With the winds of capitalism and modernization, there has been a worldwide transition of values and beliefs that creates rapid and immense changes perceived at different rates and impulses by different societies and communities.
For the last decades, Turkey has been experiencing a rapid change in social, cultural, economic and political areas, with religion and the changing lifestyles, accordingly, becoming some of the most important societal dynamics in which the transformation is distinctly visible.
The religious actors, who cannot be indifferent to this transforming conjuncture among the discussion of traditional and modern, began to reposition themselves in this new modern social contexture.
The emergence of bourgeois
Political events were one side of an integrated transformation. In Turkey, the 1980s are accepted as a milestone of economic liberalization. With the rule of the Motherland Party (ANAP), conservative-liberal policies were supported, foreign capital was accelerated and free enterprise was promoted, dissimilar from the traditional financial strategies and statist policies.
Businessmen were encouraged to make their own commercial activities without state interference in this era. Modernization was equated with the economic development, and the post-World War politics of the social state were abandoned, in line with world politics.
The support of businessmen gave way to the creation a new religious and conformist capitalist class that was integrated into the world system. The ideas of individualization and free enterprise transformed not only the economic but also social life, practices and, more importantly, consumption patterns.
The conservatives marginalized during the early Republic created a counter‐elite in the 1990s. With its strong economic infrastructure, this new capital owner group criticized Turkish modernization and demanded an Islamic lifestyle. For the first time in Republican history, conservatives stopped being a marginal group and by means of its political and economic power, they gained the consent of the middle classes.
Demands of an Islamic lifestyle
Hence, the relationship between Islam and capitalism has shown a marked change both in substance and scale. This transformation brought about new social dynamics from communitarianism to individualization, sharing to competition, and compatibility with the system instead of resistance.
Together with consumerism, newly arising societal actors became apparent in this conjuncture, and youth began to form new lifestyles that were similar to the lifestyles of the preexisting elite, yet with conservative tones.
Different manifestations of Islamic capitalism grew out of the simultaneous rising of conservative movements and neoliberal capitalism. A new culture industry, branded as "Islamic," created a new market for commodities, media, advertising and businesses.
The new actors that promoted the conservative movement are urbanized groups whose education and life standards are improved.
With enrichment, the movement's capital became a strong figure in the capitalist system with an active role in the banking and finance system, and this situation produced some outcomes in social life.
New lifestyles led to criticism of the loss of the divine, spiritual, sacred and even ethical values. In that way, the symbolic values of Islam were redefined over material realities.
Moreover, within the capitalist system, the forms of Islamic lifestyle were objectified, commercialized and restructured in accordance with the norms of consumption culture.
During the 1990s, the conservatives with the experience of institutionalization and incorporation had their own middle class, professionals and intellectuals. In the early years of the new millennium, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power, and conservatives' capital gained a climax position in the central economy.
The enrichment of the country meant the expansion of the middle classes and an increase in the living standards of the people, which was one of the most important successes of the AK Party rule. With the visibility of religious actors shifting from private to secularly established public spaces, alternative religious lifestyles began to appear and spread.
The image of pious women
During this social transformation, men discussed their problems and usually found gradual answers. However, women's problems could not be brought to the agenda due to prejudices and concerns of intimacy.
Unlike men, who camouflaged themselves successfully in accordance with the changing rules of the time, the women remained in the spotlight because of their headscarves and became targets both in political and social life in Turkey.
The phenomenon of the headscarf has been "religionized" for women more than men. Therefore, the image of women has always been the focus of debate and stuck at the boundary of traditional and modern.
Correspondingly, while the colorfulness and variegation of dress styles and head coverings of women became highly controversial, luxury dressing for men did not come to the agenda.
In the early 2000s, headscarved women were labeled as unpleasant and frumpish; both conservative and secular men blamed them for not knowing how to dress and recommended they consult with stylists.
Therefore, they had to fight against both political inequalities and societal prejudices. The pious women of the time became active and visible symbols of a movement that aimed to create an alternative to Western modernization.
This visibility of headscarved women leads to questions about both traditional religious prejudices that portray women within the private space and homogenous secular public space formed by the secular elite.
Especially with the execution of the ban of headscarves in public spaces and universities, the headscarved women were forced to become main actors in the debate between the conservative and the secular values of the state.
By this way, the sexuality and bodies of women were included in the scope of politics, and still today, although the ban on head coverings is no longer valid, the debates are. Besides, in the newly emergent Islamic culture industry, a series of images, practices, knowledge and commodities are marketed specifically to Muslim women.
New magazines, television programs, sports clubs, hairdressers and clothing stores for and often by Muslim businesswomen have flourished in the last decades. Many have become entrepreneurs, establishing businesses that combine economic and religious motives.
They have engaged in the creation, labeling and advertising of the objects, narratives, representations and performances of Muslim womanhood that combine Islamic teachings and practices with novel conceptions of piety, beauty, fashion, entertainment, lifestyle, motherhood, professionalism and citizenship. Muslim women have been identified as a niche market with particular needs and desires, mostly attributed to an essentialized Muslimness.
During their struggle to take a place in the public sphere, headscarved women frequently had to face with the paradox of normalization and secularization, hence warned about adopting the discourse of the feminists.
Any attempt to defend women's rights was labeled as feminist demands by some group of conservative men. The pious women, who demanded to be visible in public space and faced societal and political oppression for many years, canalized the discourse of women's rights to the struggle of the right to wear headscarves, in order to be recognized by the society.
However, the mere demand of recognition would incarcerate them to a kind of cultural identity. As the headscarf is normalized by society, the symbolic meanings and values attached to it become the most crucial problematic issue of the movement.
During this transformation, not only the events and the actors, but also the concepts and the terms that define the happenings themselves are contested, reinterpreted and evolved.
The notions that we used a few decades ago refer to incompatible meanings compared with the past. From this point of view, analyzing the notion of the modern image of pious women becomes a tough issue.
The pious women in Turkey do not constitute a homogenous category today. With their different political, ethnic and class origins; demands and activism; beliefs and lifestyles, the women who wear headscarves do not represent a certain set of meanings, but they allow different types of conservatism to be discussed.
* Ph.D. candidate in The Ataturk Institute for Modern Turkish History of Boğaziçi University