution of 1979.  She states that, “many Iranian intellectuals began to suspect that the fate of any modernist was premature death” (Motlaghs, 2012). The censorship that heavily resided over writers and intellectuals created a threat and in some cases an incentive to leave their homeland in search of creative freedom.  Many authors currently residing in Iran discuss the inevitable idea of self-censorship;  that one will both purposefully and subconsciously censor their own work in fear that it may not be published.  In an interview, author Simin Behbahāni discusses how “the nightmare of censorship has always cast a shadow over her thoughts.”  (Rahbaran, 2004) Furthermore, she states that most authors will attempt to work with and around censorship by resorting to metaphors and figurative and symbolic language.  With these different techniques and approaches to writing, the postmodern literary style begins  to emerge not only as a movement but also as a tool to work within censorships guidelines without jeopardizing creativity.

While both Modernism  and Postmodernism work to break away from realist literature, they differ greatly in their content.  Postmodernism is far more dynamic in structure and content, allowing for multiple story lines and styles to intersect and exist within one story.  With this style, there is the possibility to show one thing while ultimately expressing another.  Iranian Author and literary scholar Shahriar Mandanipour uses technique in his novel Censoring an Iranian Love Story .  Mandanipour studied Political Sciences at Tehran University, graduating in 1980.  In 2006, after completing his military service, he traveled to the U.S. as an International Writers Project Fellow at Brown University.  Three years later he published Censoring an Iranian Love Story with the help of Random House Publishing Company, one of his few works  published outside of Tehran.  The book itself was published in English completely over going the Iranian state in which it takes place, allowing it to exist in the global field immediately.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story is structured in a “rough-draft” style.  The plot line itself revolves around two young protagonists trying to maneuver romance in an intensely restrictive and separated state.  The plot itself works to discuss the societal restrictions Iran forces upon its people.  While the linear plot progresses as a love story, the prose  itself creates a different plot.  Littered with crossed out text and scribbled markings, the book tells a second story of an author struggling to create a book appropriate to be published under the strict censorship of Iran.  The first paragraph of the novel reads:

In the air of Tehran, the scent of spring blossoms, carbon monoxide, and the perfumes and poisons of the tales of One Thousand and One Nights sway on top of each other, they whisper together.  The city drifts in time. (Mandanipour 2009)

The author tries to lyrically express how all the different elements  of Iran work together intimately to create the air and soul that is the city of Tehran, but fearing that the sensuality  will stop his book from ever being read,  he pulls back and becomes more reserved.  Through these reservations and purposeful omissions, he is able to add another dimension to the linear plot.  By withholding anything provocative or controversial, he creates two characters bound in personalities  lacking lust and passion.  So, because the authors is limited in his expression and abilities, so are his characters, who then accurately portray the society in which they live.

While this novel looks to discuss and problematize the censorship of Iranian literature, it ultimately does nothing to work within it.  The book was written in English, being  translated into six other languages, none of which are Persian.  Furthermore, the book itself is banned by the Iranian government.  It took Mandanipour leaving Iran, publishing in another language, and working with an American publishing company to get his work onto the global stage.  With the knowledge and experience of a man who grew up in the ever-changing climate of Iran and the freedom of an author living in a western society, a piece of literature is allowed to emerge.  However, what also must be considered is the necessity of the form he chose to use.  Between the internet and cheap printing costs, the market for literature is easily saturated.  So, how does an author from a country that usually silences its subjects noticed?  It is necessary for authors to work away from the classic novel or memoir style in order to have a voice.  Only by bridging two worlds and two cultures, the Iranian author is able to create a piece of literature that not only tells a silenced story but is also heard.



Malek, Amy. Memoir as Iranian Exile Cultural Production: A Case Study of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series, Iranian Studies. Vol. 39. 2006.

Motlagh, Amy. Burying the Beloved: Marriage, Realism, and Reform in Modern Iran. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Rahbaran, Shiva. Iranian Writers Uncensored: Freedom, Democracy, and the World in Contemporary Iran. London: Dalkey Archive Press, 2004. Print.

Talattof, Kamran. The Politics of Writing in Iran: a History of Modern Persian Literature. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Book.

Mandanipour, S. (2009). Censoring an Iranian Love Story. New York: Random House Inc.


