This article is not a contemplation on women and politics. Neither is it a discussion on Muslim women, the hijab, and Islamism. Instead, this is a testimony to and a remark on Şule Yüksel Şenler, an Islamist vernacular intellectual who blazed a trail in the Islamist politics of Türkiye but existed in Islamism discussions rather through her absence. Şenler vernacularised Islamism by mobilising the hijab, public talks, cinema, literature, journalism, and womanhood, amongst other things, such as charities, organisations, and politics. However, despite her profound influence on Islamism and Turkish politics in general, Şenler remained absent in Islamism literature both in Turkish and English, except for short references and a couple of works. While those secondary references were in relation to the subjects of cinema, the hijab, women, or novel, individual works either emphasised her role in the construction of Islamist woman’s identity (Beşinci 2017) or portrayed her as an early style icon of urban Islamicate fashion (Altinay 2013). Therefore, despite offering important insight into her, current scholarship does not give a comprehensive picture of her place in Turkish politics and Islamism. As a testimony and remark, this article offers an introduction to Şule Yüksel Şenler. As a testimony, I begin with a depiction of the context in which she emerged as a vernacular intellectual. Therefore, initially, I provide a chronicle of Turkish politics focusing on the 1960s with a biographical note on Şenler. Next, as a remark, I attempt to work her out as a vernacular intellectual who fashioned the context that concurrently moulded her. To this end, first, I present Grant Farred’s concept of vernacular intellectual. Farred coined the term to account for the particular intellectual figures who emerged from anti/postcolonial struggles. Then, I narrate the story of Şenler by expanding the vernacular intellectual and vernacular beyond the conventional postcolonial setting. That way, I also forge vernacularity as an analytical tool that can be employed to analyse other anti-hegemonic struggles.
It was during the early Republican period when Mehmet Ali Aycan, a state official, requested his wife İkbal Hanım not to wear çarşaf 1 anymore. He conveyed that they received an instruction, and as the officials of the new modern Türkiye, they should have served as models for the public. Thus, Mehmet Ali Bey also replaced his traditional fez with a felt hat following the infamous Hat Law (1925), which made the Western-style hat compulsory for state officials (Aslan and Dündar 2014: 36–37; Tezcan 2019: 19–21). Accordingly, they raised their children to emulate a Western lifestyle, manifested in balls, ballroom dances, and “modern” clothes where Islam was “absent” from all social life. Growing up in such an environment, their daughter Mihriban Ümran married her cousin Hasan Tahsin Şenler, who had a similar upbringing. (Şule) Yüksel Şenler was born as their third child in 1938 (Tezcan 2019: 20–22).
While such a secular depiction might be considered an exception for a Muslim “majority” state that served as the abode of the Caliphate for centuries, indeed, it was the epitome of an urban family in the new Turkish Republic. Crystallised by the abolishment of the Caliphate in 1924, the Kemalist regime of Türkiye pursued a policy to dislocate Islam from social and political life. Deploying secularism, nationalism, westernisation, and modernisation as the principal strategies, it attempted to invent a homogenous Turkish nation. This “invention of the ‘Turk’ was essential to replace the Muslim as a political subject” (Sayyid 1997: 66). To this end, the regime enacted reforms such as the abolition of Sharia Courts, ban on Islamicate orders (tariqat), adoption of the Swiss Civil Code and Latin alphabet, and omission of Islam as state religion from the constitution (Sayyid 1997: 63–66). Moreover, to facilitate the dissemination and sedimentation of secularism, it employed top-down oppressive measurements to the extent of imposing the death penalty for offences against secularism. The emergency law Takrir-i Sukun Kanunu in 1925 and the trials at the Independence Courts (İstiklal Mahkemeleri) exemplified these atrocities. Between 1923 and 1927, the Courts sentenced hundreds of people to the death penalty and thousands of others to punishments for crimes, namely treason, exploiting religion for political purposes, and provoking hostility and conflict in society. The execution of İskilipli Atıf Hoca due to the opposition to the Hat Law was the most notorious (Aslan and Dündar 2014).
The transition to the multi-party system in 1946 relatively downplayed secularism’s oppressiveness by allowing more room for Islam in public life. The foundation of the Demokrat Parti (Democratic Party, DP) and the public appeal to its Islam-friendly promises led the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party, CHP) to embrace a less secular tune to maintain its hegemony. Introduction of the elective religious courses in primary schools (1948), the establishment of fifteen new İmam Hatips (preacher schools) (1949), the foundation of the Faculty of Divinity in Ankara University (1949) and the opening of shrines (1950), that were banned for twenty-five years were among the examples of these. With the electoral victory of the DP in 1950, the Islamisation process was accelerated (Durgun 2010: 129–132). The DP government legalised the ezan (call for prayer) in Arabic, which was criminalised and Turkified before as being recited in Turkish. It supported the mosque constructions and the Quran courses, allowed the Quran recitation on the official radio, legalised the Islamicate orders and opened Islamicate schools like Imam Hatips in addition to the many other Islamisation reforms (Taspinar 2005: 123–125). However, rather than a substantial transformation, Islamisation operated as a passive revolution to conserve the Kemalist hegemony by realising the demands of the dissenting public. Therefore, while introducing those reforms, the government also strengthened secularism to neutralise the effects of Islamisation by contradicting actions to Islamisation policy. For example, the state passed the “Law to Penalise Anti-Atatürk Criminal Conduct” in 1951, which criminalises defamation, insult or attack against the pictures, statues, busts and reforms of Atatürk. That legalisation happened particularly upon the attacks on the figures of Atatürk by an Islamicate order as symbols of oppression and the manifestation of paganism.
Parallel to this, both the Turkish Nationalist Association and Millet Partisi (Nation Party) were outlawed for their anti-secularism and instrumentalisation of religion for political ends (Taspinar 2005: 124–125).
