The Turkish government’s meddling with secular lifestyles has gone as far as to ban alcohol sales during a 17-day lockdown against the COVID-19 pandemic until May 17, stoking fears that Turkey’s secular legal framework is being increasingly undermined. This comes against the backdrop of an unprecedented expansion of religious infrastructure and religious education that mirrors President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vows to raise “pious generations” bound by the moral tenets of Islam. Various public institutions have been used to advance the drive, but standing out among them is the Religious Affairs Directorate, which has been consistently reinforced, both in terms of personnel and financial means.

The directorate, known as the Diyanet, has acquired extensive influence and power unseen since its establishment in 1924, less than a year after the modern, secular Turkish republic was born on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. With a budget allocation of some 13 billion Turkish liras ($1.6 billion) this year, the Diyanet ranks 13th among 40 public entities funded from the central government budget. In the first quarter of 2021, its spending outstripped that of major ministries such as the Foreign, Tourism, Industry, Trade and Environment ministries, official data show.

The Diyanet’s personnel has constantly grown as well, reaching 128,000 people in 2020. The agency runs some 90,000 mosques and about 20,000 Koranic courses across Turkey and organizes pilgrimage trips to Mecca for about 125,000 Turkish citizens per year.

Written by Mustafa Sönmez