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Dear ‘the West’ – Stop Being Regina George, Sincerely Cady Heron

Kristen Smith
REL195: Islam and Modernity
Professor Morgenstein Fuerst

When we think of ‘the west’ and ‘the east’ it is tempting to imagine them as singular, homogenous entities in opposition to each other. But, we know that this is wrong on many accounts. Within ‘the west,’ there are numerous geographical, ethnic, racial, ideological, political, religious, and economic contradictions. This can also be said of ‘the east.’ If we can agree on this point, then let’s apply it to nation-states. We know that identity is not static, especially in terms of countries. So why do we try to pin nations as having one singular identity? Why do we assume that “the west does it best” and every country is dying to eat at our lunch table?

Is it possible that Turkey does not want to be considered western? Even though they are trying to get into the EU, perhaps this is less a popularity contest and more a power move. I was in fifth grade when Mean Girls was released, and I can’t help but draw parallels of Cady and Regina’s relationship to Turkey’s relationship with the west. Let me be clear – I am not comparing American teenage girls to nation-states and centuries of history. What I am equating are the effects of power, authority, and hierarchy on identity and perception, individually and collectively.

Let’s run with this Mean Girls analogy, shall we? Regina George is ‘the west’ who believes everyone wants to sit at her lunch table, dress like her, speak like her, and essentially be a replica of her. She regards herself as the top dog who can manipulate anyone to do what she wants. But this is her perception. Suppose Cady Heron is similar to Turkey. Cady is a new student who can hang with the “art freaks” while also blending in with “the plastics.” When Cady arrives at her new school, she couldn’t care less about Regina and the school’s social hierarchy. It isn’t until she is personally slighted by Regina that she strategizes with Janis and Damian on how to sabotage Regina. But their plan is not as easy as they originally hoped. In an attempt to take Regina George down, Cady spends more time with the plastics, adhering to their dress code, nuanced rhetoric, and deceitful behavior. In doing so, Cady loses the identity she imagined herself to have prior to meeting the plastics. She lies to her friends and family, intentionally fails her math tests, and loses the respect of her peers and teachers. In an attempt to beat Regina at her own game, Cady gets swept into conforming and suffers the detrimental effects.

Using the power dynamics, hierarchy, and exclusivity inherent in Mean Girls, a similar relationship can be explained between Turkey and ‘the west.’ I argue that it cannot be assumed that Ataturk wanted his nation-state to be western with the creation of the republic of Turkey. I use Devji’s argument in “Apologetic Modernity” as a basis to frame Turkey’s attempt to create their own identity as a secular democracy in a Muslim-majority country. While Devji argues that the Indian Muslims were successful in creating their own modernity, I argue that Turkey is failing in its attempt and losing the identity they originally sought. The two reasons I utilize are Turkey’s prohibition of religious dress in public spaces, and their censorship of the press and regularity of imprisoning journalists. Finally, I refer to Göl’s “The Identity of Turkey: Muslim and Secular,” to argue that Turkey can very well be a secular, modern, democratic, Islamic state, but they need to reevaluate current policies and how beneficial they are to their citizens.

I do not think that Kemal Mustafa, Ataturk, wanted Turkey to be considered part of the west. Rather, he wanted to establish a unique nation-state that was not fully western or eastern, but something of its own kind that was unlike any other. Ataturk used Islam as a means to “unify diverse ethno-linguistic groups” and fight a war defending their homeland against foreign European forces (Yavuz 2000, p.22). Turkey’s identity was established on religious and territorial grounds. The state used Islam as the commonality to fight off foreign armies in conquest of Turkey’s land. Once the Turkish people were united and they established a common identity, Ataturk viewed Islam as an obstacle to Turkey’s international power and reputation. Subsequently, Turkey was established as a secular nation. Their identity was still immensely rooted in Islam, but Ataturk believed that Islam would compete with the people’s loyalty to the new nation. Religion in Turkey “had not to be so much separated from the state as subsumed by the state” (Delaney 1995, p.188). Ataturk embraced Pan-Turkism and not Pan-Islamism in order to create and sustain Turkish nationalism. One example of disestablishing Islam was adopting European dress and banning the fez, implying that Ottoman dress was unsuitable for modernity (Olson 1995, p.164). Although law prohibited the fez, there are reports that during Ataturk’s rule the prohibition was not strictly enforced. “’It was said that one could encounter people wearing such clothes on streets quite frequently’” (Olson 1995, p.162). The degree to which the public adhered to Ataturk’s ideas oscillated depending on political and ideological factors. Men who did not follow the “Hat Law” were not immediately or commonly punished (Olson 1995, p.165). Since the “Hat Law” was not punitively enforced, perhaps this was nothing more than a check on a list to please Europe’s idea of modernity. We can use this historical example to frame a contemporary issue. It is egocentric of the west to think that Turkey wants to be western. Even if Turkey is fighting to get into the EU, perhaps this is a power move and not an act of flattery. No Regina, Janis Ian is not and never was obsessed with you.
Edwardian-Era-Cartoons-Punch-Magazine-1913-06-04-435Punch Cartoons. The Good Boy of the East. Digital image. Edwardian-Era-Cartoons-Punch-Magazine-1913. Punch, 2015. Web. 1 December 2015.

