Social Changes in Turkey during the Reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

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After the fall of Ottoman Turkey in 1923, it had shown the end reign of the Islamic Khilafah. After that, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk took over the Turkish government as President of the Republic. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made a various change in forming a secular and modern state. This study describes the social changes that occurred at the beginning of the establishment Republic of Turkey. Three main factors that focus on social change in Turkey, namely religion, culture, and education. Changes are more focused on separation of religion in administrative matters. Changes in the field of culture, in turn, focuses on changes pattern of the old culture with Western culture. Meanwhile, the change in the field of education focuses on western education as opposed to religious education. Therefore, this paper will explain the process of secularism in social aspects during the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk era.

Keywords: Change, social, Turkey, secularism, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk


The Republic of Turkey is a stated formed in 1923 during the reign of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Tongas, 1939, pp. 16-24) after the Ottoman Empire collapse. The Republic of Turkey was formed when the Grand National Assembly (GNA) announced its decision on October 29, 1923, stating Turkey as a Republican state and appointing Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as its first president. This was done to establish a new and independent state of Ottoman rule. On March 3, 1924, abolished the official caliphate institution (Solikhun, 2013, p. 4) and moved Turkey capital from Istanbul to Ankara (Haris & Othman, 2011, pp. 105-133). Turkey is a region of two civilizations — European and Asian civilization.

The strategic position of Turkey between two continents, the Asian and European continents make Turkey a link between East and West. During the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, he has changed many aspects of life in Turkey from the Islamic-based rule of secular government. Various changes made by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to abolish the Ottoman tradition system is not compatible with modern times. Since then, there have been changes in all aspects of life in Turkey, especially from the social aspects. The occurrence of a social change in Turkey can see through the process of secularism in Turkey and the changes that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk are trying to raise Turkey as a develops and equal country with European countries.

Problem Statement

In this study, the authors limit the issues discussed during the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the establishment Republic of Turkey. At present, reform efforts have shown significant changes in the lives of societies, especially in social aspects. In fact, the changes he made will touch of an erosion of Islamic elements among the peoples that were the pinnacle of change of the secular state. Social changes of the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk continued until the end of his life in 1950.

Research Questions

The emergence of social reforms in Turkey is most interesting to be analysed and discussed further and deeply. Based on the problem statement, several questions will be debate over this study, namely:
How the reform made during the domestic political situation before the formation the Republic of Turkey is unstable?
What is social reform done Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s to make Turkey becomes a developed nation?

Purpose of the Study

The focus on this study is social change that took place in the Republic of Turkey during the era Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This study useful for enhancing knowledge of social change in the early stages of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Based on historical knowledge, Turkey is a country that once ruled the world once in the days of the Ottoman Caliphate. At that time, all civilizations concentrated on Islamic knowledge, in which the whole culture that existed had to have the element of Islam in it. However, religious elements have been replaced by the secular elements during the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This study can be a reference material for researchers whom want to know more about development in Turkey. In addition, every change had its advantages and disadvantages so that this assessment can benefit from identifying the good or bad of the change and being a lesson to society.

Research Methods

The purpose of this study is to identify and analyse the changes that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has done throughout the rule, especially in social aspects. Data onto this study was based on secondary data and material written in relation to change made during the secularization process in Turkey. About data analysis, this study uses content to analyze techniques and descriptive approaches, how Mustafa Kemal Atatürk conducts secularization thus transforming the Turkish community in social life.


The Process of Secularism in Turkey.

Secularism comes from the Latin “saeculum” which means the idea or concept used to refer dualism, opposition or separation of religious and state institutions (Firmanto, 2005, pp. 16-18). Meanwhile, secularization refers to the process isolation from all life fields from religious influence. So, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk took the first action by declaring Turkey as a republic. This action has indirectly overthrown caliphate system as a symbol of Islamic unity. Before that, he assured that Caliphate sovereignty was preserved as a religious symbol by not having political power in 1922. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk presented the grounds that the abolition of the Caliphate system was due to the caliphate of betraying the country when dealing with foreign powers (Ahmad, 1993, p. 54). In fact, he also sees that the retaining caliphate institution may pose a threat to the sovereignty Republic of Turkey. Thus, the abolition caliphate institution is an effective step to eradicate the rise of Islam in Turkey later on.

