July 23, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8860

Turkey's Religious Affairs Ministry, Authority Over Hagia Sophia Mosque And 2,000 Mosques Around The World, Part I – Turkish Press Reports On Ministry's Jihad Connections, Corruption

July 23, 2020
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8860

In a July 10, 2020 decree, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan converted the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque and placed it under the authority of the country's Ministry of Religious Affairs.[1] President Erdoğan also announced on that day that Friday prayers would once again be held in the Hagia Sophia Mosque starting on July 24, 2020. Turkey's Ministry of Religious Affairs, colloquially and in this report referred to as the Diyanet, an abbreviation of its Turkish name Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı, was founded in 1924 as a successor to the office of the Ottoman Sheikh Al-Islam.[2] In Turkey, the Diyanet runs 89,259 mosques and 22,758 Quran schools.[3] It runs another 2,000 mosques abroad[4] in countries including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and Norway.

This is a four-part series on Diyanet activity in Turkey and Europe as reported by Turkish-language sources. The following Table of Contents shows the subjects to be included in each part:

Part I – Turkish Press Reports On Ministry's Jihad Connections, Corruption

  • Personnel And Budget

  • Publications And Broadcasting Apparatus

  • Organizational Structure

  • Corruption

  • Jihadi Connections In Turkey

  • Messaging Concerning Jihad, Martyrdom, And Hijra ("Migration" i.e., To The Islamic State) On Main Website And European Branch Websites

Part II – Statements On Women, Children: Girls Are Permitted To Marry, Become Pregnant At Age Nine; If 'A Father Lustfully Kisses His Daughter Or Lustfully Hugs Her, The Mother... Becomes Forbidden' To Him; 'If He Beats You... Say: "I Will Do Whatever You Like"'

  • Diyanet Resources Being Used To Promote AKP And Its Policies

  • On Children

  • On Women

Part III – Statements And Actions On Religious Minorities, Secularism, Homosexuality, And Alcohol

  • On Religious Minorities In Turkey

  • On Secularism

  • On Alcohol

  • On Education, Homosexuality, And New Years' Celebrations

Part IV – Police Investigate Jihad Sermon In The Netherlands; Many Ministry Magazine Articles Complain Of Charlie Hebdo 'Insults' While Remaining Silent On Attack

  • Diyanet Offices Abroad

  • Diyanet In Germany

  • Diyanet In Netherlands

  • Diyanet In France

  • Switzerland

  • Diyanet In Austria

  • Diyanet In Denmark

  • Diyanet In Belgium And Norway

  • Diyanet In U.S., U.K., Australia, And Canada

  • Diyanet In Iran And Pakistan

The Diyanet emblem

Part I – Turkish Press Reports On Ministry's Jihad Connections, Corruption

Turkish news reports have connected the Diyanet to the activity of jihadi groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, inside Turkey, as well as to the movement of jihadi fighters into Syria. Sermons listed on the websites of Diyanet's European branches, including sermons indicating that they were given in the cities of Berlin, Munich, Nuremburg, and Kiel, Germany, and Farum, Denmark, as well as other messaging on Diyanet branches in Switzerland and Austria, have referred to jihad, martyrdom, and hijra ("migration" i.e., to the Islamic State.) ISIS messaging uses the term hijra to encourage foreigners to travel to Syria and Iraq to join the group.

Tens of millions of Turkish lira from the Diyanet's annual budget, which was 10.5 billion lira for 2020 and is about 20 times the size it was when President Erdoğan's AKP took office in 2002, have reportedly gone unaccounted for on multiple occassions and are at other times donated to Turkish foundations and associations, prompting accusations of corruption.