This cautiousness and ambivalence in the government and state policies coloured the Muslim politics of the time. As a result of the Kemalist persecutions, (pan)Islamism of the late Ottoman period lost its momentum as a political movement and was forced underground. Therefore, until the relative liberalisation of the late 1940s, the discussions by Muslims were confined to rather basic matters like morality, faith, prayer, education, and relevant rights. It was not possible to raise criticisms or concerns regarding Islamicate governance, legal system, administration, or politics in general. Although Islamists 2 had had an opportunity to exist politically with the DP government, this remained limited to political discussions such as the demand for ezan to be in Arabic (Aykaç and Durgun 2018: 157–159).
Despite the aforementioned countermeasures against Islamisation, the third electoral victory of the DP in 1957 intensified the discomfort of the secular elite. This discomfort climaxed with a coup in May 1960 to guard the Republican “Kemalist values” against the rising “Islamic fundamentalism” and the execution of the top politicians, including prime minister Adnan Menderes (Taspinar 2005: 126–127). The new military government initially attempted to reverse Islamisation, but a strong adverse public reaction stopped them. Besides, the 1961 Constitution was a relatively more liberal one than the previous and subsequent constitutions, and then, this liberalisation provided a limited space also for Islam. Nevertheless, Islam was too significant to leave free. Therefore, the government also ensured its authority over Islam by administrating the Directorate of Religious Affairs and Article 19 of the constitution: “No individual can exploit religion in order to change the social, economic, political, or legal structure of the state according to religious principles, neither can religion be used to further personal or political interests” (Taspinar 2005: 128). Within those official constraints, the 1960s witnessed the germination of Islamism through mounting intellectual discussions, particularly in the socio-cultural arena, which later culminated in a more organised political movement.
(Şule) Yüksel Şenler’s pilgrimage was parallel to the new Republic. When recounting her childhood, she states that “requirement of the age” (çağın gereği) was the motto of their life (Tezcan 2019: 22). As the modern age required them to socialise at proms with the opposite gender, drink alcohol, and wear more revealing outfits, Islam was mostly absent in their social life. On the other hand, the ironic conservativism of Kemalism, which micromanaged the forms and limits of modernisation, was also in effect. The most pivotal influence of this ironic conservatism happened to be on Şenler’s education life. When she started secondary school, her parents accompanied her to the school. Later, with the increasing workload of her father due to their worsening economic conditions, this became the responsibility of her mother, Ümran Hanım. However, in her second year, her mother was bedridden because of a heart attack, which marked the end of her education life. This was because a young lady should not have been allowed outside alone. During that period, she worked with a tailor and took painting and music courses with her sister Gonca. These experiences later played a crucial role in forging the “vernacular” in her activism. Simultaneously, she continued reading and writing and started to publish her stories in literary journals as early as 14–15. Later, between 15–18, she published more regularly in the youth section of Yeni İstanbul Gazetesi (New Istanbul Newspaper). During this process, she added the name “Şule” to Yüksel since the latter could be mistaken for a man as it is a unisex name (Tezcan 2019: 29–32). At 20, she became a columnist in Kadın Gazetesi (Woman Newspaper), a secular newspaper which was composed by women. Şenler’s initial confrontations with secularism occurred in this newspaper. Although she still had a more secular way of life, her columns covered matters like how westernisation was incompatible with national and Islamicate values and praised the Islamicate and Ottoman past. Şenler remembers how the Islamophobic publisher of the newspaper lamented the “reactionism” of such a “modern young lady” to the extent of crossing out all words of “Allah” from her writings. These confrontations led to the resignation of Şenler from the newspapers after a while (Tezcan 2019: 38–39).
Şenler assumes that although she did not have then Islamicate concerns, her elder brother Özer (later named Üzeyir by Bediüzzaman) influenced her towards embracing and promoting such views without her even recognising them. Üzeyir was a disciple of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, a prominent Muslim leader and scholar famous for his legendary and idiosyncratic tafsir collection Risale-i Nur. Socialising in Risale circles and adopting a more pious lifestyle, Üzeyir preached the same to his family and was critical of them. For example, he narrates how he got angry and left home when he came home to find Şule and Gonca in a music lesson with a teacher who had a bottle of alcohol in front of him (Tezcan 2019: 32). Similarly, the family was also unhappy with Üzeyir’s stances and warned him. For instance, Üzeyir tells how his father tried to prevent him from going to the mosque by locking his bedroom door (Tezcan 2019: 40). While reciting those memories, Şule Yüksel Şenler notes that this negative attitude of the family partly stemmed from common fears about the Nurcu Movement of Bediüzzaman. Nurcus were then regarded as “bogus”. As a result, raids happened on them; their books were collected, people were arrested for reading Risales, and they hit the headlines. Indeed, later, Üzeyir also was detained during a Risale reading circle raid (Tezcan 2019: 40–42).
That Üzeyir had a severe illness became a turning point in Şenler’s life. As all thought he would die, Şenler asked him for his last wish, and Üzeyir requested them to attend Risale reading circles. Şenler fulfilled this wish. However, her first participation was a strange experience. As the only non-hijabi in the room composed of dozens of old, traditionally veiled ladies as listeners and a young one as the reciter-explainer, Şenler recalls how she felt embarrassed because of her short skirt, T-shirt, polished nails, and hair knot. In the subsequent meetings, even though she was given Risale to lead the sessions and was appreciated for her good delivery, she remained the subject of steely gazes and open condemnations by the old ladies due to her “modern” style. However, she insisted on attending the meetings as she began to feel “excitements of faith” (Tezcan 2019: 44–45). This encounter with the old ladies became crucial in constructing the “Şulebaş” style, which determined the course of Islamicate fashion in the country in the long run. In the short run, it resulted in a new group and facilitated the veiling process for Şenler as she was postponing it in order to feel “faithfully mature enough”. With the increasing number of meeting attendees, including the non-hijabi friends of Şenler who received similar reactions, she organised a separate Risale circle with the younger members. Those reading circles enabled her to find the courage to start wearing a hijab in 1965 (Tezcan 2019: 46). Although this decision was not easy for Şenler, as will be explored later, it marked a milestone not only in her journey but also in the political course of Türkiye. This initial inner struggle of hers laid the first stone in the vernacularisation of the hijab by paving the way for her emergence as a vernacular intellectual in due course.