Various series of changes have to eliminate all institutions related to the Islamic sultanate. Among them are the Sharia Justice Ministry and the Department of Sheikh al-Islam as well as the administrations of the Sharia Courts have become the Civil Judiciary of Turkey adapted to the Swiss Legal System, the Italian Criminal Law, and the German Commercial Law. Turkey Civil Law provides for equal rights between men and women in inheritance and marriage (Cherry, 2002, pp. 21-23). Every marriage must register in accordance with the law and ceremony traditionally did not run. Subsequently, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk coordinated the Education Law on March 2, 1924, by placing the secular system on the primary basis. All Islamic religious schools in Turkey has been abolishing. Educational institutions are the main agents of secularism controlled and funded by the government for free (Othman & Sulaiman, 2015, p. 37). Various educational centres have been establishing, such as the faculty of Usuluddin, vocational schools, engineering, Military Academy and Teacher Training College in Ankara (Othman & Sulaiman, 2015, p. 37).

The process of secularism is followed by Islamic Turkinization by applying the Islamic cultural tradition in accordance with the framework of the Turkish cultural environment. On February 6, 1933, a directive was issued in order for the call to the Muslim prayers (azan) converted into Turkish. Friday’s sermons and prayers also use local language. Mehmet Akif carried out the effort to translate the Qur’an into Turkish. Then, the first Qur’an in the Turkish language became a reality of 1932. However, this effort will inspire community to understand are contents of the Qur’an and its teachings. Hence, the Muslim community was unhappy about the destruction of religious identity compared to the Atatürk Turkinization process.

In addition, the prohibition against Islamic outfits as government employees except for religious organization. Women prohibited wear hijab and wearing fez hat is removed but replaced it with a western hat and made it official dress for the male (Haris & Othman, 2011). For Muslims are disobedient the instructions will consider a crime. Hagia Sophia mosque which became the hallmark of Muslim glory and formerly used a museum, while the manufacture and sale of alcohol among Muslim community ares allowing. Secularism’s highlight the process when amending the Turkey Constitution 1924 in Article 2 states “Religion for Turkey is Islam” has completely amended and declared Turkey on a secular state officially in the Constitution 1937 (Webster, 1939, p. 297). Thus, the importance Islam as a religion and official identity of the nation has abolished completely.

Social Change After Effective Secularism Process.

Changes in Religion

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has altered the use of language in the prayer of worship by using Turkish in 1928. Similarly, the prayer ritual also undergoes a change in the presence of prayers that accompany prayer to be able to experience the beauty of the prayer. The purpose of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is to do so that Turkish people can understand the prayers performed. Next, the Qur’an on the main reference of the Muslim community has also undergone a change by translating into Turkish and it is officially used on January 1932. In addition, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk also changed the call of the azan from the Arabic language to Turkish and began to hear of 1932. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk also enforced the rule that obliged the khatib to read Friday’s sermon in Turkish only (Brockett, 1998, pp. 44-46; Haris & Othman, 2011, p. 118). Thus, all the changes made in the aspect of worship are to introduce Turkish to the people, and they can also understand the content presented in Turkish versus Arabic and Persian.

For seven centuries (14th to 20th century), Caliph of the Ottoman has achieved various successes. At that time, the reign was in the shade of Islam advanced and has spread around the world and Islam was elected as the official religion since the Ottoman caliphs contained in the constitution of the country. At the beginning of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk retained Islam as the official religion of the Turkish state as found in the Constitution of 1924 (Haris & Othman, 2011, p. 116). On March 3, 1924, the GNA agreed to amend three laws. First, the elimination of the caliphate system. Secondly, eliminate the Ministry of Sharia. Third, unite all educational systems under the Ministry of Education. Therefore, these actions have slowly been shown on the secular system. With the abolition of religion in the constitution, Turkey has officially become a secular state. As such, the principle of secularism is officially the basis of the nation’s constitution. Therefore, the action taken by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the affairs of the National Constitution is the first way to realize its goal of creating a democratic and parliamentary government.