Personnel And Budget

The Diyanet, whose gigantic budget is 20 times the size that it was when President Erdoğan's AKP took office in 2002, is funded by taxes and donations.[5] Its 2020 budget is 10.5 billion Turkish lira, which is five times higher than that of the country's intelligence service, Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT), and twice as high as the budget of the Ministry Of Culture And Tourism.[6] In 2018, the Diyanet had a budget of 7.7 billion lira, but requested additional funds and was given an additional 600 million lira, for a total budget of 8.3 billion lira, or approximately $1.5 billion for the year.[7] On February 1, 2019, it had been reported that the Diyanet would hire 9,500 more people as Quran school teachers, imams, and muezzin-custodians.[8] In December 2019, Burak Erbay, an MP representing the CHP, which is Turkey's main opposition party, made the comparison, as did many other Turks on social media, that NASA has 20,000 employees while the Diyanet has 125,000 employees.[9]

Publications And Broadcasting Apparatus

The Diyanet spends some portion of its colossal budget on the many channels by which it pushes its message, which is largely Hanafi Sunni, as are most Turks.[10] The most powerful channel for the Diyanet's messaging is the weekly sermon it prepares for the 89,259 mosques in Turkey and another 2,000 mosques abroad.[11] Another 600 mosques are reportedly built in Turkey every year.[12] The number of mosques in Turkey is about 55% higher than the 57,635 mosques in Iran.[13] Both countries have a population of approximately 82 million people. The number of mosques in Turkey is also triple the number of libraries in Turkey, which in August 2018 was reported to be 28,126.[14]

The Diyanet has five magazines, including a children's magazine,[15] three radio stations,[16] a TV channel,[17] a news website,[18] many social media accounts,[19] a smartphone application that distributes its fatwas,[20] dozens of other digital publications,[21] and also communicates with its congregations using WhatsApp.[22]

The Religious Publications Directorate of the Diyanet manages the publication of its books and magazines and offers them for sale online.[23] It has printed 120 million books over nine years, including eight million copies of the Quran translated into 23 languages, including: Kurdish, Armenian, Danish, Romanian, Italian, German, Russian, French, Portuguese, Bosnian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Tatar, Azeri, Kyrgyz, Samoan, Uyghur, Georgian, Kazakh, and Uzbek.[24] Other foreign-language publications can be found on its website.[25] The Diyanet spent nine million Turkish lira on calendars alone for 2020.[26]

Organizational Structure

The Diyanet is led by a minister, currently Dr. Ali Erbaş, and five deputy ministers.[27] The Diyanet's website lists the deputy ministers as: Dr. Burhan İşliyen, Dr. Huriye Martı, Osman Tıraşçı, Dr. Selim Argun, and Dr. İbrahim Hilmi Karslı.[28]

The Diyanet website lists many departments of the ministry that do not have listed sub-departments. Such departments are as follows: The Religious Affairs High Council Presidency; The Quran Covering Inspection And Recitation Council Presidency; The Guidance And Supervision Presidency; The Internal Auditing Unit Presidency; Legal Consultancy; Cabinet Directorship; And The Print And Public Relations Consultancy.

Other departments have sub-departments. Under the Religious Services General Directorship are listed: The Guidance Services Unit Presidency; The Mosque Services Unit Presidency; The Family And Religious Guidance Unit Presidency; And The Immigration And Spiritual Support Services Unit Presidency.

Under the Religious Services General Directorship are listed: The Common Religious Education Unit Presidency; The Education And Guidance In Service Unit Presidency; The Program Development Unit Presidency; The Religious High Specialization Centers Unit Presidency; And The Hafiz Training Unit Presidency.

Under the Hajj and Umrah Services General Directorship are listed: The Hajj Services Unit Presidency; The Umrah Services Unit Presidency; The Hajj And Umrah Training Unit Presidency; And The Institutes And Coordination Unit Presidency.

Under the Religious Publications General Directorship are listed: The Printed Publications Unit Presidency; The Periodical Publications And Libraries Unit Presidency; The Foreign Language And Dialect Publications Unit Presidency; The Radio And Television Unit Presidency; The Religious Publications Circulating Capital Operations Directorship; And The Digital Publications Unit Presidency.

