Diyanet, the Presidency of Religious Affairs

Diyanet (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) is a government department set up to administer religious institutions and authority within the secular Turkish Republic.

Diyanet was established in 1924 by the Turkish Constitution as an explicit successor to the Ottoman-era religious hierarchy under the caliphate (abolished on the same day that Diyanet was founded, 3 March 1924) and the office of Shaykh al-Islam (seyhul Islam).

Though somewhat limited in the first few decades of operation, since the 1980s the bureaucracy of Diyanet has grown to considerable size and scope. Its current staff numbers around 100,000 employees with a budget of some 5 billion lira (approximately £1.4 billion) and the overwhelming majority (but not the entirety) of Islamic institutions and activity in Turkey falls under its purview. It is responsible for appointing imams and muezzins, who are its salaried employees, as well as the oversight of mosques.

While ritual matters make up the bulk of Diyanet’s activities, it has other institutional responsibilities regarding religious guidance and support outside of mosques. It offers training and licensing for ulama, including a nationwide infrastructure for muftis, who are available to answer religious questions by phone and online. It also operates outreach programmes for women and to prisons and hospitals, as well as various charitable endeavours. Similarly, it manages religious endowments (evkaf) within the country.

As a major part of the government, Diyanet works very closely with other sections of the Turkish state, a fact most clearly evinced in Diyanet’s branch offices outside Turkey, which operate through Turkish embassies and consulates. Its close relationship to the state has led to some mistrust and scepticism among more religious Turks, who doubt its independence. Nevertheless, Diyanet officials claim autonomy in religious matters, free from undue government influence.

Diyanet explicitly promotes itself, both at home and abroad, as modeling a moderate, secularised form of Islam well-suited to modern circumstances, thereby acting as an alternative to Saudi or Iranian orientations.