Turkey’s attempt at beating the west at their own game is not far off from Devji’s argument that Indian Muslims were able to successfully create their own version of modernity without the British even knowing. As the British underestimated the power in refusing to dialectically engage with Indian Muslims, in favor of the latter, so has the west misjudged Turkey’s self-knowledge of its geographical, religious, and cultural positioning (all data: Devji 2007). While the west may, in one sense, regard Turkey’s geographical, historical, and religious identity as a ‘backwards’ weakness in comparison to Europe’s centrality, it is actually a “luxury” that Turkey is well aware of.

However this is where Turkey is not successful like Devji argues of Muslim apologetic modernity. Instead of being a distinct not fully western or eastern nation-state, Turkey has become engrossed in trying to be an international superpower that has the democratic, secular ideals of European modernity, while also the religious and cultural ties to what they deem non-western. Consequently, the focus on their international image has led to a strong neglect of their citizens. This is not to say that identity is static and Turkey must return to Ataturk’s original ideas of what the republic should be. The identity of an individual, culture, or nation is fluid and not confined to a singularity or a categorization; but two key issues in contemporary Turkey imply that the current policies are more harmful than auspicious.

In 1982, Turkey prohibited the wearing of the veil in government offices and universities, both public and private. Since then, conflict has emerged discussing women’s freedom, the religious right to wear the veil, and gender equality. The European Court of Human Rights and the Turkish Constitutional Court both claim that the ban is “a necessary and reasonable response to the threat allegedly posed by fundamentalist Islam to Turkey’s secular democracy” (Vojdik 2010, p.662). Policing women’s bodies by eliminating their choice and agency in the decision to wear the veil or not is more detrimental than fruitful. The ban is interfering with women’s education and careers.

In the mid-1980s, female university students in Istanbul participated in protests, demonstrations, and hunger strikes in an effort to abolish the ban, arguing that it violated their right to religious freedom. Twice the Higher Education Council eliminated restrictions on wearing the veil in 1989 and 1991, only to later be annulled by the Turkish Constitutional Court. Challenges to this ban have continued, often preventing female students wearing the veil from taking their university exams and sometimes leading to their suspension (Vojdik 2010, p.669). Turkey’s attempts at creating their own secular, modern, and democratic identity are negatively impacting the rights and education of its citizens. It is positioning the constitution and supposed democracy over the rights and advancements of the people.

In addition to preventing female students from furthering their education by prohibiting religious dress, Turkey has a sticky past with free press. Turkey has decades of history of a close relationship between the media and the military. Even though the ownership of the media has changed, the plague of catering to the government and conflicted financial interests has persisted. Frequently journalists are targeted, fired, and imprisoned under the arbitrary anti-terrorism laws. According to Freedom House Delegation, other tactics used by the Turkish government are buying off or forcing out media moguls, wiretapping, and intimidation. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is known for attacking journalists by name after they write critical commentary (Corke et al. 2014, p.1, 2). He has made public speeches asking media owners to silence opposing columnists. Leading journalists have admitted that this has caused a strong self-censorship. In January 2011, there was a live soccer game shown on all Turkish channels. During the opening ceremony, the Prime Minister was forced to leave early after a succession of boos, jeers, and protests directed at him. The following day, if newspapers covered this event, it was not on the first page and was given a vague, neutral one-line sentence (Arsan 2013, p.449, 450).