In What’s My Name?: Black Vernacular Intellectuals, Grant Farred (2003) coined the concept “vernacular intellectual” to understand the anti/postcolonial figures such as Muhammad Ali, C. L. R. James, Stuart Hall, and Bob Marley. While all those names do not necessarily fit in with the conventional figure of an intellectual with their highly divergent trajectories and occupations, they, nevertheless, all bear a common feature in their transgressions. Farred identifies this commonality as the centrality of the vernacular in their endeavour: they intellectualise the popular for their political intervention from below. By purchasing popular culture as the principal locus of politics, they deploy the popular as the primary language and mode of resistance. However, this deployment is conducted through vernacular – the language of the colonised, sub-altern, and marginalised. As opposed to the properness of the dominant or the popular of the dominant, vernacular is allocated to the disenfranchised, ghettoised, silenced, or side-lined (Farred 2003: 3–17). In that sense, the vernacular intellectual is at the “intersection between the dominant and the subjugated” (Farred 2003: 12). At some point, their involvement in the public discussion is through the deployment of the discourse of the subjugated. However, on other occasions, their celebrity status places them to speak from within the hegemonic discourse (Farred 2003: 23–24). 3 It is not always easy to differentiate what Farred means by popular since it may refer to the popular of the dominant or what is popular for the subjugated. However, we can comprehend the transforming versatility of the vernacular intellectual through this difficulty. In other words, we can consider the practice of the vernacular intellectual both as a vernacularisation of the popular of the dominant/hegemonic and the popularisation/hegemonisation of the vernacular, which is the popularity of the subjugated. What endows intellectual and political efficacy to them is this ability of two-way translation and transformation, which is enabled by the (partial) intelligibility of the new macaronic (mülemma) language they invented.
This macaronism can be considered as the distinguishing impact of the vernacular intellectual compared to the other notions of the intellectual, particularly by Gramsci. Farred develops the concept of the vernacular intellectual by engaging with Antonio Gramsci’s idea of the organic/traditional intellectual. He asserts that Gramsci’s expansion of the role by claiming “All men are intellectuals” (cited in Farred 2003: 2) opens the room for unconventional figures like Ali and Marley. However, Gramsci draws the line between intellectual and non-intellectual by referring to whether their professional activity leans towards “intellectual elaboration” or “muscular-nervous effort”. This characterisation bears limitations that prevent the appraisal of specific figures, such as Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley (Farred 2003: 8). Notably, as a boxer who maintains life through his “muscular-nervous effort”, it becomes a great challenge to map Ali as an intellectual. On the other hand, ironically, his success in this muscular-nervous effort enabled Ali to craft himself as a public figure who could propose his intellectual elaboration as an effective transgression. Ali’s intellectual elaboration revealed itself on several occasions in the ring. His renouncement of Cassius Clay as a slave name to replace it with Muhammad Ali could not have become such an effective political action unless it were in the ring by a successful boxer instead of any other African-American. Through this naming, Ali forged “an unprecedented ideological agency” by both negating the old and self-constructing the new (Farred 2003: 28). However, as Farred notes, beyond acquiring it, Ali’s call was also for the right to be recognised by that new identity. This demand for recognition occurred in the ring by utilising all available means, including force, as it was executed on Terrell with the assertions of “What’s My Name?”. Through this op-positioning and narration, Ali incarnated an account of the postcolonial struggle in himself, which enabled him to represent the colonised, African-American and the counter-hegemonic (Farred 2003: 29). In similar instances, he continued to speak for the opposition and the subjugated out of duty he envisioned for himself as an intellectual. His ostensible opposition to the Vietnam War, voicing the sufferings of “Negroes in America” and declaring war on poverty, his rejection of the army induction as a Muslim (which led him to lose his crown and right to play), and his initial tours and connections with the “Third World” and Muslims were among those occasions where Ali invented himself as a vernacular intellectual (Farred 2003: 33–49). Through an analysis of those occurrences, Farred envisages Ali as a vernacular intellectual,
because he constructed himself as the spokesperson from a marginalized or oppressed community who gives public expression to the experiences of that constituency through the utilization and popularization of that grouping’s linguistic patterns, its cultural rituals, rites, and mores, and its unique traditions. (2003: 50)
This depiction postulates a succinct definition of vernacular intellectual regarding the utilisation and popularisation of the vernacular. Furthermore, it is also another departure point from Gramsci’s intellectual. That is because, despite his popularisation, Gramsci’s model still regards an intellectual as a “conventional political actor” by restricting their relations to be with traditional institutions such as political party, trade union and class. However, as observed in the case of Ali, those intellectuals do not have any necessary relation but strategically use any potential made available by the popular. Thus, through vernacular intellectual, Farred mobilises Gramsci’s intellectual beyond the economic and political modes by placing the “popular” as the locus of intellectualism of this figure (2003: 4). This rootedness in the popular bestows an ambiguous negotiatory power with the hegemony. For instance, a paradox of the vernacular intellectual lies in the contribution to the hegemony by being part of it. While Ali utilised the opportunities provided by America and his Americanness against it, he also enabled the global hegemonisation of the American vernacular via his Americanness (Farred 2003: 55). However, what is more “ironic” for Farred in Ali’s case is the appropriation of the disgraces of hegemony. For instance, Farred mentions how he usurped racist expressions against his “enemy” in the ring (2003: 51). Similar colonialist and orientalist attitudes were present in Ali’s comments on Africa during the 1960s and his hesitations in rejecting the invitations from the white South African government in 1972 (he ultimately did not accept). Indeed, later in his autobiography, Ali acknowledged those attitudes and that he knew little of Africa then, except for Tarzan movies (Farred 2003: 75–78). However, despite this repentance, Farred notes some other instances that can be regarded as Ali’s ideological compromises, namely his “Third World” matches for (possible) economic reasons and his Jakarta fight without opposing the genocide by Sukarto (Farred 2003: 86–87). In addition to Ali’s personal inability to critique, Farred considers this “the paradox of the vernacular intellectual as a ‘popular culture intellectual’”. Unlike the Gramscian intellectual, popularity enables the intellectual intervention of the popular culture intellectual. In other words, their ability to transgress is contingent on maintaining the popularity that they can lose when crossing certain lines (Farred 2003: 88–89). In this case, the utilisation of the popular opens a space for them within the hegemony that they can also marshal against. In short, they are not only against the hegemony – like the organic intellectual anchored in the communities – but also within the hegemony, knowing and speaking its discourse (Farred 2003: 12).
