Introduction of the Latin alphabet for Turkish
Mustafa Kemal regarded the fez (which Sultan Mahmud II had originally introduced to the Ottoman Empire's dress code in 1826) as a symbol of feudalism and banned it, encouraging Turkish men to wear European attire. The hijab (veil) for women, while never formally banned, was strongly discouraged; and women were encouraged to wear western apparel and enter the country's workforce. From 1926, the Islamic calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar. In 1928 the government decreed that the Arabic script be replaced by a modified Latin alphabet, and citizens between the ages of six and forty were required to attend school and learn the new alphabet. The conservative clergy fiercely opposed these reforms, trying in vain to maintain its traditionally strong influence. As a result of the reforms literacy increased dramatically. The reforms also included extensive removal of Arabic and Persian words from the Turkish language.
Mustafa Kemal opened new schools, where, as part of the curriculum, fine arts were taught to boys as well as girls. Girls had traditionally been excluded entirely from education, but a universal system of education was introduced for children of both sexes. He also lifted the Islamic ban on alcoholic beverages: Mustafa Kemal had an appreciation for the national liquor, rakı, and consumed vast quantities of it. In 1934 he promulgated a law requiring all Turks to adopt surnames. The Grand National Assembly gave him the deferential name Atatürk, meaning "ancestor Turk," and assumption of that name by other men is still forbidden by law.
Seeking to limit the influence of Islam on Turkish political and cultural institutions, which he regarded as one of the principal causes impeding Turkish development, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk abolished the 1300-year-old Islamic caliphate on 3 March 1924 and established a western-style separation of church and state ("mosque" and state) in Turkey. While promoting a secular Turkish state, Atatürk maintained the traditional Ottoman tolerance of religious diversity and freedoms, but viewed these freedoms in the western Enlightenment sense of freedom of conscience.
Atatürk praying at the opening of the TBMM
Atatürk himself was Muslim. In the book Kemalizm, Laiklik ve Demokrasi (Kemalism, Laicism and Democracy), Ahmet Taner Kışlalı quotes from a speech of Atatürk that may reveal some of the reasoning behind his support of the separation of Religion and state:
"Religion is an important institution. A nation without religion cannot survive. Yet it is also very important to note that religion is a link between Allah and the individual believer. The brokerage of the pious cannot be permitted. Those who use religion for their own benefit are detestable. We are against such a situation and will not allow it. Those who use religion in such a manner have fooled our people; it is against just such people that we have fought and will continue to fight. Know that whatever conforms to reason, logic, and the advantages and needs of our people conforms equally to [Islam]. If our religion did not conform to reason and logic, it would not be the perfect religion, the final religion" (31).
Such thoughts would seem to buttress the statement of Atatürk's biographer, Patrick Kinross, concerning how Atatürk—who prized science and rationalism as the basis of morality and philosophy—considered himself a rational believer of Islam in that Islam could complement science and rational thinking. The quote also shows how strongly Atatürk was opposed to fanaticism ("the pious"). Another speech quoted by Kışlalı relates Atatürk's thoughts on how Islam came to be in such a degenerate state:
"The foundation of our religion is very strong. The material is strong as well, but the building itself was neglected for hundreds of years. As the plaster dropped down, none thought to replace it and none felt the need to reinforce the building. Quite the contrary: many foreign elements and interpretations, as well as empty beliefs, came along and damaged it still more" (ibid.).
With abiding faith in the vital importance of women in society, Atatürk launched many reforms to give Turkish women equal rights and opportunities. The new Civil Code, adopted in 1926, abolished polygamy and recognized the equal rights of women in divorce, custody, and inheritance. The entire educational system from the grade school to the university became coeducational. Atatürk greatly admired the support that the national liberation struggle received from women and praised their many contributions: "In Turkish society, women have not lagged behind men in science, scholarship, and culture. Perhaps they have even gone further ahead." He gave women the same opportunities as men, including full political rights. In the mid-1930s, 18 women, among them a villager, were elected to the national parliament. Later, Turkey had the world's first female supreme court justice.