A state sponsored program to build mosques in foreign countries has emerged as a foreign policy instrument for Turkey and a way to assert a leadership role in the Muslim world, writes Thomas Seibert in Al Monitor (Feb. 13).
The Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) runs the international mosque-building program through a foundation. Most recently, during a visit to Cuba, President Erdogan announced that Turkey would like to build a mosque in Havana, although an agreement has already been made with Saudi Arabia for that purpose. There is already a Turkish-built mosque in Haiti. According to governmental information, Turkey is currently involved in building 18 large mosques, including in the US, the UK and post-Soviet Central Asian States. In Tirana, Albania, the Turkish-built mosque will be the largest in the Balkans.
Seibert notes that last year the Directorate of Religious Affairs was placed directly under Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This was seen as marking a new “campaign of religious diplomacy” by Turkish media. According to political scientist Beril Dedeoglu (Galatasaray University), quoted in the article, the mosque-building program would serve “as an instrument of soft power to widen Turkey’s influence.” Domestically, it may also boost the ruling party image among those conservative Muslim segments in the electorate.