While Farred’s conceptualisation is rooted in race and limited to the anti/postcolonial context, we can extend it to understand other anti-hegemonic struggles, including Islamism in Türkiye. For, a similar ambivalence toward hegemony is evident in the popular Islamist debates of the 1960s and the 1970s. The relative but strictly controlled space provided by the 1961 Constitution – and the new international and domestic conditions – allowed Islamists to voice their views publicly. In terms of formal politics, the initial result was that Islamists could become deputies through centre-right parties, which later culminated in the establishment of the Milli Nizam Partisi (MNP, National Order Party) in 1970, emerging from the Milli Görüş (National Outlook) Movement. Regarding the socio-cultural and ideational aspects, this opening culminated in the emergence of an Islamist intelligentsia (Durgun and Bayraktar Durgun 2010: 79). Indeed, for the mentioned period, the success in the latter aspect facilitated the emergence of Islamism as a more organised political movement. One of the peculiarities of this new emerging Islamist movement was its vernacularity. Vernacularity and vernacularisation, literally relating to indigenous or local, here can be interpreted in different ways, which complement each other rather than contradict. One understands them in the same way as Jenny B. White’s (2002) “vernacular politics”. White coins the term to account for the politics of the Islamist movement in Ümraniye in İstanbul, Türkiye. In the 1994 elections, Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) of the Islamist Milli Görüş Movement won the mayorship both in İstanbul and Ümraniye, which led White to focus on local Islamist activists and their activities at various levels such as civic, political, cultural, and religious. However, during her studies on Islamists in the 1990s, she identifies a political process and mobilisation that cannot be understood through the existing, Western tools of social inquiry, namely the mentioned levels or concepts like civil society. This recognition results in White’s employment of “vernacular” in analysing the moment. Vernacular politics points to hybridity where political ideology, culture, and organisation reconnect (White 2002: 5–6). She particularly emphasises the ones between local and national/formal politics (White 2002: 20–27). “Vernacular politics expresses (and is expressed through) local cultural norms and idioms, but also takes advantage of available structural vehicles that might include political parties, religious or ethnic institutions, and civic organizations”. In that sense, it is a “populist” politics which also needs to “accommodate itself to such structural limitations as a type of government, regulatory laws, and degree of press and organizational freedom” (White 2002: 265). In this case, similar to Farred’s vernacular, what is at stake is a populist balance between hegemonic and local. Vernacularisation is a two-way translation which results in the invention and popularisation of a new language, indeed a discourse.
Vernacularisation as translation, invention, and popularisation is more obvious when we read Islamism in Türkiye as an accent of a global phenomenon, which is the second way of understanding it. That is because the translations from Islamist intellectuals, namely Qutb, Maududi, and Shariati, tremendously expedited and shaped the Islamist mobilisation after the 1960s (Aykaç and Durgun 2018: 160–161). The mentioned hardcore Kemalism of the early Republic generated an intellectual and political vacuum that translations could fill. Until that period, there were no Islamicate publications due to the censorship policies. Along with the broader erasure of Islam from social and political life, this absence exacerbated a feeling of inadequacy in intellectual and political life. In a broader sense, this was an identity crisis for Islamists as they could not find adequate sources to inhabit and forge an identity. The increasing influence of Marxist thought also aggravated this crisis as a threat to Muslim identity. They needed an Islamicate alternative in order to respond to the crisis of modern life. These concerns led Islamists to pursue Islamicate thought abroad, especially in Pakistan and Egypt, homing Jamaat-i Islami and Ihvan. In addition, the establishment of Imam Hatip (Preacher) schools and Higher Islamic Institutes required Islamicate publications for the curriculum and translations from contemporary/modern Muslim scholars were the best solution. Therefore, utilising the relative political opening of the period, Islamists embarked on a translation mobilisation (Köroğlu 2020: 46–53). The first translation from Maududi was in 1957. However, after 1965, his works were massively translated into Turkish (Köroğlu 2020: 57–58). The first translation from Qutb was in 1962, and, like Maududi, the 1960s and the 1970s witnessed vast translations from him (Köroğlu 2020: 61). Among those translations, Milestones, which was translated in 1966 just after his execution, faced censorship and punishments for the publishers, such as imprisonment (Köroğlu 2020: 63). These translations immensely facilitated and moulded the formation of Islamism. It provided the language and arguments for Islamists to narrate themselves, enabling its vernacularisation. There have been two main readings of this phase of Islamism. While one criticised Islamists for deviating and alienating from the Ottoman-Turkish tradition and the domestic realities, the other one interpreted this as a step towards being a genuine Umma and Islamic(ate) (Aykaç and Durgun 2018, Köroğlu 2020). Despite their initially contradictory appearance, this two-fold reading is both a confirmation and a concomitant of vernacularisation. For, as a two-way translation inventing a new macaronic language, on the one hand, vernacularisation made Islamism a vernacular of Türkiye by popularising it in Türkiye. On the other hand, it vernacularised a global phenomenon by giving it a Turkish accent. As a result of this translation, Islamism vernacularised, and its politics became vernacular both in relation to the domestic (as White points out) and the global.
