Skip to main content

Turkey's official Islamic body extends influence abroad

Turkey’s giant Directorate of Religious Affairs, which runs the country’s 85,000 mosques and employs 122,000 people, has assumed an increasingly active role in the government’s foreign policy.
Grand Mufti of Turkey Mehmet Gormez shakes hands with a onlooker after an inauguration ceremony in front of the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Sarajevo, November 15, 2012. Newly elected Husein Kavazovic is the 14th Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will be on duty over the next seven years. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION) - RTR3AFY0

Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs is known for its massive budget and huge network of mosques, muftis and imams, through which it controls religious affairs in the most remote villages. Enjoying generous privileges from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the institution — which is affiliated with the Prime Ministry and provides religious services according to Sunni Islam — has become a major instrument in shaping the “devout generations” imagined by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But not only that. In another function that has drawn little attention, the directorate has emerged as an efficient government tool in advancing Ankara’s foreign policy agenda.

For years, the Directorate of Religious Affairs has carried Ankara’s messages to Muslim believers across the country through the standardized sermons it supplies to the imams of Turkey’s 85,000 mosques, who preach almost exclusively the Sunni Hanafi faith and make up the majority of the directorate’s 122,000-strong personnel. In recent years, however, the directorate has evolved into a body that takes Ankara’s message even farther, beyond the country’s borders.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.