The latest report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released in February 2015 placed Turkey 149th in the free press index out of 180 countries surveyed. Turkey climbed five places from the previous year as a result of releasing many arrested journalists, but this does not necessarily mean the state is improving its free press, censorship, or public freedom of information. Journalists are still targeted. In the 2015 index, Turkey placed higher than Russia, Iran, and China, but was behind countries such as Venezuela, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Algeria that also have widespread arrests and intimidation of journalists (Zeynalov 2015). Turkey may claim that it is democratic, secular, and modern, but it is its impairing citizens and imprisoning journalists, impeding free press and public freedom to information. Much of the opposition that the government prohibits is from the Kurdish press and population. In the 1990s, there were direct forms of violence, such as unknown killings of Kurdish journalists and the bombing of newspaper buildings (Arsan 2013, p.448). Today, many of the journalists and activists who are arrested are Kurds (Corke et al. 2014, p.3, 4). There is much to be improved in Turkey in terms of freedom and human rights.

It is egocentric of the west to think that Turkey currently or has ever wanted to be western. Similar to the power dynamics in Means Girls, as Cady did not want to be Regina George, Turkey never wanted to be western. Ataturk did not fight off foreign European armies to create a nation-state that was yearning to be western. While the fez was banned, the “Hat Law” was not enforced. Turkey’s attempts at joining the EU are not a form of obsequiousness. Perhaps Turkey is trying to beat the west at their own game, and in the fashion of Devji’s Indian Muslims successfully creating their own Islamic, apologetic modernity, Turkey wants to create their own secular, modern, democratic nation-state separate from the west. However this is where Turkey is failing. Similar to Cady losing herself in the plan to sabotage Regina, Turkey has implemented laws that are detrimental to its citizens, such as the prohibition of wearing religious dress in public spaces and the censorship and lack of free press. While Turkey may be failing, this is not to say that they cannot create their own nation-state that is democratic, modern, and secular. But they need to embrace their Islamic identity that united them against other European forces after World War I. They need to stop oppressing women by eliminating their agency in deciding whether or not to wear the veil, stop persecuting and neglecting the Kurdish population and reach a peaceful compromise, and provide the Turkish citizens with a full free press and public freedom to information. Göl contested Huntington’s claims that Turkey is a bridge between the west and east and a ‘torn country’ (Göl 2009, p. 796). She argues that Turkey is neither a bridge nor a torn country between western and Islamic civilizations. Turkey can be established as Islamic and secular, in addition to being democratic and modern, but it is necessary for the citizens and politicians to evaluate and adjust their laws so individuals’ rights and freedoms are not compromised.


Arsan, Esra. “Killing Me Softly with His Words: Censorship and Self-Censorship from the Perspective of Turkish Journalists.” Turkish Studies 14, no. 3 (2013): 447-462.

Corke, Susan, Andrew Finkel, David J. Kramer, Carla Anne Robbins, and Nate Schenkkan. “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey.” Freedom House      (2014): 1-20.

Delaney, Carol. “Father state, motherland, and the birth of modern Turkey.” Naturalizing power: Essays in feminist cultural analysis (1995): 177-99.

Devji, Faisal. “Apologetic modernity.” Modern intellectual history 4, no. 01 (2007): 61-76.

Göl, Ayla. “The identity of Turkey: Muslim and secular.” Third World Quarterly 30, no. 4
(2009): 795-811.

Olson, Emelie A. “Muslim Identity and Secularism in Contemporary Turkey:” The Headscarf Dispute”.” Anthropological Quarterly (1985): 161-171.

Punch Cartoons. The Good Boy of the East. Digital image. Edwardian-Era-Cartoons-Punch-Magazine-1913. Punch, 2015. Web. 1 December 2015.

Vojdik, Valorie K. “Politics of the headscarf in Turkey: masculinities, feminism, and the
construction of collective identities.” Harv. JL & Gender 33 (2010): 661-685.

Yavuz, M. Hakan. “Cleansing Islam from the public sphere.” Journal of International Affairs 54, no. 1 (2000): 21-42.

Zeynalov, Mahir. “RSF Ranks Turkey 149th in Latest Press Freedom Index.” TodaysZaman.February 12, 2015. Accessed December 1, 2015.