Under the Foreign Relations General Directorship are listed: The Turks Living Abroad Unit Presidency; The Eurasia Countries Unit Presidency; The Education And Guidance Abroad Unit Presidency; The Muslim Countries And Communities Unit Presidency; And The Unit Presidency For Religious Services With Social And Cultural Content Abroad.

Under the Human Resources General Directorship are listed: The Appointment Unit Presidency I; The Appointment Unit Presidency Ii; The Personnel Appointment And Promotion Unit Presidency; The Civil Registry Presidency; The Discipline And Evaluation Unit Presidency; And The Personnel Systems Education And Exams Unit Presidency.

Under the Management Services General Directorship are listed: The Support Services Unit Presidency; The Material Management And Purchasing Unit Presidency; The Investment Real Estate And Technical Services Unit Presidency; And The Social Services Unit Presidency.

Under the Strategy Development Presidency are listed: The Strategic Planning And Management Development Unit Presidency; The Information Management And Communication Unit Presidency; The Budget And Performance Unit Presidency; And The Internal Control Unit Presidency.

Under the Provincial Organization are listed: The Provincial Muftiship, Under Which Is Listed The District Muftiship; The Religious High Specialization Center Directorship; And The Education Center Directorship. Under the Foreign Organization are listed: The Religious Services Consultancy And The Religious Services Attaché Department.


There are many reports in Turkish media of funds missing from the Diyanet budget and of large donations to foundations and associations in Turkey. Over nine years the Diyanet has given 1 billion 82 million Turkish lira to various foundations.[29] It was predicted in October 2019 that over the following three years, the Diyanet would transfer 125 million lira to foundations and associations.[30]

In October 2015, CHP deputy leader and member of parliament Sezgin Tanrıkulu put forward a motion asking for an explanation for 23 million lira missing from the Diyanet's budget, among other discrepancies.[31] In September 2017, the Ministry of Finance said that the Diyanet had consumed its annual 4.3 billion lira budget in only seven months.[32] A month later it was reported that the Diyanet had transferred 71 million lira to associations and foundations.[33] In February 2020 it was reported that the Diyanet had been hosting meetings and training seminars throughout January at five-star hotels in Antalya, an area of Turkey known for its beautiful beaches.[34] In January 2020, CHP MP Mustafa Adıgüzel brought to parliament claims that the Diyanet had hired Metin Erbaş, brother of Diyanet Minister Ali Erbaş, as a researcher, despite Metin being only a high school graduate and as such unqualified for the position.[35]

The Diyanet also receives significant funds from the Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı ("The Diyanet Foundation Of Turkey," TDV). Between 2014 and 2018, the TDV's income increased by 116%. The details of the 901.8 million lira of "expenses toward its purpose" that the foundation spent were not given in its financial charts.[36]

Hasan Can, an AKP politician and then mayor of the Ümraniye district of Istanbul, had a building built for the TDV-connected May 29 University at a time when Can himself was on the TDV board of trustees. Forty-six million lira in public funds were spent on the university while the AKP controlled the municiple government of Istanbul.[37]

The TDV has 35 dorms and 13 other facilties. An article titled "The 'Diyanet Holding' Is Growing Like An Avalanche" quoted theologian Cemil Kılıç as saying that because of the amount of property that the Diyanet controls, its use needs to be examined. He said that Diyanet operated as a "state within a state" and that "when we look at the top-level managers of the Diyanet and their lives and possibilities, we see that they have become so rich as to have nothing in common with the people."[38]

Jihadi Connections In Turkey

Turkish news reports have indicated connections between the Diyanet and the activity of jihadi groups such as ISIS and Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), and Turkish politicians have made formal inquiries about these connections.[39] On May 30, 2020, an event honoring fighters wounded fighting the Syrian regime and its allies was held in the city of Idlib, Syria, which is controlled by HTS and by Turkish forces there. The event, titled "My Steadfastness Has No Limits" and featuring the distribution of monetary grants to disabled fighters, was organized by the Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı ("The Diyanet Foundation Of Turkey," TDV). The event was extensively covered by the pro-opposition media, including the HTS news agency.[40] TDV was founded in 1975 for the purpose of supporting the Diyanet.[41] In August 2019, President Erdoğan signalled his support for the TDV by donating a sacrificial animal to it.[42]

A TDV-organized event honoring wounded fighters in HTS- and Turkish-controlled Idlib, Syria.

