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Semi-official Turkish Muslim Legal Pluralism: Encounters Between Secular Official Law and Unofficial Shari’a

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The Sociology of Shari’a: Case Studies from around the World

Part of the book series: Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies ((BOREFRRERE,volume 1))


This study provides an account of the current secular Turkish Civil Code, with special focus on family law issues such as consent, age of marriage, registration of marriage, status of religious marriage ceremonies, polygamy and divorce. The study looks at various aspects of the relationship between official law and the Muslim majority’s Shari’a law. Statistics and research have shown that, in connection with certain issues in the socio-legal sphere, Shari’a laws are still operative, in spite of their contravening the Civil Code. This situation has led to some civil courts having to deal with Shari’a issues. This study looks closely at some civil court decisions where judges have taken into account public opinion and local legal postulates concerning the matter in question.

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  1. 1.

    This study, which mainly draws on and updates Yilmaz (2005), only deals with family law issues, but Muslim law is also observable in the Turkish society in fields such as finance, banking, the economy, insurance, and in many other spheres of life. Muslim law is referred to and obeyed by many people despite its non-recognition by the state. Some examples of contemporary and frequently questioned issues in Turkey are: using an amplifier when reading azan, Friday prayer and work, dar al-Islam, fasting, travelling by train, the stock exchange, taxation, halal meat, marrying a non-Muslim woman, talaq, court divorce, polygamy, nationalism, unemployment benefits, inflation, interest, customs tax, bribery, depositing money at a bank in non-Muslim countries, selling alcohol in a non-Muslim country, gambling in dar al-harb, sterilization, plastic surgery, using perfumes, abortion, ijtihad, military service, organ transplantation, prayers [salat] on buses, VAT, mortgage, The European Union, having a gold tooth, alcohol in medication, eau de cologne, life insurance, interest, inflation, insurance, feminism, nikah, and fertility clinics (see Beşer 1991, 1993; Kurucan 1998; TDV 1999). Fatwa books are bestsellers in Turkey. Moreover, many newspapers have fatwa columns. There are also many Turkish online fatwa sites on the Internet.

  2. 2.

    Recent research (Miller 2000; Ozsu 2010; Yildirim 2005) has powerfully shown that drafters of the 1926 code aimed at minimizing disturbance to the patriarchal and Islamic norms and practices in society. Nevertheless, this chapter looks at the issues concerning which there is an obvious clash between official and unofficial laws.

  3. 3.

    Article 174/4 of the Turkish Constitution.

  4. 4.

    Article 143 of the new Civil Code and Article 237/3 of the Criminal Code. This is today regulated by the new 2005 Penal Code’s Article 230.

  5. 5.

    Article 143 of the new Civil Code.

  6. 6.

    The previous Criminal Code’s relevant article was as follows: (1) A marriage officer who knowingly solemnizes the marriage of persons who are not legally entitled to marry, parties to such a marriage, and appointed or natural guardians who consent or lead the parties to such a marriage, shall be imprisoned for 3 months to 2 years. (2) A public officer issuing marriage certificates without abiding by legal requirements shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 3 months. (3) Whoever performs a religious ceremony for a marriage without seeing the certificate indicating that the parties are lawfully married shall be punished by the punishment prescribed in the foregoing paragraph. (4) Men and women who cause a religious ceremony to be performed prior to being married lawfully shall be punished by imprisonment for 2–6 months.

  7. 7.

    Y2HD 06. 06. 1983 E 983. 2664 K 983. 3310; Y2HD 04. 06. 1985 E. 985. 5223 K. 985. 5310; Y 4CD 28. 04. 1992 E. 992. 2504 K. 992. 3125.

  8. 8.

    Cities and regions included are: Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Sakarya, Denizli from Western Anatolia, Gaziantep, Adana, Antalya, Hatay from South Anatolia, Ankara, Eskişehir, Konya, Kütahya from Central Anatolia, Samsun, Zonguldak, Trabzon, Kastamonu from Blacksea, Malatya, Erzurum, Diyarbakır, Sivas, Van, Kars, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, Siirt, Ağrı from East and South East Anatolia (SPO 1992).

  9. 9.