A mosque is a place of worship for Muslims because it’s the main function as a place of prayer and recite (religious verses) to God. In general, the mosque space only consists of a prayer room and a place of ablution. However, functions and ways of worship at the mosque has undergone changes when the Faculty of Theology (Istanbul University) has formed a Committee to make changes against mosques in Turkey in June 1928. The purpose of this Committee is to provide plans for the modernization of Islam. The first action undertaken by the Committee was making changes in the code of the mosque. Committee has introduced the use of Church chairs and storage coats into mosques as well as the use of the net for individual shoes wishes to enter the mosque.

Furthermore, the use of musical instruments as the escort performed in the Church was also introduced to the mosque. Therefore, the mosque is promptly implementing the reforms as proposed by the committee. In addition, the religious committee also made changes in prayer arrangements by set up a line of singers and faiths with knowledge of music. The purpose is to make such change to make the prayers more beautiful, inspiring and spiritual. Therefore, the arrangements formed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s intended to equate the mosque with the church by altering all structure in the mosque to be like the church.

Changes in Culture

Turkey has a strong history in connection with the Ottoman Empire of nearly 640 years which have brought Turkish culture inherited. During the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, there were some reforms that had been done in cultural aspects. Among them is the way the Turkish people are employed. At the time of the Ottoman Caliphate, the way Turkish people dressed in reflecting their identity as a Muslim such as the use of fez or the trubus and hijab. On December 3, 1924, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had issued an order that the Turkish community had to change the way of dressing in the way of western dress. It has indirectly forbidden the Turkish community to dress in a religious way. In November 1925, men must wear western-style hats and women should wear western women’s clothing (Rustow, 1968; Seker, 2007). With this, such action was taken to carry out the Westernization movement towards Turkey as a whole.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk also made changes in the calendar system. During the Ottoman period, the calendar system used at that time was the Hijrah calendar used only in some Arab countries. On December 26, 1925, the Hijrah calendar was no longer used during the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk era as it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar system (Ahmad, 1993, p. 80). This change occurred because it is wanted to equate the calendars used in Western countries and as a result of the principle of landing. In addition, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk also changes the weekend break in Friday to Sunday in 1935 (Haris & Othman, 2011, p. 108).

Apart from that, changes in the era of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk are the uses of Swiss law (Dodd, 1992, p. 18). Before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the country’s law is based on Islamic and adapted to Sharia under the leadership of the Ottoman Caliphate. However, the sharia-based law was replaced by the Swiss law on October 4, 1926, after the establishment of Modern Turkey (Dodd, 1992; Rustow, 1968). The relevant law affecting the righting of women, when their position were being levelled with the men (Cherry, 2002, p. 21). This is clearly evident when the country’s constitution in December 1934 allowed women to beat against elected in parliament. Moreover, changes in the law would also be an impact on marriage.

The new law of marriage brings many benefits of women such as divorced women or the death of their husbands to after 300 days, allow women to marry any man is to even though different religions, may apply for a divorce from the judge and the distribution of inheritance is similar between men and women (Dodd, 1992, pp. 115-116). With this, the new civil law clearly demonstrates a lot of change of the equal rights of men and women. During the reign of the Ottoman Caliphate, the people using the Arabic alphabet as writing. This writing usage in line with his reign that Islamic patterned because influenced by Arab governments until the writings of Arab became the writing used of Turkey. During the era of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish state have approved a new law to change the use of the Arabic scripted to Latin script for Turkish (Foss, 2005, p. 11). Starting in December 1928, all newspaper, letters, and books should be printed in Latin. In addition, all correspondence and books in government offices and schools must be converted to a Latin inscription which began in January 1929. On June 1929, the Latin writings used extensively in Turkey (Dodd, 1992, p. 111).

Changes in Education

In the 18th century, the Ottoman had entered the Tanzimat era (Mohd Radzi, 2012, p. 91), many secular educational institutions began to be established. In those days, too many modern schools grow on an additional education centre of the community. During the era of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, there were significant changes made in the educational system such as the closure of religious schools (madrasah) (Dogan, 2016, p. 307). Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was also acting to close religious schools to control the growth of Islam in Turkey and keep the influence of religion in education. Instead, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the new schools under the Ministry of Education.

