When Turkey became a republic in 1923, it was beset with serious problems, the origins of which were religious. Atatürk recognized it well and sought to change the situation. Given Turkey's social conditions at that time, which were heavily dominated by the religious circles, Atatürk concluded that if religion was allowed to play the same kind of role as was the case until then, the country could not develop and modernize. To prevent that situation, Atatürk and his associates opted for secularism, and in doing so, they understood and interpreted it too literally.
The society's socioeconomic structure reveals that it is steeped in irrationality. Much of the elite or the rich class, which comprises 5 percent of the population, engages in blatant exploitation of the masses. The major problem in the Turkish case is that the value systems of the society have not changed. These value systems are based on a system of thought that has falsely been identified with Islam. Although the state's policy of secularism has prohibited religion from entering the public domain, in reality it affects every aspect of life. It could not be otherwise, for the people's basic conceptions of life are molded by such practices, ideas, and traditions that have wrongly been attributed to Islam. It was important, therefore, to address this issue and to create a situation in which reformation of Islamic religious thought could take place. That would be a necessary condition for bringing about changes in the society's value systems.
The need in Turkey, as in Pakistan and Egypt, is to end a dual system of education, the one secular and the other religious, and to achieve an intelligent balance of the two. More importantly, a major change must be made in the basic conception of religious education. Thus far, it has been confined to the ritualistic aspect of it; the need is to intelligently study and understand the serious thought that is contained in the Qur'an. The behavior of the elites in Turkey, as well as in Pakistan and Egypt, shows (again with isolated honorable exceptions) that they are not familiar with the most basic elements of the ideology of Islam as contained in the Qur'an. For meaningful changes to occur in Turkey's developmental efforts, a new look at secularism is called for. Real secularism would emerge only when religion is first of all intelligently understood. The overall picture that emerges from the economic activity of the society is that developmental programs are basically purposeless and lack clearly stated goals beyond a vague desire to make the country modern. It also appears that the elites have no clear conception of what modernization means and entails.