    96/1606; 96/1661; 21.3.1996; 22 Yargıtay Kararları Dergisi 1996, 1291.

  10. 10.

    YARGITAY HUKUK GENEL KURULU E. 1997/4-690 K. 1997/893 T. 5.11.1997, for a similar 2002 case see T.C. YARGITAY HUKUK DAİRESİ 4 Esas No. 2001/13026 Karar No. 2002/3866 Tarihi 01.04.2002.

  11. 11.

    T.C. YARGITAY 4. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 2001/4849 K. 2001/8843 T. 1.10.2001.

  12. 12.

    T.C. YARGITAY 4. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 2004/5370 K. 2004/14142 T. 13.12.2004.

  13. 13.

    02/1153; 03/2380; 6.3.2003; 29 Yargıtay Kararları Dergisi, 2003, 1044.

  14. 14.

    Danıştay 11. Daire, E:2003/121, K:2005/5372.

  15. 15.


  16. 16.

    T.C. YARGITAY 4. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 2004/15423 K. 2005/13451 T. 13.12.2005, YARGITAY 21. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 2007/289 K. 2007/8718 E. 2007/289 K. 2007/8718 T. 28.5.2007. For similar previous Court of Cassation cases see Y. 21. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 1996/1604 K. 1996/1661 T. 21.3.1996, Y.21.H.D. 03.02.2000 Gün 2000/711 Esas 2000/637 Karar, Y. 21. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 2001/4847 K. 2001/6170 T. 25.9.2001, Y. 21. HUKUK DAİRESİ E. 1997/2093 K. 1997/2188 T. 25.3.1997.

  17. 17.

    See ; for a recent Court of Cassation case involving religious only marriage see YHGK 22.12.2010 E.2010/3-634–K.2010/677. For different views on the doctrine on this issue see Ayan (2004: 303), Badur (2009: 73), Köseoğlu (2008: 329).

  18. 18.{“itemid”:[“001-101579”]}.

  19. 19.

    Yargıtay 10. Hukuk Dairesi 2008/18155 E.N., 2010/2758 K.N.

  20. 20.

  21. 21.

  22. 22.

    See  for  an  example

  23. 23.

    Act No. 3453, 1938.

  24. 24.

    Y4CD 14. 03. 1990 E. 990. 916- K. 990. 1435.

  25. 25.

    See, for such an example, Y2HD 28.4.1986, E.4269- K.4463.

  26. 26.

    Y2HD 28.12.1987, E.11288- K.10889. See also Y2HD 07. 05. 1985, E. 4496- K. 4385. For another under-age marriage see also Y.21.H.D. 03.02.2000 E. 2000/711 K. 2000/637.

  27. 27.

    Y2HD 24.9.1985, E. 8499- K.7437. For a similar case, see Y2HD 7.5.1985, E.4496- K. 4385.

  28. 28.

    T.C. Yargitay Hukuk Genel Kurulu Esas No. 2003/4-55 Karar No. 2003/100 T. 26.02.2003.

  29. 29.

    T.C. Yargitay Hukuk Genel Kurulu Esas No. 2003/4-55 Karar No. 2003/100 T. 26.02.2003.

  30. 30.

  31. 31.

    YHGK 26. 03. 1986, E. 2. 751- K. 287; Y2HD 27. 02. 1986, E. 1729- K. 2054; Y2HD 03. 06. 1990 194. 2546.

  32. 32.

    See, for an example, Milliyet, 6 March 1998, p. 3.

  33. 33.

    It is so common that one can find many examples for this. See, for instance, Zaman, 11 April 1998, p. 11.

  34. 34.

    Y21HD 21.03.1996, E. 1604- K. 1661.

  35. 35.

    Yargitay Genel Kurulu E. 2006/2-558 K. 2006/568 T. 20.9.2006.

  36. 36.

    Yargitay 4. Hukuk Dairesi E.2004/14503 K. 2005/11211 T. 20.10.2005.


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Yilmaz, I. (2015). Semi-official Turkish Muslim Legal Pluralism: Encounters Between Secular Official Law and Unofficial Shari’a . In: Possamai, A., Richardson, J., Turner, B. (eds) The Sociology of Shari’a: Case Studies from around the World. Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies, vol 1. Springer, Cham.

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