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.