One of the successor states created from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Turkey became the first secular state in the Muslim world. Kamal abolished the Sultanate in November 1922, and Turkey became a Republic in 1923 with Kamal as its president, and Abdul Majid as the caliph of the Muslims. The abandonment of the shariah and the adoption of a secular legal system based on Western codes of law, as well as the declaration of a secular republic in 1928, were radical departures from tradition.
By the 13th century, when the Ottoman state was created, Islam was well established under the influence of such sufi orders like Naqshabandiyah, Mawlawiyah and Bektashiyah (the heterodox Bektashiyah order was particularly influential because of its intimate connection with the Jannisary corps, the heart of the Ottoman army.). The balance between the official Islam of the ulama and the popular, folk Islam of the Sufis began to turn in favour of the ulama in the 18th century.
The orders, as well as the ulama, had been able to maintain a certain autonomy vis-à-vis the state due to the revenues of religious foundation or awqaf. But the sultans began to restore their authority over these foundations, and finally Mahmud II brought them under the control of the newly created Inspectorate of Evkaf. He incorporated the ulama in his state by creating an office of Shaikhul Islam, which was transformed into a civil servant with consultative function. Later Shaikhul Islam became a member of the cabinet appointed by the sultan. The process of rationalizing and secularizing continued, accelerated with the Tanzimat reforms, until the founding of the state in 1923.
Meanwhile, however, the Ottoman regime stressed the Islamic character of the state and society as a response to the growing nationalism of its Christian subjects and increasing imperialist encroachments on Muslim lands in Asia and Africa. Mustafa Kemal was quite emphatic about this, noting that the nation whose preservation and defense we have undertaken is composed not only of one ethnic element.
After dissolving the sultanate in 1922, the Kemalist wanted to make the caliph as a symbol figurehead, but the ambitions of Caliph Abdul Majid supported by Kemal’s opponents, forced the government to abolish the caliphate in March 1924. All educational institutions were placed under the Ministry of Public Instruction and all cases related to dogma and ritual of Islamic faith were placed under the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
The Kurdish rebellion of February 1925 led by the Naqshabandi Shaikh Sa’id caused the Kemalist to launch a program of reforms that effectively removed Islam from political life and secularized society. The dervish orders and sacred tombs were closed down in 1925. The practices such as fortunetelling, magic, cures by breathing performed by Shaikhs, Babas, Sayids, Murshids ect became illegal. Purdah and polygamy were abolished. The wearing of the Fez was outlawed and men were required to wear hats. The Gregorian calendar was adopted along with the twenty-four-hour clock. The Swiss civil code replaced the shariah, depriving the ulama of their traditional source of influence. Later in 1928, the Assembly voted to remove the words “the religion of the Turkish state is Islam” from Article 2 of the constitution, completing the process of disestablishing Islam.
The Kemalist held that the purpose of these radical reforms was not anti-Islamic but political; to remove the jurisdiction of religious leaders to the hands of the Directorate of Religious Affairs. Kemalist daily, “Hakimiyet-I Milliye”, had written “we can sincerely claim that our revolution has more of religious than an irreligious character…. To think that a nation can live without any religion is nothing less than denying humanity, sociology and history”. The fact is that Islam became an instrument of government policy, but was presented as a rational and scientific religion.
Out of Kemalist expectation, the Menemen Incident of December 1930, in which Darvish Mehmed, a Naqshabandi devotee, called on the people to destroy the regime, proved that the people had failed to understand the reforms. The ideology known as Kemalism was launched in 1931 and written into constitution in 1937. Its core was the six, Fundamental and unchanging principle of of Replubicanism, Nationalism, Populism, Statism, Secularism, and Revolutionarism. Islam was nationalized in January 1932, with the Quran being read in Turkish, followed by the Turkish Azan.