Religion News Service photo by Michael Kaplan
By Michael Kaplan
As Turkey’s political and economic influence rises across the Muslim world, the historically secular state could soon become a center for religious learning, too.
The country’s state-sanctioned religious body, the Religious Affairs Directorate, has announced plans to establish an international Islamic university in the country’s cultural capital, Istanbul.
Mehmet Gormez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, said the institution would rival the influential seats of Islamic learning in Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
“I have been working on the issue for three years and see that the curriculums of these universities do not help in providing solutions to problems faced by Muslims,” Gormez told the Hurriyet Daily News, an English-language paper in Turkey, as he announced the plans.
A number of other factors are at play. Political unrest continues to sweep Egypt and Syria, once hubs for Islamic learning, and more students are turned off by Saudi Arabia’s more literalist interpretation of Islam.
There are already a number of international studies programs, begun in 2006, that cater specifically to students of Turkish origin.
Suleyman Derin, a professor of Sufism at Turkey’s second-largest university, Marmara University, said the country’s Arabic programs are improving, too, as an increasing number of Syrian scholars driven out of their homes by war in Syria are now finding posts at Turkish universities.
Unlike many of the long-standing Islamic institutions, which emphasize the study of Islam’s legal thought, Turkey’s religious studies programs blend modern social sciences education with a broad study of classical Islamic texts.
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