Between State Law and Religious Law: Islamic Family Law in Turkey

Creative Commons License

Temel A.

Electronic Journal of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, vol.7, pp.68-77, 2020 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)


This paper considers the history of Islamic family law and its current applications in Turkey. As the heir of the last

Muslim empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey chose an abrupt revolution in its legal system; in

1926, it cut all ties to Islamic law, which was the main law of the land during the Ottoman Empire. Secularization

of the law was not uncommon among modern nation states including those, which had Muslim majority populations.

However, most of these Muslim majority states allowed Islamic law to govern the private law area, especially

family laws. By contrast, the young Republic of Turkey did not allow this to happen and adopted the Swiss civil

code including family law with limited revisions. Despite this rushed revolution, practices emanating from Islamic

family legal norms did not cease among the people and continued until now. This created a dichotomy in the lives of

people between applying Islamic family law and abiding by the secular civil code, which has caused several multidimensional

legal problems in the areas of marriage and divorce, as well as their legal consequences in the areas of

financial support and child custody. For the first time in republican history, in 2017, the government authorized

muftīs to solemnize marriages. This is seen as the only direct authority given to muftīs in a legal matter, which

indirectly opens a door for applying Islamic family law in modern legal life in Turkey. In addition, family mediation

will soon have some presence in the legal system. There is no direct reference, however, to Islamic family law in

government official documents congruent with these recent developments. There also is significant potential for

incorporating the principles of family mediation and arbitration (taḥkīm) based on Islamic legal principles. This

paper first gives a brief history of Islamic family law in Turkey as well as its effect on the civil codes and applications

and then evaluates these recent changes. These are preceded by a brief note on the constitutional and legal

frameworks currently in force in Turkey.