Tarikats are religious orders established to “search for divine truth.” They have been part of Turkish cultural and social life for centuries. The groups discussed here are Sunni. Turkey’s Shi‘a do have their own religious orders, but as a result of the persecution they suffered during Ottoman rule and later at the hands of rightwing forces in the 1970s, they support secular principles and are generally non-political.

The basic organizational unit of all tarikats is the tekke or dergah, a small group of believers united around the teachings of a şeyh or halife. These groups multiply as new teachers depart to form their own dergah. In the modern period, tarikats also have expanded their membership through the economic power of foundations (vakif), student hostels, study groups, and Quranic schools. These foundations provide a channel for foreign, especially Saudi, financial support.

The tarikats form the basic constituency demanding a reversal of Turkey’s secular order, but they do not present a politically united front. Most tarikats support one or another political party, while others avoid politics all together. Turkey’s only Islamist party, the Welfare Party, commands approximately 7.5 percent of the vote; it represents a growing portion of this constituency but by no means all of it.

A new generation of Islamist groups oppose the tarikats and denounce their mysticism. Those who advocate an Iranian-style revolution are marginal within this wing of Turkey’s political spectrum. In this camp are the so-called Young Radicals and the followers of Cemalettin Kaplan, a former government religious official now proselytizing in West Germany. Externally-based groups such as the Hizb Allah and the Muslim Brothers also remain marginal. A small but influential group called the “Intellectuals” refuses to be drawn into politics and concentrates on Islamic culture.

The Nakşibendi, the largest tarikat, dates back to the 14th century. Prime Minister Turgut Özal’s brother Korkut holds an important position within the order. The Nakşibendi have supported Özal’s Motherland Party and former Prime Minister Demirel’s True Path Party but the Welfare Party appears to have garnered the bulk of Nakşibendi political support today, with a small share going to the neo-fascist Nationalist Labor Party. Among their publications are the women’s monthly Mektup (The Letter, circulation 30,000), the monthly Altinoluk (circulation 25,000), the family monthly Aile ve Kadin (Family and Woman, circulation 60,000) and the scientific journal Ilim ve Insan (Science and Man, circulation 5,000). Turkey’s largest religious monthly, Islam (circulation 100,000), is close to the Nakşibendi, as is the small independent theological journal Insan ve Kainat (Man and Universe). Divided into some 14 branches, the Nakşibendi are less effective than smaller but more united orders.

Even older than the Nakşibendi, the smaller Kadiri enjoy a fair measure of political influence because of their united stand. Organized mainly in the Marmara and Black sea regions, they support the Welfare Party. Their publications include the journals Öğüt (Counsel, circulation 30,000) and Icmal (Synopsis, circulation 70,000).

The other major tarikats date from the Republican era. Among the most controversial is the Süleymanci order. Their extensive involvement in party politics and controversial views (such as equating state taxes with the Islamic zekat) put them in constant friction with other groups. Their ongoing struggle with the Directorate of Religious Affairs is a staple of the daily press. Consistent with their policy of supporting the strongest conservative political grouping, many of their adherents have joined the Motherland Party and some represent the party in parliament. The Süleymancis control a large number of youth hostels catering mainly to students from rural backgrounds.

The Nurcular order adheres to the principles contained in the 130-volume Risale-i Nur authored by Saidi Nursi. The Nurcu are more numerous than the Süleymancis but are divided into competing branches. The largest is the Yeni Asya (New Asia, a defunct daily) faction. Currently backing the True Path Party, it is one of the few Islamist groups which supports and defends the multiparty system.

A faction advocating more radical politics is the Fethullahci, which receives much support from business circles and is active in youth activities. This group has been unsuccessfully trying to infiltrate military academies. It currently supports the Motherland Party and publishes the journal Sizinti (Infiltration, circulation 80,000). Smaller Nurcu groups are also active. Other publications are Zafer (Victory, circulation 10,000), the literary journal Köprü (Bridge, circulation 5000), the monthly Sur (Ramparts, circulation 20,000), and the children’s journal Can Kardeş.

The Isikcilar, a small offshoot of the Nakşibendi, advocate unquestioning submission to the existing political order and support the Motherland Party. They are influential within Turkey’s largest Islamic daily, Türkiye.



Gencay Saylan, Islamiyet ve Siyaset (Istanbul, 1987); Rusen Cakir, “Tarikatlar, Liderler, Partiler,” Nokta, March 1,1987; “Tarikatlar Ozal’a Kustu,” Nokta, November 1, 1987; Rusen Cakir, “Demirei’in Kozu: Nurcular,” Nokta, May 3,1987.

How to cite this article:

Erkan Akin, Ömer Karasapan "Turkey’s Tarikats," Middle East Report 153 (July/August 1988).

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