Weapons of the Enemy
In the previous section, I initially introduced the vernacular intellectual of Farred, mainly through the example of Muhammad Ali. Then, drawing on it, I envisaged what vernacular and vernacularisation would have meant in the context of Islamism in Türkiye. However, this contemplation was categorical rather than substantial. I only attempted to devise them as tools to analyse the emergence of Islamism and the role of Şule Yüksel Şenler in this process. I did not demonstrate how it was vernacular and how Şenler accelerated its vernacularisation and emerged as an Islamist vernacular intellectual. In this and the following sections, I will contemplate those questions. This contemplation will also show how and why “vernacular” can be a helpful tool in understanding Islamism and how and why it is significant to narrate Şenler as a vernacular intellectual.
Due to the perplexities of vernacularisation mentioned in the previous section, the ambivalent relation with hegemony was an inevitable feature of the vernacularisation and vernacular intellectuals of Islamism in Türkiye. In managing this relationship, Islamists embraced pragmatism as a strategy, similar to Qutb’s pragmatism, in which he prioritised a practical and active agency over essentialism and essentialist metaphysical concerns (Sayyid 2017). We can construe this pragmatism with the help of a putative hadith, “Arm yourself up with the weapon of the enemy”. During the 1960s–1970s, this statement appeared like a mantra for Islamists in justifying the employment of the “popular” – vernacularisation. 4 Şenler’s hijab style and fictional work Huzur Sokağı (Serenity Street) developed as the principal medium in this vernacularisation. Şenler invented a hijab style that she defined as “stylish, elegant, modern” (sık, zarif, modern) and later named Şulebaş (Şule-head) (Tezcan 2019: 72). In designing Şulebaş, she took inspiration from the style of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. More interestingly, she introduced this style using photographs of models from Western fashion magazines. By painting her designs on the models, she published them with their detailed patterns and promoted this style through a series of conferences commencing in 1967 (Altinay 2013; Beşinci 2017: 95–96). As it will be delineated later as a critical milestone in Republican history, this utilisation of the popular and hegemonic determined the course of Islamism and the hijab issue as a major fault line in Türkiye.
While “arming up” with the popular in hijab issue was a relatively individual decision despite the representativeness of her experience and concerns, the case with Huzur Sokağı was a public one from the very beginning. Şenler initially imagined a long story or a short novel – Huzur Sokağı – for Şule Mecmuası (Şule Magazine) of Kemal Ural. However, the magazine closed for financial reasons even before Şenler started writing. Later, film director Yücel Hekimoğlu asked for an Islamicate movie scrip from Şenler, a famous Islamist activist and columnist of the era (Şenler 2012). However, after reading the script, the director decided not to film it due to occupational difficulties. During that process, the renowned newspaper publisher Mehmet Şevket Eygi recommended that she turn it into a serial novel to be published in his newspaper, and Huzur Sokağı finally met the public in 1969. The series had a tremendous reception, and the letters and visits to Şenler became unmanageable. While some were asking about the place of the street and the characters’ real lives, others shared how it influenced them to the extent that they decided to convert to Islam (Tezcan 2019: 235–244). When the novel was filmed with the title of Birleşen Yollar (Crossroads) by the Islamist director Yücel Çakmaklı in 1970, its impact reached beyond the non-secular constituency in the country. For, the movie incited a fierce debate around Islam and secularism among the general public.
Regarding its content, the fiction revolves around the love between a pious young man (Bilal) and a modern, non-hijabi young woman (Feyza). The story begins with the construction of a large apartment building on a small suburban street in İstanbul, where pious, poor, modest, and good people live peacefully. This construction generates fears that the modern, faithless, and obscene residents of the new apartment will disturb the peace of the street. Indeed, Bilal – the educated, decent, and good-looking male protagonist from the street – preaches Islam and modesty to the street dwellers against the life of the apartment residents. Feyza is one of the apartment residents and falls in love with Bilal. With the influence of Bilal, she goes through salvation, gradually embraces a more pious life, starts to wear a hijab and becomes a dedicated Muslim. Although Bilal also loves Feyza, due to several accidents they cannot marry, and end up marrying people from their own circles. However, despite such a marriage, Feyza raises her daughter Hilal as a little “jihadist”. Feyza divorces after a while and returns to the street. Similarly, Bilal – whose wife passes away– raises his son Nusret as an ideal Muslim and doctor. By coincidence, Hilal and Nusret meet, fall in love, and marry (Şenler 2021).