On June 12, 2014, it was reported that CHP MP İhsan Özkes had tweeted a document reportedly originally published on the website of the Kurdistan Strategic Research Center, The document was apparently from then Interior Minister Muammer Güler and sent to the office of the governor of Hatay instructing the governor to allow members of Jabhat Al-Nusra to stay in Diyanet guesthouses under the observation of the Turkish intelligence service, MIT. In his tweet, Özkes wrote: "How much of the money that the Diyanet raised in the mosques for Syria went to [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, and how much went to ISIS? Did those who fought in Syria take refuge in the Quran school belonging to the Diyanet in hatay, is there a document from the Ministry of the Interior to the Diyanet on this subject?"[43] Hasip Kaplan, an MP representing the HDP, an opposition party generally thought of as representing the Kurds,[44] brought the matter to parliament.[45] The Diyanet and the interior minister denied the claims, saying that the document was fake.[46]

A memorandum reportedly from the interior minister instructing the governor of Hatay to allow jihadi fighters to use Diyanet guestshouses under the surveillance of Turkish intelligence.

On February 4, 2016, reported that Kurdish fighters had recovered, along with ammunition and weapons, boxes marked with the name of the TDV's İzmir branch in an operation carried out in the town of Al-Ziyarah in the Hama governorate against Jabhat Al-Nusra, Ahrar Al-Sham, and the Sultan Murat Division, which is reportedly guided by MİT.[47]

A video shows weapons and a box from TDV's Izmir branch recovered from jihadi fighters in Syria.

On June 19, 2019, it was reported that Ali Mahir Başarır, a CHP MP representing Mersin, had tweeted about a video showing armed men chanting slogans at a funeral for jihadi fighter Abdul Baset Al-Sarout held at a Diyanet mosque in Reyhanlı. Başarır wrote: "While a funeral for the former ISIS member, who in 2012 said: 'We will exterminate the Alevis,' is being organized by armed men at a Diyanet-connected mosque in Reyhanlı, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu is in Istanbul doing election work! This is the real problem!" Al-Sarout's history in Syria is a subject of controversy, but some Turkish sources report he had fought for Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS in Syria, and had been known as a commander of Jaysh Al-Izza.[48]

MP Başarır tweeted a video showing armed men at the funeral of a jihadi fighter held at a Diyanet mosque.

The funeral of Al-Sarout, left, was reportedly held by armed men at a Diyanet mosque in Reyhanlı.

On January 5, 2019, it was reported that an Iraqi court had sentenced to death a Turkish citizen who had lived in Switzerland in the past. In October 2014, the 24-year-old had traveled from Switzerland to Turkey and then on to an ISIS camp in Syria, where he received explosives training and participated in many operations. He was later captured in Iraq and sentenced to death. According to the report, the Swiss government, which had also opened a case against him, said that he had been radicalized and had received much of his training in Switzerland, and that while living in the Swiss city of Arbon, the man had met an ISIS member named Alperen A., had frequently attended the TDV-connected Rorschach mosque, and had there made the decision to join ISIS.[49]

In August 2014, CHP MP Umut Oran asked then Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler: "Is it true that some mosques in İstanbul, particularly in [the districts of] Fatih, Ataşehir, Esenyurt, and Bağcılar, have passed into ISIS control and that young people, particularly from Azerbaijan, are being brought, trained there, and sent to Syria?... Have you made any warning, whether written or verbal, to Diyanet personel on this subject?"[50]

