Islam and capitalism in Turkey

Cultural Insights — By on August 28, 2006 at 1:49 pm

Anyone who likes to argue that Islam cannot exist in conjunction with either capitalism or democracy needs to take a closer look at Turkey.  Not only does the country have a functioning democracy, but the region of central Turkey is fast developing into much more than an agricultural economy, as noted by this recent article in the International Herald Tribune.

Many Europeans and secular Turks alike have long dismissed this poor, largely agricultural region as the “other” Turkey, a decidedly non-European backwater where you are more likely to see women in head scarves than businessmen in pinstripes. Islam, they argue, never underwent its own Reformation and so is not receptive to capitalism and innovation.

Yet Kayseri and surrounding towns like Hacilar have produced so many successful Muslim entrepreneurs that the area has earned the title of “Anatolian tiger.” … The region’s mix of Muslim values, hard work and raging capitalism has even prompted sociologists to coin a new term to describe the phenomenon: “Calvinist Islam.”

As Turkey seeks to join the European Union amid growing skepticism in Europe about the prospect of integrating a large agrarian Muslim country into one of the world’s biggest trading blocs, the case of Kayseri shows that Islam, capitalism and globalization can be compatible.

Central Anatolia is profiting from its mix of religion and business because of what local Muslim entrepreneurs refer to without irony as their “Protestant work ethic” – a willingness to work long hours, a commitment to combine religious conservatism with democracy and a pro-business bias within Turkish Islam.

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