The case of Huzur Sokağı, as a pioneering Islamist novel and film, provides a good glimpse of the relations of Islamists to the “popular” and hegemony in vernacularisation. In his compendious study Islamic Literature in Contemporary Turkey, Kenan Çayır demonstrates that until the end of the 1970s, when ostensibly Islamicate literature/novels emerged, the Muslim milieu was critical of “the novel as a genre with a Western origin” and “its project to explore and expose private lives in detail” (2007: 6). After Minyeli Abdullah by Hekimoğlu İsmail in 1968, Huzur Sokağı by Şenler in 1970 became the second Islamicate novel. Similar to the subsequent Islamist novelists, their reasoning in this attempt was to instrumentalise the novel to convey the message of Islam to the masses. Çayır depicts this as a “new Islamic consciousness to disseminate their ideas in a popularized fashion” (2007: 7), and identifies this instrumentalisation of literature for Islam as a common feature of Islamist novelists (2007: 14). In exploring this consciousness, he refers to the explanations and justifications offered by Mustafa Miyasoğlu (b. 1946), an Islamist writer in several genres, including the novel. Despite admitting the incompatibility of its expository features with Islam, Miyasoğlu emphases that their contents are more significant than the words themselves. Instrumentalising it for Islamicate purposes, he devises an Islamicate criterion for its adaptation:
In our works in which we reflect Islam’s worldview, we can be like Westerners, in conformity to the Prophet’s saying that advocates “getting the arms of the enemies”. In order to be different from them, our old culture provides us with rich examples. (Miyasoğlu cited in Çayır 2007: 8–9)
The same putative hadith dominated the discussions of Islamist cinema in its emergence period (Bostan and Mustafa 2022). 5 During the 1940s and the 1950s, despite some emphasis on its useful potential, Islamists criticised cinema, like they did with novels. While its exposition of the woman’s body constituted the focal point of the objections, other factors, such as the controversial place of the picture in Islam and the US’s instrumentalisation of Hollywood as propaganda for the Cold War, also played a part in the criticisms (Bostan 2021: 21, 25). However, the relative liberalisation of the 1960s enabled Islamists to be more involved in socio-cultural discussions. This involvement resulted in the Milli Sinema (National Cinema) Movement. In his article, “Milli Sinema İhtiyacı” (“The Need for a National Cinema”) in 1964, Yücel Çakmaklı proposed it as an alternative both to the mainstream capitalist Yeşilçam and supposedly nationalist but indeed Soviet propagandist “social realist” cinema. According to him, neither of those currents echoed the reality of society. Besides, a new series of Islamophobic movies by Yeşilçam (hazretli filmler) portrayed Muslim leaders and characters as ignorant and unethical. Therefore, a cinema was needed that mirrored the values, traditions, beliefs, and ethics of Muslim Turkish people (Kaya and Azak 2015: 261; Bostan 2021: 21–22). This article became a starting signal for the Islamist cinema discussions of the late 1960s. The recurring theme of these discussions was the potential of cinema as a propaganda means for Islam. There were references to other experiences, such as the Vatican’s relevant activities and representations of religious clerics in foreign movies. However, the primary reference was to the aforementioned putative hadith in differing ways, such as reacting against the enemy with its same weapon or not lagging behind the enemy in gearing up. For example, the title of Yücel Hekimoğlu’s 1967 article, where he advocated cinema as propaganda and criticised Muslim’s indifference to it, was “Sinema Silahtır” (“Cinema is a Weapon”) (Bostan 2021: 22–23). Another significant point in these articles regarding the relationship to the state (also hegemony) was the iterating request for state control over movies. For instance, both Çakmaklı and Hekimoğlu recommended the appointment of an officer from the Directorate of Religious Affairs to the censorship board commissioned by the state to monitor the films. This could prevent the damage and misinformation done by hazretli filmler (Bostan and Mustafa 2022: 26).
Birleşen Yollar (1970), written by Şenler (with the support of famous screenwriter Bülent Oran) and directed/produced by Çakmaklı, was the first movie of the Milli Cinema Movement. More significantly, it was the first film that introduced Islam as a part of modern daily life instead of a distant past or myth. In that sense, it was also the first movie offering Islam as a counter-hegemony (Kaya and Azak 2015). Although its occurrence – both as a novel and movie – was the product of the mentioned collective pragmatism, this Islamist pragmatism was much more observable in the film’s production. First, the narrative of Birleşen Yollar was a melodrama, the mainstream genre of the 1960s and the 1970s. With the social transformation of the time, melodramas were popular as narrations focusing on the love between the exaggerated figures from the reverse statuses such as modern/urban/rich and mostly immoral against traditional/rural/poor and mostly moral. And, centring on the love between suburban, ethical, pious Bilal and urban, immoral, non-religious Feyza, Birleşen Yollar successfully Islamised the melodrama narrative (Kaya and Azak 2015: 263–264; Dündar 2020). Second, the actors in the movie were not from Islamist circles. Rather, Çakmaklı chose the most “popular” stars of the time. For instance, the female protagonist Feyza was performed by Türkan Şoray, renowned as “the sultana” of Turkish cinema and then the most expensive and popular female star, who had already played the principal character in more than 200 movies. Considering that “Feyza was the first urban, pious, veiled woman on the cinema screen” (Kaya and Azak 2015: 265), working with Şoray for this role vernacularised Islam, Islamism, and hijab in an unprecedented way. For it popularised the hijab, piety, and, more generally, Islam in public via the fame and positive reception of Şoray.
However, while the novel and the film contributed to the vernacularisation of the hijab in Türkiye, the major contribution was from its unique style and Şenler’s promotion of it through publications and a series of conferences commencing in 1967. As those publications and lectures sparked some major political moments and transformations in Türkiye, particularly around the hijab, in the following part, I elucidate them in detail with a short genealogy of the hijab in Türkiye.
Muslim Fashion: Stylish, Elegant, Modern
As introduced before, the erasure of Islam from public life through westernisation and secularisation has been one of the hallmarks of Kemalism. While the famous Hat Law was a significant step towards this, the control of the woman’s body was a more central concern. The state introduced specific regulations for some state officials to create the “secular, moderate and chaste” Republican woman. While veiling-related prohibitions were fundamental, “sexy” garments were also banned. Apart from those general regulations, the early attempts at the hijab ban mostly could not succeed. For instance, the ban proposal on the facial veil (peçe) in the 1935 CHP Congress was not accepted, and municipalities were authorised on it. Later, in 1956, three deputies, who were also members of the Union of Turkish Women (Türk Kadınlar Birliği), proposed legislation to ban the headscarf. Embracing Kemalist values, they asserted that hijabi women led Europe to perceive Türkiye as backward. This proposal did not pass through the parliament. However, it was significant for demonstrating the attitude toward Islamicate attire (Kaya Osmanbaşoğlu 2015: 400). The hijab was considered a rural, traditional garment signifying backwardness and peasantry. Therefore, while the mentioned regulations imposed a “modern” dress on certain occupational groups, it was preferred that women in cleaning or tea-serving jobs wore a hijab. For instance, Fevziye Nuroğlu, a veiled university student in the early 1960s, remembers that there were only four hijabi students in the university and urban life was not familiar with the hijab. Then she notes the intolerant approach they endured. Initially, Gülsen Ataseven’s incident officialised this approach in 1964. Although she graduated as the top student from the Faculty of Medicine, İstanbul University, Ataseven was denied her degree due to her hijab. The second student delivered the valedictorian speech. However, the breaking political moment for the headscarf issue occurred in 1967–1968. Hatice Babacan, a student in the Faculty of Divinity at Ankara University, decided to continue at the university with her hijab. Despite the warning, she refused to uncover her head and was dismissed. The dismissal accelerated a student boycott, and she was expelled from the university in April 1968. The boycott unfolded unprecedently, resulting in countrywide protests, publications, parliamentary discussions and the resignation of the dean of the faculty (Çaha 2011: 117–118).