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The Failure of the AKP


A depiction of Turkish protestors.

The question of whether or not religion and democracy can coexist on a secular plane without infringing on the natural rights of the public has been a main source of contention for the modern world. The AK Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi-Justice and Development Party) of Turkey that came to power in 2002 seemed to offer a hopeful answer to this question. The party provided a religious alternative for the people of Turkey who felt the strict secularists ideals were no longer working. Yet, the AKP’s Islamic roots inspired fear and anxiety in those who favored strict secularism as they worried that AKP members secretly harbored an Islamic agenda. Regardless of those fears, the AKP operated successfully for a while in Turkey, boosting economy and expanding Turkey’s global influence. It was not Islam that caused the Party’s downfall, but corruption. Using the AKP as an example, it’s possible to answer in the affirmative – that religion and democracy can coexist – but the world has yet to produce a political system that incorporates both elements, has longevity and remains free of corruption.

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Turkey has existed as a secular democratic state with a strong Muslim majority. However, towards the end of the 20th century, many Turkish citizens grew increasingly dissatisfied with their country’s secularist rules. AKP Party member Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s defeat of the notoriously secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) ushered in a new political era. In his work, “Islamic Secularism,” Dr. Charles Kurzman demonstrates the difficulty of distinguishing a clear line between religion and secularization saying, “In the majority of Muslim societies, there is not a distinct separation between religion and other aspects of people’s lives. Islam is both din wa dunya (religion and the world)” (Kurzman 615). These secular limitations became increasingly problematic and contributed to the growing support of the AKP especially when Turkey started seeing an increase of an openly religious middle class as modernization and urbanization brought more traditional minded people into the cities (Rabasa and Larrabee 7). The growing discontent created as a result of these circumstances lended to the start of a new political era when Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the AKP beat the notoriously secularists Republican People’s Party (CHP).

However, the victory of the AKP sparked never-ending controversy over its intentions. Rather than campaign on behalf of its Islamic roots the AKP presented itself as a party concerned with economic stability and European Union membership (Rabasa and Larrabee 51). It represented what citizens wanted, which according to Dr. Ayla Gol was “reform and change, economic growth and political stability and the AKP was seen as the only party to deliver such expectations” (Gol 805). The party denied an Islamic agenda and instead emphasized its ability to exist as a democracy. Rabasa and Larrabee compared the AKP to the “Christian Democrats in Western Europe – in which religion is a cultural backdrop rather than an active part of the political agenda,” and they described Erdogan as leading “a movement of ‘Muslim Democrats’” (3). This portrayal of the earlier years of the AKP is quite accurate in demonstrating the party did not launch the Islamic crusade that many secularists feared and speculated, but lessened the strict secular burden on everyday religious life to quell growing public dissatisfaction with how the secular legacy was no longer meeting the political and cultural needs of Turkish citizens.

A major factor in understanding how religion and democracy can coexist in Turkey is through recognizing the power of the modernized West and the AKP fully comprehended the power play that was at hand. Although its original association as a democracy was to provide a voice for the people it also stemmed from a political tactic to keep not only the West happy but to ensure cooperation from fear mongering secularists. Rabasa and Larrabee describe the AKP’s use of democracy in relation to the global market as strategic move to ensure Turkey’s presence as a formidable player on the world stage.

“It realized the advantages of speaking the language of democracy-which enables the party to communicate with the West and to reassure those who suspect that it may secretly harbor an Islamist agenda. Erdogan has spoken about ‘marketing Turkey’ and has defended the idea of globalization. The West, in turn, has emerged as an ally of the AKP” (4).

However, the need to appease the West in order to achieve recognition on the modern, global scale became problematic over time. With the support of the people Erdogan adopted laws that were in favor “toward European Union norms” which resulted in economic success for sometime “as he pushed privatization and investors from abroad poured money into the country” (Hansen 1). Yet this began the start of the Erdogan’s power hungry and authoritative regime that would eventually lead to the party’s decline that will later be illustrated.

