African Muslim Leaders and Turkey’s Diyanat
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Turkish-African relations began with the formation of the Ottoman Empire.
Early relations were confined to parts of modern-day Tunisia, Libya and
Egypt, which the empire ruled for centuries. Later on, the empire spread to
other parts of Africa, as shown by such emerging scholars as Hatice Ugur,
who wrote Osmanli Afrikasi’nda Bir Sultanlik Zengibar (Istanbul: 2005),
and the scholarly works of Eric Germaine and others. Their research has
been bolstered by the variety of extant documents that still need to be studied and explored (cf. A. Kavas, ed. Solidarity of Ottoman-African Muslims:
Under the Light of the Documents [Istanbul: 2006]). However, emerging
African scholars interested in these manuscripts will have to be trained in
and come to grips with Ottoman Turkish before making any headway.
Renewed efforts are now undeway to forge links with Africa’s Muslim
communities and representatives. The Research Center for Islamic History,
Art, and Culture (IRCICA), an international institution that falls under the
auspices of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), has created the
necessary opportunities to cement and strengthen links with African Muslim
communities via specific structures, such as the Islamic University of Uganda
and the University of Johannesburg. In the wake of these significant efforts,
the Presidency of Religious Affairs (more popularly known in Turkey as the
Diyanat [hereinafter Presidency]) has also shown its desire to pursue external
relations with religious communities outside Turkey. Over the past few
years, the Presidency has played a significant role in “religious affairs” both
in and beyond Turkey in order to pursue its religious portfolio and religious
agenda. Although the predominantly Muslim societies of the Muslim heartlands
view Turkey, in general, as the most secular Muslim society, a strand of
religiosity has been observed in its various social levels and sectors.
Therefore, Turkish society cannot be said to be exclusively secular ...