The Turkish government's Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, a multi-billion dollar organization with nearly 150,000 personnel overseeing approximately 90,000 mosques in Turkey and abroad, has aligned itself with Hamas amid the conflict in Gaza.
After multiple public and private meetings with Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Hamas clerics since October 7, when Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade fighters launched a surprise attack on Israeli targets, the Diyanet appears to have adopted a policy that reflects an anti-Israel religious edict (fatwa) issued by top MB clerics and their Palestinian affiliates.
The resolution adopted at the end of the 43rd Consultative Meeting of Provincial Muftis (İl Müftüleri İstişare Toplantısı) on November 16 was the culmination of efforts spearheaded by the Diyanet. Essentially echoing the talking points of the Muslim Brotherhood network, it emphasized that the Diyanet had mobilized all its resources and personnel to aid Palestinians. The resolution further called for a halt to all direct or indirect assistance to Israel.
The resolution asserted, "Gaza, Jerusalem and Palestine are matters of faith and dignity for Muslims," highlighting that "remaining indifferent to the atrocities and genocide committed by Zionists in Gaza, providing direct or indirect support to the oppressors, is a significant moral burden and an unforgivable crime against humanity."
During a speech delivered at the meeting, Diyanet President Ali Erbaş, appointed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issued a religious edict stating that it was forbidden for Muslims to support any country that stands by Israel. "Remaining indifferent to oppression and injustice, staying silent in the face of tyrants and traitors, is directly or indirectly supporting oppressors, occupiers, terrorists and killers. Supporting those who support them is also forbidden."
The Diyanet, initially established by the Turkish state to counteract radicalism, has undergone a fundamental transformation during Erdogan's 22-year rule, evolving into a significant instrument for propagating political Islam, reminiscent of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, both within Turkey and internationally. Since 2016 the Erdogan government has summarily and arbitrarily purged approximately 3,000 personnel from the Diyanet, replacing them with individuals who embrace Erdogan's political Islamist ideology.
Furthermore, Turkish imams assigned to serve abroad in Diyanet-run mosques have reportedly been instructed to spy on critics of the Erdogan government and collaborate with Turkish intelligence agency MIT. This has essentially turned the Diyanet into an instrument of oppression under the authoritarian rule of President Erdogan, providing religious justification for government wrongdoings and human rights violations in Turkey.
As a result, whatever political objective the Erdogan government sets out to accomplish, the Diyanet is one of the assets empowered by Turkey to help achieve that objective. The Diyanet's alignment with Hamas and support for Palestinian militants in their attacks on Israeli civilians and military targets is no exception to the policy pursued by the Erdogan government.
In the November 16 meeting, the top government imam also revealed that the religious directorate had made a decision to boycott companies supporting Israel and called on the Turkish people to participate in this boycott. "Our decision has received a very serious response, but this should continue uninterrupted. I address all our people through you, and to all our brothers and sisters whom our voice reaches: This boycott should continue without interruption," he said.
"The millions pouring into the streets for Gaza and Palestine are essentially humanity's intifada against the savage Zionism nourished by blood. We must keep this intifada alive, expand it and strengthen it on every platform."
On November 1 the Diyanet held a meeting with 54 nongovernmental organizations to discuss a boycott against Israel. Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, one of President Erdogan's sons, was the keynote speaker at the event.
On November 8 Erbaş organized a consultation meeting on Palestine with the participation of unions that represent imams and other Diyanet employees. He urged union leaders to join forces with Diyanet leadership in promoting the boycott of companies owned by Jews and those supporting Israel by selling goods worldwide.
As of September 2023 Turkey's Diyanet boasted a powerful and extensive network, overseeing 89,327 mosques in Turkey, hundreds abroad and employing 141,149 personnel, primarily imams. By the end of 2022, it had a budget of 23.3 billion Turkish lira, allocated from the government's central budget at the expense of taxpayers. With assets valued at 1 billion Turkish lira, half of which comprises its real estate holdings, the Diyanet has a significant financial portfolio. The budget for next year is TL 91.8 billion, reflecting a substantial 151 percent increase from the current year's budget of TL 36.4 billion.
Using this mammoth organization, the Erdogan government propagates its political narrative, amplifies its messages and mobilizes the Turkish people to support the government's goals.
In the four Friday sermons following the Hamas attack in October, the Diyanet prepared a special text to be read aloud in mosques for millions of attendees, condemning Israel and expressing support for Hamas. Additionally, it launched an aid campaign, urging congregations to donate cash for Palestine. On November 5 the Diyanet held a midnight campaign in mosques across Turkey, with Erbaş leading a prayer in an Ankara mosque, praying for a victory for Hamas fighters in Palestine.
The Diyanet's alignment with Hamas followed several meetings in recent weeks during which Muslim Brotherhood leaders had talks with Erbaş. On November 6 he hosted Nawaf Takruri (aka Nawwaf Taqruri), secretary-general of the Palestine Scholars Association in the Diaspora (also known as the Council of Palestinian Scholars Abroad), which is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The discussions centered on coordinating efforts to support Palestinians in Gaza.
Takruri, who has lived in Turkey for several years, receives VIP treatment from the Erdogan government and frequently appears at government events. His organization issued a fatwa on October 21 stating that it is permissible to kill Israelis wherever they may be — whether in the West Bank, within Israel or in Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel.
Speaking on Al-Quds Al-Youm TV, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's media outfit, on October 9, Mahmoud Al-Shajrawi of the Palestine Scholars Association in the Diaspora said, "A wonderful fatwa ... permits killing Israelis wherever they may be," and that most Israelis "are soldiers or conscripts in the occupation army [that is] taking part in killing us and our sons."
The Diyanet also mobilized its global network in support of Hamas. On October 30 it organized an online emergency Gaza meeting with over 200 participants from 92 countries, adopting a resolution that called for the condemnation of Israel. The resolution stated, "The endless ambitions, inhumane policies and atrocities of killer Israel, backed by imperialists, are dragging the world into a total disaster." It expressed support for Hamas fighters, describing their armed campaign as justified by international law and religion.
Diyanet imams were instructed to encourage their congregations to attend anti-Israel and pro-Hamas demonstrations. On October 28 Erbaş personally attended and led a prayer at the "Great Palestine Rally" organized by the government, featuring Turkish President Erdogan as the keynote speaker.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Swedish-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.