Students at an Imam Hatip school in Istanbul, May 2017
Murad Sezer / REUTERS

Under the leadership of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) has Islamist roots, religion has become a critical instrument of Turkish foreign policy. In countries from Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey is building mosques, financing religious education, restoring Ottoman heritage—and advertising its unique brand of Islamic leadership along the way.

Fusing Sunni Islam with Turkish nationalism, the state institutions and civil society organizations behind the country’s religious outreach promote Turkish language and culture alongside religious curricula, and they erect the Turkish flag at the sites of new projects. In the minds of

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