Muslims, Money, and Democracy in Turkey: Reluctant Capitalists

  • Book Title:
 Muslims Money And Democracy In Turkey
  • Book Author:
Özlem Madi-Sisman
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  1. 1 Introduction 1
  2. 2 (In)compatibility of Islam and Capitalism: A Historical
  3. Perspective 21
  4. 3 Emergence of Neo-Islamic Economic Capital in Turkey 33
  5. 4 Emergence of Neo-Islamic Political Capital in Turkey 61
  6. 5 Emergence of Neo-Islamic Cultural Capital in Turkey 99
  7. 6 From Islamic Radicalism to Islamic Capitalism:
  8. The Case of İGİAD 115
  9. 7 Islamic Capitalism and Its Discontents 153
  10. 8 Conclusion: “Serveti Değil Sermayeyi Artırmalıyız” 169
  11. Bibliography 171
  12. Index 177

(In)compatibility of Islam and Capitalism: A Historical Perspective

Islam coexisted with, adapted into and transformed many different eco-nomic, social, and political systems in history. However, in many euro-centric and Orientalistic circles, Islam has often been portrayed as a static religion, resisting the change and remaining essentially the same over time. This nature of Islam vis-à-vis change has been the subject of inconclusive debates for centuries.

To some people, Islam is a regressive force that causes economic, political, and social underdevelopment in the modern world, and to others, it is a religion which inspired capitalism.

Therefore, contextualizing this debate, surveying the arguments of opponents and proponents of the compatibility of Islam and capitalism is necessary for our larger discussion on Islamic capitalism and the birth of neo-Islamist bourgeoisie in Turkey.

Although not in a modern capitalistic sense, business and trade have always been dignified activities in Islam. The founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, himself is a merchant. According to the Islamic principles, Muslim entrepreneurs are viewed as vicegerents (khalifah) of the Prophet, and have the responsibility to develop prosperity of the Muslim community (ummah). Gaining profit is one of the important motivations for doing business.

Contrary to Protestantism, material success is not the only criterion for the ultimate success. Islam is not against private property ownership. However, God is the absolute owner of wealth, and created wealth in abundance and sufficient for all (Rauf 2010).

So the profit-maximizing entrepreneur is not the owner of the wealth, but rather the keeper of God’s wealth. The main goal for Muslim entrepreneurs is that they should earn in a halal way and consume in halal ways. For instance, Islam prohibits producing, consuming, and marketing of pork and alcohol. It also bans gambling, prostitution, and usury (riba). Ideally, Muslim entrepreneurs must not invest or gain profit from any of these activities, directly or indirectly.

As Kayed and Hassan note, entrepreneurship in Islam “assumes an altruistic role that goes beyond satisfying his/her immediate needs and personal interest. Altruistic motives should override personal considerations and self-interest shall be realized as a natural outcome of advancing society’s common welfare” (Kayed and Hassan 2011: 78).

Such principles set the tone for Muslims’ relation with money and wealth for centuries. Modern capitalism has irrevocably changed the rule of the global economic game for everyone in the last few centuries. As the Muslim world was integrated into the global economic system, capitalism provided Muslims with new opportunities for economic growth and wealth while simultaneously it offered ways of consuming newly acquired wealth. As the material gain for the capitalist world increased, Muslim consumers found themselves, stuck between capitalistic consumerism and Islamic moral values, because the ideas of piety and modesty did not go hand in hand with conspicuous consumption. On the one hand, the Islamic riches should have had social responsibility and other worldly orientations; on the other hand, they should have adhered to competitiveness, global integration, and profit maximizing.

Becoming part of these two competing discourses caused a tension, which I call “discursive tension,” for the Muslims. In last few decades, however, Muslims have taken this tension as an opportunity, and proposed solutions to overcome it by redefining Islamic and capitalist discourses.

Various theories and practices in the world of Islam clearly indicate that Islam cannot be understood independently from its historical and cultural contexts. Reinterpretation of the term riba, commonly translated as usury or interest, is a very good example which could explicate how material conditions could change the meaning of some of the Islamic practices. Nearly all Muslims agree in principle that Islam prohibits any transaction that involves riba.

 But how should we define riba in changing historical conditions? It is generally defined as earning money out of money without making any investment. This type of money making is considered as haram and is thus forbidden in Islam. However, the notion of riba has been redefined by Muslim scholars in last decades in such a way that this defi-nition made the majority of the Muslims comfortable in investing their money in Islamic banks, and even in conventional banks. Hayrettin Karaman, who is one of the most influential Turkish Islamic scholars in…


In his classical book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argued that development of capitalism in the West could not be replicable in the Muslim world. He depicted Islam as a fatalistic religion with a warrior ethic and strong otherworldly inclinations. We know that Weber did not study Islam in a systematic fashion. Heavily influenced by the Orientalist discourse, he had some discussions on Islam in few places in his works, referring to it mostly in essentialist terms. Capitalism was a modern phenomenon, he thought, and Islam could not answer the needs of capitalistic and free market principles.

Unlike Protestantism, Islam could not create capitalism due to its religious ethic, type of political domination and type of law. It is otherworldly religion and its ultimate aim is to achieve salvation in the world-to-come. Therefore, it rejects the material world and envisions itself in a mystical and spiritual realm. Classical modernization theorists, who wrote on Islam, followed Weberian line of logic throughout the twentieth century.

We need not to forget that Weber was a writer of the late nineteenth and early-twentieth century, when Islamic polities and empires were in a serious trouble due to a very complex matrix of historical reasons. Weber and his early followers did not have any successful and prosperous Islamic polity in mind back then.

By the second half of the twentieth century, however, the students of Islamic studies began to revise their opinions on the compatibility of Islam and capitalism, in part because of the changing definitions of modernity, post-modernity, and multiple-modernity, and in part because of political, economic and cultural successes of some Muslim countries and individuals.

For example, Maxime Rodinson criticized the cultural reductionism of Weber, and argued for the compatibility of Islam and capitalism in the 1960s. Examining contemporary Muslim theories and practices, Rodinson concluded that Muslims never had any problem making money in various….

Emergence of Neo-Islamic Economic Capital in Turkey

Creation of the neo-Islamic class in Turkey has not only been a result of the revival of traditional Islamic values but also a result of the conservative Muslim’s engagement with neo-liberal capitalist economy. New Islamic economic organizations, including İGİAD were the natural byproduct of these developments.

Starting from the 1980s, Turkish economy has been exposed to the process of globalization, and accepted the primacy of the international market over the domestic one. Globalization of the market has taught the actors the need to have long-term rational strategies and organization capacities to be successful (Keyman 2010). New actors and discourses emerged in this process. For example, the rise of Islamic capital enabled the introduction of Islam to the political economy of Turkish capitalist development on both discourse and organizational level. During the 1990s Islamic capital began to operate actively in the global world and created its own economic organizations founded upon the Weberian principle of rational, technical knowledge and expertise (Buğra 1999:11–12).

Islamists were integrated into the specific context of the 1980s and 1990s as a new group of capitalists who were struggling to have a place in the competitive neo-liberal global system. Islamists holding large capital aimed to increase their competitiveness in the global economy. They were highly educated businessmen, utilizing new technology and various other means to be financially successful. The small and medium size groups of capital aimed to improve their share of economic opportunities and their

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