A few months before this incident, on 17 November 1967, Babacan was among the audience of Şule Yüksel Şenler’s conference at Ankara University. The conference and her post-conference consultation with Şenler prompted Babacan to make this decision (Tezcan 2019: 162; Şule Yüksel Şenler Vakfı n.d.). Babacan was just one of the many women who decided to wear a hijab inspired by Şenler. Likewise, the Ankara University Conference was just one of the speeches by Şenler that caused widespread outrage in the national media (Tezcan 2019: 124–129). Şenler embarked on her famous series of conferences in Samsun in 1967 (Altinay 2013). The conference, titled “The Place and Duties of Woman in Islam”, was upon the invitation because Şenler was already a very influential and “scandalous” columnist. Her article, “The Address to the Woman of Islam”, in the Yeni İstiklal newspaper on 25 January 1967, sparked the events. The article was published with a picture of hijabi/niqabi Pakistani university students. In the article, Şenler argued that although Islam valued women unprecedently, the Muslim Turkish woman turned her back on the orders of Allah. She also left her modesty, chastity, and honour by taking her veil off and revealing her body and honour. The article also emphasised the obedience to the husband, the duties of a woman as a mother, and her place as her home. The Union of Turkish Women (Türk Kadınlar Birliği) sued over the article for attempting to change the state’s order by being against secularism. This was Şenler’s first tribunal, and the court decided that the article did not intervene in state affairs and did not propagate to change the regime order. Şenler celebrated this decision as a victory for the woman of Islam and the Turkish judiciary’s approval of her arguments (Tezcan 2019: 51–59).
This celebration and interpretation were significant to show the ironic and pragmatic relationship of Şenler with hegemony. Şenler deemed the headscarf as the salvation and the return-to-the-self of Muslim women. Therefore, it also meant the salvation of society since, through the new “ideal generation” these women raised the old ideal generation was going to return. In other words, the hijab was the centre of her arguments, and she promoted it through her publications and speeches. However, the continuing centrality of the hijab generated more reactions from seculars and feminists. In responding to those arguments, Şenler frequently resorted to this court decision. She argued that, based on two points, the hijab was not against secularism and Kemalism. While this decision was the first, the second was an excerpt from Nutuk – the famous speech by Atatürk (Beşinci 2017: 115–116). Therefore, instead of positioning herself against the Kemalist hegemony, she manipulated it pragmatically to defend her arguments. The enemy was not secularism, Kemalism, or the state. The enemy was those who were against Islam by misunderstanding hegemony. This irony was present in her relationship with the global hegemony – the West – as well. Rather than declaring it as an enemy, she criticised those who westernised. For instance, in Huzur Sokağı, she praises the civilised West and Christians for valuing religion. Through Feyza’s speech, she states that even the Americans, as the most civilised country in the world, demonstrate how they place religion above everything by putting God’s name on their monies (Dündar 2020: 200–2001). Feyza states that we do not give even 1 million of the importance that the civilised West gives their false (batil) religion to our true (hakk) religion, Islam. This speech happens in a conversation between Feyza and a friend who is concerned that real Muslimness belongs to the old ages, and now, as the age has changed, they cannot practice it. In order to persuade her and defend Islam, Feyza claims that while we dismiss and turn our back on it by regarding it as an archaic order, if she knew what the Western people think of Islam, she would have been embarrassed like her – Feyza – due to their non-Islamicate opinions and lifestyles. Her friend gets surprised and asks whether Westerners praise Islamicate. Feyza approves this question and reads a piece written by a French Orientalist (Şenler 2021). Feyza’s defence and promotion of Islam are reminiscent of Şenler’s ironic justification of the hijab. As Şenler refers to the court decision and Nutuk, which are the weapons of the enemy against the hijab, Feyza refers to the West to criticise the westernised who lament Islam as non-modern where modern is equated to the West.
A more “ironic” instance of the vernacular in Şenler’s hijab case, reminding Ali’s appropriation of hegemonic racist expressions, occurs in the invention of the Şulebaş style. As mentioned, in designing this style, Şenler took inspiration from the style of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and introduced it as “stylish, elegant, modern” (sık, zarif, modern) (Altinay 2013; Tezcan 2019: 72). Her leaning toward hegemony – “modern” and “Western” – as a reactive irony first appears in her early struggles when and after deciding to wear hijab. She recounts a mirror talk where she entirely covered her head instead of half as she did initially, looked at herself in the mirror, and then heard the mirror’s voice: how ugly she was, looking like a besleme (handmaiden from a rural-lower-class), servant, and that people would have reckoned her reactionary, bigoted (yobaz), and a fanatic (softa). At each exchange, she initially half-uncovered her head and then full-covered again and responded to the mirror’s voice. In one of those responses, she encouraged herself by stating that with her modern and stylish appearance, it was evident that she was not a besleme (Tezcan 2019: 48–49). Therefore, having a modern, urban style that differentiated her from the rural-lower-class was significant for her, which reveals her appropriation of Kemalist perception of class and modernity in that aspect. On the other hand, and at the same time, she was also critical of this perception at other levels. For instance, she remembers when her grandmother İkbal Hanım mocked her by claiming that people would have called her a Kurdish woman due to her hijab, she countered by saying Kurds were human just like us (Tezcan 2019: 49). When portraying Şenler as the first style icon of “urban Islamic fashion” in Türkiye, Altinay (2013) interprets these struggles by referring to “the Others of modernity”. Considering the racist modern-nation-building process of Kemalism, Kurds were “the ultimate Others of modernity who need to be modernized by Turks”. Therefore, associating the hijab with Kurds in addition to the rural-lower-class, servants, or peasantry consolidated its “reactionary” position as an Islamicate garment in the context of the 1960s. Şenler’s turn towards the West for a solution was a result of this in-betweenness. Acknowledging this marginalisation/subjugation, she both embraced it by wearing a hijab and also, ironically, consolidated it by further marginalising certain groups with her new hijab style. She developed