Regardless of controversy over whether the AKP has had Islamifying intentions from the start, one thing is for certain: the Party has failed to fulfill its promises to citizens. What once stood as symbol for hope and a source of fairer representation for the Turkish people now exists as a corrupt political party heading rapidly toward an era of authoritarianism. Although Erdogan’s political leadership hasn’t quite proven the original fears of the secularists he also hasn’t fulfilled his initial goals. While the public’s desire for economic growth was accomplished by the party during its first term, when the economy experienced an average annual GDP growth of 7.2 percent, by 2014, that economic growth had decreased to 2.9 percent (Gorvett 1). Dissatisfaction ensued sparking the 2013 Gezi Park protests that resulted in violence when police used tear gas and pepper spray on protestors and burned their tents. According to New York Times writer, Suzy Hansen, when Erdogan was later asked of his involvement in the police brutality of the protests he responded, “‘I brought the people responsible into my office and yelled at them. I made them cry'” (Hansen 1). Erdogan apathetic nature for the people of Turkey only continued to spiral as power and corruption clouded his leadership and he sought to punish those who went against him. Turkey, once a beacon of modernization, was now becoming unrecognizable as “thousands of activists have been detained, their schools or workplaces investigated, their homes raided. Informal emergency medical care, common during street protests, has been criminalized” (Hansen 1). The AKP then began imprisoning journalists for negative press and putting them on trial and as a result Turkey was landed itself as “154th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index in 2014” (Gorvett 1). In contrast to Gol’s description of the original intentions of the AKP in which “the reformists emphasized the idea of a new and clean (‘ak” literally means both white and clean in Turkish) leadership determined to eradicate corruption from the state system,” the current disposition of the AKP is much different and much more corrupt (Gol 803). What once existed as a source of Turkish empowerment now acts as a cry for change.

Yet the question still remains: can Turkey’s government be religious, secular, and democratic? The AKP once stood as a voice for Turkey’s people, but officials have silenced those who disagree with its political methodology. However, full blame should not be placed on the authoritarian direction of Erdogan as the West harnessed Turkish desire to operate on a global scale by using Turkey to bridge the cultural and political gap that is troublesome to begin with. The AKP no longer needed the approval of the people but the consent of the West and Erdogan’s power trip became the new goal as Hansen states, “The state remains a tool for accumulating disproportionate power, and when threatened, it sacrifices its citizens to save itself” (Hansen 1). Although the AKP is failing and bringing about new problems to discuss it self acted as a starting point for better representation and brought to light the tricky problems religion, democracy, and secularism can embody. In reviewing the history of the AKP one would realize that the real problems never lied within its association to Islam but the authoritarian leadership that was slowly snowballing under the constant distraction of the ongoing religion vs. democracy duel that was taking place. Religion and democracy can coexist in Turkey but no party has assumed the aptitude to see it through.

Works Cited

Anwar, Ghazala, and McKay, Liz. “Veiling.” Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Ed. Richard C. Martin. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 721-722.

Hansen, Suzy. “Whose Turkey Is It?” The New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, New York. 2014. Web.

Gol, Ayla. “The Identity of Turkey: Muslim and Secular”. Third World Quarterly. Penglais: Aberystwyth, 2009. Web.

Gorvett, Jonathan. “Turkey Reins in Its Rulers.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Vol. 34. 2015. Web.

Keyman, E. Fuat and Gumuscu, Sebnem. “Democracy, Identity and Foreign Policy in Turkey.” Palgrave Macmillan, New York. 2014. Web.

Kurzman, Charles. “Islamic Secularism.” Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World.Ed. Richard C. Martin. Vol 2. New York: Macmillan Reference, USA. 2004. Web.

Rabasa, Angel, Larrabee, F. Stephen. “The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey.” The Rand Corporation, Santa Monica CA. 2008. Web.

Base photo-AFP/Getty

Top image-Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

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Muslim Women’s Fight for Equality

The media-driven view of Islam in the Western world is full of stereotypes, false information, and misunderstandings of the religion and what its practitioners believe. One of the most prevalent views is that all Muslim women are oppressed, and the veil is often the symbol of this oppression. While it is true that in early literature on Islam, women’s voices were missing and underrepresented, they were not as invisible as is depicted. There have been major movements lead by Muslim women for women, and when compared to women’s struggles for rights in the United States, their struggle becomes more familiar and less foreign.


This cartoon demonstrates the critical and negative view Western media takes on Islam, specifically on Muslim women, yet how Western women have followed a similar path.