On May 10, 2017, it was reported that then Diyanet minister Mehmet Görmez had received and met with Muthanna Harith Al-Dari,[51] who is on the United Nations' Al-Qaida Sanctions List for "participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf or in support of', 'supplying, selling or transferring arms and related materiel to', 'recruiting for' and 'otherwise supporting acts or activities of' Al-Qaida in Iraq."[52]

On October 8, 2014, it was reported that CHP MP İhsan Özkes presented at a press conference a notebook that the Diyanet had printed for 2013 that bore an emblem used by ISIS. He said: "How interesting it is that the notebook printed by the Diyanet is the same as the ISIS emblem. Why was it felt to be necessary that such an emblem be used? Because two years ago ISIS was just growing strong. Why did the Diyanet use this emblem at that time?"[53] The cover of the notebook reads: "We were honored with that light!"

A Diyanet notebook printed in 2013 bearing an emblem used by ISIS.

In December 2015 it was reported that a Diyanet committee had met with Ismail Haniyeh, who is chairmen of the Hamas Political Bureau.[54] In June 2016, it was reported that then director of the TDV Mustafa Tutkun had met with Haniyeh.[55]

TDV director Mustafa Tutkun, left, meeting with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman İsmail Haniyeh in 2016 (source:

On January 21, 2017, it was reported that Turkish theologian Mustafa İslamoğlu said, of the Diyanet's appointment of İhsan Şenocak as director of an education center in the province of Samsun: "This Diyanet, which does not fear Allah... After giving these institutions to these men, what right do you have to complain that ISIS soldiers are still coming out of this country? Anyway you are raising the future of ISIS today. You are making enough of an investment into the future of ISIS."[56] On August 1, 2015, it was reported that one Gökhan Dede, who had been an imam at a mosque connected to the Diyanet in the Yenice district of Çanakkale province, had been arrested on July 27 of that year in the Tarsus district of Mersin province and charged with membership in ISIS.[57]

Messaging Concerning Jihad, Martyrdom, And Hijra ("Migration" i.e., To The Islamic State) On Main Website And European Branch Websites

Websites belonging to Diyanet branches in Europe have published, including sermons marked with the names of mosques in the cities of Berlin, Munich, Nuremburg, and Kiel, Germany, and Farum, Denmark, as well as Diyanet branches in Switzerland and Austria, have published messaging concerning jihad, martyrdom, and hijra ("migration" i.e., to the Islamic State).

A transcript of a sermon listed on the website of Denmark's Danimarka Türk Diyanet Vakfı ("Turkish Diyanet Foundation Of Denmark," DTDV) dated September 13, 2013, titled "The Importance Of Martyrdom And Being A Veteran," reads: "The prophet [said] for those who do not go on jihad, so that they do not neglect their duty, and, though it may be partial, for them to make up for it: 'If one equips a veteran going on jihad in the path of Allah, it is just as though he [himself] has gone on jihad'... If a Muslim believes in Islam and spends effort and tries his hardest in the path of Allah with his life and property to make dominant the haqq [truth], which before everything else is the purpose of Islam, if with all his strength he works against evil and to block the spread of the seeds of strife and corruption over the earth, 'until strife is gone and religion and sovereignty belong only to Allah,' he will achieve the reward of jihad."

Concerning martyrs, the sermon says: "The martyr has this name because he gladly gave his life in the path of Allah, he will be alive in the presence of Allah, he will be sustained, he will enter heaven, and martyrdom will be achieved. Allah will forgive all his sins and flaws. Whereas veteran is the name given to one who makes war for the sake of his homeland and in the path of Allah and, while desiring to become a martyr, stayed alive. Because a veteran made war to be a martyr, to reach that rank, [the veteran] is also on the level of the martyrs... In war there is one of two good results for the believer. He will either be the victor or the martyr. These words that Khalid ibn Walid said to the commander of Iran is a good example showing what the concept of martyrdom can bring for Muslims: 'I have come to you with an army that loves death as much as you love life and wine.'"[58] The sermon bears the name of Ali Hançer, a former "religious authority" at the mosque, and the name Farum, a town in Denmark where there is also a mosque.