Apart from that, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk also acts to eliminate religious education in formal schools. Although religious education is very important to be taught in schools, but not in line with the thinking of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. According to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, religion is an individual matter and not related to the state. Therefore, new regulations are introduced into prohibiting religious education taught in class to began on February 7, 1924, and all institutions were placed under the Ministry of Education (Dogan, 2016, p. 309). Furthermore, subjects of Arabic and Persian has been eliminated at the school on November 1, 1928 (Ahmad, 1993, p. 80). The subjects had been replaced by the Latin writing lessons. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk acts to distance religion from education and want to create a country that is far from the influence of religion.

On 1924, many established schools of Imam-Khatib (Dogan, 2016, p. 310) effect of the closure of religious schools. The schools were established to train Imam and Khatib. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk stated a reason that the set up of schools under the control of the government is intended that all religious educational institutions can be controlled directly by the government and at the same time also to control the development of Islam in Turkish society. The schools of Imam-Khatib is dedicated to produce the Imam and Khatib who had religious knowledge relevant to the concept kemalism so that it can continue to develop the new idealism to the entire community.


Turkey is a country that has the greatest in the history of the great power shift in the world. Initially, the territory of Turkey is the province of the reign of the Byzantine Government. While the strength of Islam began to dominate the world, Turkey fell into the hands of the Ottoman Caliphate. The Ottoman Caliphate fell upon failed to defend his power until the new country which declared Republic of Turkey-based secularism under the reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. However, in doing something change or transformation there must be a figure who moves behind it, the most influential figure in influencing Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is Ziya Gokalp. This is because of his ideas of nationalism that inspired in establishing a system of nationalists rule for Turkey. Ziya Gokapl’s nationalism is very influential on the basis of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk when he formed the Republic of Turkey. Thus, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is an individual that sparked a change in Turkey based on Ziya Gokapl’s ideas until his own actions did much threat to the Muslim community in Turkey.

So, there is three focuses on social change when the establishment of the Republic of Turkey (1923-1950), namely religion, culture, and education. Concerning religion, the changes made consisted of the exchange of Arabic to the Turkish language in worship, the exchange of Sharia law to secular law, the abolition of religion in the constitution, and efforts to equate the mosque with a church. All changes made in the aspect of religion is a step to separate the influence of religion from the state and adapted to the formation of the secular Turkish state. In the cultural aspect, the changes include how to dress, exchange calendar system, recruitment of Swiss civil law, the use of family names and the Arabic writing exchange to Latin writing in Turkey. In the field of education, the changes implemented included the elimination of religious schools, abolition of religious education in formal schools, and established a religious school owned by the government. All reforms carried out against both aspects concerning is the action taken to eliminate the symbols that have long existed on the community of Turkey on a Muslim country and try to replace with the pattern of the reign of the West.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a key figure causing social change in Turkey. He also was known as the Father of Turkey based on the title Atatürk. The title was given by the people of Turkey on his efforts to advance the Turkish nation after the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate. The actions were taken by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk intended so that Turkey is admitted on a developed country that is comparable with Western countries. Thus, everything they do there certain advantages and disadvantages. As a result of social changes in Turkey has developed an advanced Turkish state and could rise after the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate. However, the effects of secularization process that led to the Young Turks carried out after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey is less getting a religious education.


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Cite this paper

Social Changes in Turkey during the Reign of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. (2022, Mar 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/social-changes-in-turkey-during-the-reign-of-mustafa-kemal-ataturk/



How did Mustafa Kemal change Turkey?
He abolished the Ottoman Empire and established the modern Turkish Republic. He also promoted westernization and modernization, helping to spur heavy industrialization and rapid economic growth in Turkey during the 1930s.
What changes did Mustafa Kemal make in Turkey quizlet?
He changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latin, and he changed the calendar from the lunar Hijri calendar to the solar Gregorian calendar.
What reforms did Ataturk introduce to Turkey?
Ataturk introduced reforms that aimed to modernize and Westernize Turkey. These reforms included secularization, the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, and the introduction of Western legal codes.
What was Mustafa Kemal ideology?
Kemalism, as it was implemented by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was defined by sweeping political, social, cultural and religious reforms designed to separate the new Turkish state from its Ottoman predecessor and embrace a Western-style modernized lifestyle, including the establishment of secularism/laicism (French: laïcite
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