Looking first at writings on Islam historically, a great example is to look at India. Every source read in our class was written by a man with little to no mention of women in their works. Two of the loudest voices were W.W. Hunter and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, writing from a Western and Indian perspective respectively, on the debate of whether or not Islam can modernize with the West. A huge missing piece in their works was the place of Muslim women in the modernization of Islam. This is an important piece because around the same time they were writing, the first wave feminism was starting and becoming a huge deal in the Western world, the United States specifically. But Western women were not the only ones gaining voice.

During the time Hunter and Khan were writing, women were still living under purdah in India. Purdah is an Indian tradition that keeps women out of the public sphere and in the home allowing men to run the rest. Although it was a tradition all Indian women were held to, Muslim women were held to these laws as well as additional Muslim laws that made their lives stricter than other women’s. It limited their ability to go outside the home and speak to people outside their homes and family. In the early twentieth century women began organizing and fighting for more rights, and in the 1910’s Indian women won the ability to follow purdah only as much as their religion determines they should. While this was a success for many women, Muslim women still drew the short straw here since their rules were still the strictest (Saiyid, p 79). However they still moved forward, and in the same decade the first Muslim women was elected into the Indian Women’s Association. Previously non-Muslim women held all fourteen elected positions in this organization. As Muslim women gained more seats and more space, they were able to gain more of a voice in their community (Saiyid, p 88).

Looking ahead to the 1980’s, another wave of Muslim women in Turkey were gaining their voice and asking for the their rights and religious choice. This movement was different in comparison with the women earlier in the century in India. The Indian Muslim women were looking to leave behind some traditions, while the women in Turkey were asking for the right to more openly practice their religion. The debate about headscarves has not stopped since then. Women in Turkey in the 80’s were fighting to be able to wear their headscarf in public because the government banned the headscarf as it moved to be more secular (Sandikci and Ger p 21). The movement was organized and driven by women working for their own rights and the ability to choose how they wanted to express their religion. One of their arguments for wearing the scarf was that wearing it allowed them not to be viewed sexually by men, and this allowed them to have better friendships with men since there was a clear line. Some women said that it was harder to be friends with men without the veil because it was hard to know each other’s intentions (Sandikci and Ger p 23). Just like the India Muslim women who were trying to loosen the rules their religion put on them so they could more freely and comfortably move and work around their world, Muslim women in Turkey were trying to gain the rights to more religious practices in order to achieve the same personal and social comfort.

So what is it that makes these two movements so important? Looking at them from an American point of view, it is important to look at these movements in context with our own history. Both these movements happen at almost the same time as major waves of feminism here in the United States. While Indian Muslim women were fighting back the oppression of purdah in India, American women were working towards the right to vote here in the first wave of feminism. Women in Turkey were organizing and fighting for the right to wear the headscarf only a few years after the height of second wave feminism. It is important to remember the global context of these events. Women in the United States were fighting for their own rights at the same time as Muslim women were in other parts of the world.

In a similar struggle to that of American women, Muslim women have been working and fighting hard for their own rights and towards equal footing with men. Although their struggle is far from over, we can still see similar inequalities in the Western world in different contexts. This shows us how the oppression Muslim women are under and difficulties they face are not just from their religion, but from a global society at large that women around the world suffer from, and Islam is not to blame. Looking at these and other movements in a broader, more global context, reminds us that we are all fighting for the same equality.

Ayla Göl (2009) The Identity of Turkey: Muslim and secular, Third World Quarterly, 30:4, 795-811
COLIN BLAKEMORE and SHELIA JENNETT. “purdah.” The Oxford Companion to the Body. 2001. 3 Nov. 2015 .
Saiyid, Dushka. Muslim Women of the British Punjab: From Seclusion to Politics. New York: St Martin’s Press, Inc., 1998. Print.
Sandikci, Özlem and Ger, Güliz. “Veiling in Style: How Does a Stigmatized Practice Become Fashionable?” Oxford University Press: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 37, No.1 (June 2010), pp 15-36
Syed Ahmed Khan, Review of Dr Hunter’s Indian Musalmans (London: 1872). Available in full:
W. W. Hunter, Indian Musalmans: Are they bound in conscience to rebel against the Queen? 2nd ed., (London: 1871 [1872]). Available in full:

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