A portion of the sermon about jihad and martyrdom on the Turkish Diyanet Foundation Of Denmark website.

The website of Austria's Avusturya Türk İslam Kültür ve Sosyal Yardımlaşma Birliği ("Turkish Islam Culture And Social Cooperation Union Of Austria," ATIKSYB) lists a Friday sermon published September 19, 2014. The title of the page reads: "Our teacher, attache Ibrahim Yazar, in Friday Prayer." The sermon cites a hadith that reads: "Whoever equips a veteran who will go on jihad in the path of Allah, or meets his needs for jihad, will earn a reward as if he himself had gone on jihad." A username with the website is required to view the full sermon.[59] The Diyanet lists the ATIKSYB in its Aile magazine as one of its foundations abroad.[60]

A transcript of a sermon listed on the website of Germany's Diyanet İşleri Türk İslâm Birliği ("Turkish Islam Union For Religious Affairs," DITIB) dated November 1, 2013, titled "Hijra [migration]" reads: "Hijra means abandoning, going far away. Hijra is the name of the difficulties considered in order to live Allah's religion and unite humanity with this blessed message. Hijra is giving up, for Allah's sake, on the mother, the father, friend, homeland, children, and even life..." The sermon quotes Quran 8:74: "But those who have believed and emigrated and made jihad in the cause of Allah and those who gave shelter (to the muhajireen) and aided (them) – it is they who are the believers, truly. For them is forgiveness and abundant provision."[61] The sermon gives a name Huriye Akbıyık, who is described as "religious functionary at the Central Mosque of Munich." A similar sermon was given on November 16, 2012, with the name Dr. Ersan Özten, who is described as "religious functionary at the Central Eyüp Sultan Mosque of Nuremburg."[62]

A portion of the sermon about
hijra ("migration") on the German DITIB website.

TDV websites by which Muslims can donate zakat ("alms") quote Quran 9:60: "Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect zakat and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for slaves, debtors, for those who make jihad in the cause of Allah and for the traveler stuck on the path – an obligation from Allah. Allah is the one who knows with truth, and is the master of ruling and wisdom."[63] The website of Switzerland's İsviçre Türk Diyanet Vakfı ("Turkish Diyanet Foundation Of Switzerland," ITDV) quotes the same verse, as does a PDF that that website released.[64] A sermon published on July 25, 2014, on the website of Germany's DITIB quotes it as well. That sermon gives the name Abdurrahman Latifoğlu, who is described as the "religious functionary of the Great Mosque of Kiel."[65]

Citing the Quran, the website of the Turkish Diyanet Foundation Of Switzerland lists "those who make jihad" as valid recipients of donated funds.

A transcript of a sermon listed on website of Denmark's DTDV dated November 1, 2013, titled "Hijra" is similar and also quotes Quran 8:74, as did the sermon by the German DITIB.[66] A transcript of a sermon listed on the website of Germany's DITIB dated March 14, 2014, titled "The Superior Rank In The Eyes Of Allah: Martyrdom" reads: "One of the highest ranks that Allah almighty bestowed on humanity is 'martyrdom.' A martyr is what you call a person who gives his life for his religion, homeland, and holy values. The name martyr comes from martyrdom. Since they will go to paradise and see special treatment in the presence of Allah because of this martyrdom, this title was given to the martyrs... Our supreme religion recognizes being a martyr as a great honor." The sermon then quotes Quran verses about martyrdom. It gives the name Idris Ertürk, who is described as the "religious functionary for the Osman Gazi Mosque of Berlin."[67]

A portion of the sermon about martyrdom on the German DITIB website.


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