an Islamic fashion style that would both differentiate her from lower-class, rural, elderly and/or Kurdish women who were perceived to wear the headscarf primarily as a traditional dress item, and also allow her to claim an identity as an urban, middle-class, young and modern woman. (Altinay 2013)
Similarly, to promote this style, she resorted to Western models. Using her previous experience as a tailor and her painting education, she drew designs and sketches on the models she cut from Western fashion magazines, such as gouache-painted headscarves or overcoats. She published those designs in her journal Seher Vakti (see Figure 1). Moreover, she sewed and wore those designs at her conferences (Altinay 2013; Beşinci 2017: 95–96). In a short period of time, those strategies brought results and many urban women, particularly the youth, started to wear hijab by adopting the Şulebaş style. There were several reasons that the Şulebaş style could engender such a massive transformation and hijab mobilisation. Among these reasons, Altinay points to addressing the concerns of urban Muslim women between piety and modernity, and individuality and belonging. For, it resolved those tensions by differentiating its wearers from the mentioned Others of modernity, from the older women like whom Şenler encountered during the Risale readings and by having versatility as a style that can be matched with various clothes, accessories, and fabrics. More significantly, its difference from the “traditional” headscarf styles in the country highlighted the “Islamic” and political identity of its wearers. They considered themselves modern urban Muslim women with Western-style clothes who wore headscarves as they decided to do so because of their deen (religion), not because of the tradition of their parents or society (Altinay 2013). Furthermore, the influence of Feyza from the novel and the movie contributed to this mobilisation, too. In other words, utilising the macaronism of vernacularity in style, film, and novel, Şenler vernacularised the hijab by making it a vernacular of Islamism in Türkiye and “an issue” in Turkish politics as it was officialised with the Babacan incident.
Şenler’s impact on the vernacularisation of Islamism was not limited to her movies, fashion, conferences, or publications. Her antagonistic reception by the seculars significantly contributed to this impact. Beyond the popular media and particular secular groups such as the Union of Turkish Women, President Cevdet Sunay also attacked her several times. For example, on 17 October 1967, she was sued for insulting the President in her column, “Cry, O My Muslim Brothers and Sisters, Cry!” on the Pope’s İstanbul and Ayasofya visit. In the column, Şenler criticised the official reception by the President and the Prime Minister. Moreover, by mentioning the case of Eyüp Ekmekçi, who was imprisoned for reciting the Quran after praying Juma in Aysofya, she lamented that the Pope was allowed to pray in Ayasofya (Tezcan 2019: 146–150). This lawsuit resulted in her imprisonment in June 1971, which hit the headlines in the country (Tezcan 2019: 268). In another instance, Sunay addressed Şenler without naming her in his Eid message. 6 By pointing to the recent changes in the citizens’ clothes, he reminded the principles of Islam and the “revolution laws” of the Republic. Accordingly, he argued, an association between religion and women’s clothes cannot be made, and a woman’s honour has nothing to do with her clothes but her dignity. Because of this, he stated, the interventions made to make women wear Hijabs and long dresses were inappropriate. Sunay finalised his message with a threat-like warning and fatwa: I come across women with headscarves on the streets. The pioneers of these women will be punished. Indeed, there is no topic on being covered or uncovered in the Quran and our religion (Tezcan 2019: 138). As a response, Şenler published a series of columns titled “Open Letter to the President”, inviting the President to apologise to Allah and the public. Therefore, the transformative and political influence of Şenler has been beyond the public-popular realm and the 1960s–1970s. For instance, Huzur Sokağı became a bestseller after the 1980 coup, reaching 1.5 million copies sold by 2019, and many named their children Feyza and Bilal (Güven 2021: 7). During 2012–2014, it was aired as a TV series on a mainstream channel and received ample attention (atv n.d.).
After she passed away in 2019, her life and legacy were celebrated with a charity in her name, and a documentary where people close to her shared their stories (Kayseri Anadolu Haber Gazetesi 2022). The documentary, titled Şule, was prepared and released by the TRT channel, the national public broadcaster, on 28 February 2022 to mark the 28 February 1997 coup, which ousted the Islamist-led government and carried out a strict secularisation process by criminalising the manifestations of Muslimness. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and First Lady Emine Erdoğan appeared in the documentary as well (Türkyılmaz 2022). Erdoğans were just two of the young Islamists that Şenler touched closely, both politically and personally, as the matchmaker who introduced them to each other (Tezcan 2019: 309). Beyond her literary and public personality, Şenler was also a political activist who established organisations, was involved in political party branches, and befriended the Islamist activists, intellectuals, and political leaders of the time. However, despite this great impact on Islamism and Turkish politics in general, Şenler remained absent in Islamism literature both in Turkish and English. Except for short references to her in hijab, women, cinema, or novel discussions, I could only find a recent master’s thesis (Beşinci 2017) and book chapter (Altinay 2013) on her. While the former focuses on her role in constructing the Islamist woman’s identity and modernisation, the latter depicts her as an early style icon of urban Islamicate fashion. In other words, despite providing significant insight into her, they do not offer a broad picture of her place in Turkish politics and Islamism. In this article, I offered an introduction to Şule Yüksel Şenler by focusing on particular aspects of her influence to depict a rough but overall view of her. While this brief portrayal of Şenler as a vernacular intellectual revealed her central role in the vernacularisation of Islamism in Türkiye, it also constructed “vernacular” as a useful tool in understanding Islamism in Türkiye. Considering its usefulness stems from the marginalised position of Islamism and Şenler, similar to the anti/postcolonial context of Farred, this reading also articulated vernacularity as a tool that can be mobilised to examine other anti-hegemonic movements in the world.