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Turkish-Islamic Synthesis

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World

Gökhan Çetinsaya

Turkish-Islamic Synthesis. 

The term “Turkish-Islamic Synthesis” refers to an influential intellectual doctrine and movement in modern Turkish political thought and life.

The idea of Turkish-Islamic Synthesis has deep roots in the history of Turkish nationalism. After an interval of unpopularity in the Kemalist period (1925–1945), the concept was revitalized after World War II and during the Democrat Party period (1950–1960) by a group of conservative intellectuals from nationalist and Islamist backgrounds. Their goal was to revise the “official (Kemalist) ideology” that tried to separate Islam and Turkish nationalism.

In the 1960s, there emerged separate nationalist and Islamist groups and parties in Turkey, and the relationship between Turkishness and Islam became the most hotly debated issue in Turkish political thought. In the face of growing socialist ideas and movements in Turkish society in the 1960s, a group of academics, journalists, and men of letters, mainly from conservative-nationalist circles, tried to put an end to these discussions by redefining Turkish nationalism in a series of gatherings and publications. The leaders of the group envisaged a synthesis of Islam and Turkishness and believed that Islam was and should remain an integral part of Turkish nationalism, as reflected in the formula “We are as Turkish as Mount Tanrı and as Muslim as Mount Hira.” Academics such as Osman Turan and İbrahim Kafesoğlu helped this transformation by defining Turkish nationalism and formulating a synthesis of Islam and Turkishness (see Osman Turan, Türk Cihan Hakimiyeti Mefkuresi Tarihi [1969]; İbrahim Kafesoğlu, Türk-İslam Sentezi [1985]).

With the establishment of Aydınlar Ocağı (the Intellectuals’ Hearth) in 1970 by the same group of intellectuals (including Professors İbrahim Kafesoğlu, Süleyman Yalçіn, Salih Tuğ, and Ayhan Songar), the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis began to acquire a political dimension, and its members attempted to integrate Turkish Islamists and nationalists not only in ideas, but in politics. The group's main fear was the growing influence of socialism in Turkey, and its chief aim was to achieve political unity among rightists, creating a “national front” against leftists in general. Although the group's influence grew rapidly in the 1970s, its real political influence—as a powerful interest group—came after the country's military coup in September 1980. The Turkish-Islamic Synthesis was institutionalized by the state elites as a “cure” to Turkey's social and cultural problems in the early 1980s.

In its manifesto, National Consensus (Millî Mutabakatlar), the Intellectuals’ Hearth clearly defined nationalism as “National Culturalism” (Millî Kültürcülük) and described Islam as one of the two main elements of Turkish national culture, the other being the Turkish language. From the document: “Turkish culture is a triple synthesis of Turk-Islam-West. The first pillar of this trivet is Turkishness, the second is Islam and the third is the West. In this national culture, there are Turkishness of 2500 years, Islam of 1000 years, and Western values of 150–200 years. Turkish-Islamic Synthesis is the permanent essence; the West is the changing part of this culture.” With this framework in mind, the group declared its deter- mination to “continue to march for the sake of Turkish-Islamic ideal.” Regarding religion, the group followed the line put forward by Ziya Gökalp. They were cultural nationalists; religion for them was indispensable; Islam was the essence of the national culture. To wit: “Turkishness and Islam is a marvelous synthesis which had deep roots in history. Turkishness and Islam cannot be splitted [sic] from each other; cannot be thought separately; and cannot be listed in order of priority.” However, the group was against any “exploitation of religion” and against Islamic internationalism or political Islam: “Turkey will remain religious but will never be theocracy.”

Although Turkish-Islamic Synthesis as an intellectual and political movement dominated Turkish politics in the first half of the 1980s, there has been little mention of it or the Intellectuals’ Hearth since that time. Whether the group completed its mission or simply underwent a transformation in the new political, social, and cultural environment of Turkey remains a crucial question yet to be answered.

The idea of Turkish-Islamic Synthesis is also related to a discussion inside the MHP (Nationalist Action Party), the main nationalist party in Turkey. In the late 1960s, a trend toward Turkish-Islamic Synthesis appeared inside the MHP, and the group adopted a new slogan: “The aim is Turan, the guide is Islam.” It was argued that religion and nationalism are not opposite values; that Turkish nationalism meant a “Turkish-Islamic Ideal.” The formula used by this group was “Turkishness is our body, Islam is our soul,” and they argued that “religion and our nationality had been blended like ‘body and soul,’ at least for the last thousand years.”

Islam continued to be a key question in nationalist circles and parties throughout Turkey, and in 1992, a group called “Türk-İslam Ülkücüs (Idealists)” emerged among the ranks of the MÇP (the Nationalist Labor Party, the successor of MHP) and formed its own party, BBP (the Great Unity Party). The role of Islam in Turkish national identity remains under discussion.


Çetinsaya, Gökhan. “Rethinking Nationalism and Islam: Some Preliminary Notes on the Roots of ‘Turkish-Islamic Synthesis’ in Modern Turkish Political Thought.Muslim World89, no. 3–4 (1999): 350–376.Find this resource:

    Toprak, Binnaz. “Religion as State Ideology in a Secular Setting: The Turkish-Islamic Synthesis.” In Aspects of Religion in Secular Turkey, edited by Malcolm Wagstaff, pp. 10–15. Durham, 1990.Find this resource:

      Gökhan Çetinsaya