With the active support and intervention of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, state-sponsored female preachers are establishing a new model of female religious authority in Turkish society based upon the elevation of well-trained and certified women to official positions of religious influence, whereby they are energetically engaged in (re)shaping the populace’s understanding and interpretations of Islam.
Nearly one-third of Turkey’s official preaching workforce are women. Their numbers have risen considerably over the past two decades, fueled by an unforeseen feminization of higher religious education as well as the Directorate of Religious Affairs’ attempts to redress its historical gender imbalances. Created in the early Turkish Republic, the Directorate is also historically embedded in (re)defining the appropriate domains and formations of religion, and the female preachers it now employs navigate people’s potent fears rooted in memories of this fraught past. In the various neighborhoods of Istanbul, these preachers attempt to overcome conservative Muslims’ cautious ambivalence toward the interpretative and disciplinary powers of a secular state as well as assertive secularists’ discomfort and suspicion over increasingly visible manifestations of religiosity. Thus, the activities of state-sponsored female preachers are inescapably intertwined with the contestation of religious domains and authority in the secular Republic of Turkey and demonstrate an intricate interplay between the politics of religion, gender, and secularism in contemporary Turkish society.
This article elucidates how increased religious educational opportunities for girls over the past few decades, sparked by Turkey’s transition from single-party rule to a multi-party political system, has fostered the development of state-sponsored female preachers (who are entrusted with giving mosque sermons and legal responsa) at the same time that contemporary Turkish politics and the vig- orously contested place of Islam, Islamic education, and practicing Muslims in an assertively secular system has impinged upon and redirected their lives in surprising ways. Analyzed through the comparative lens of successive generations of female students, the continuous contestation over the appropriate place of religion — and particularly its instruction and social visibility—amid secular state apparatuses has both opened and contracted professional opportunities for Turkey’s state-sponsored female preachers.
This article overturns widely held perceptions of Ibn Taymiyya’s views on the caliphate in contemporary scholarship through a close examination of his Fatawa, Minhaj al-Sunna, and al-Siyasa al-Shar‘iyya and reveals Ibn Taymiyya’s juristic attachment and engagement with the concept of the caliphate as a moral and legal necessity for the welfare of the Muslim community in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The article also reflects on how modern accommodationist and confrontationist Islamist groups have marshalled Ibn Taymiyya’s work in support of their widely divergent positions, sometimes well beyond the letter and spirit of his original contributions.