Opposition candidate pledges to strip Turkey’s religious identity
by Nurbanu Kızıl
ISTANBULMar 11, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Nurbanu Kızıl
Mar 11, 2015 12:00 am
Şahin Ciner, a candidate nominee for the 2015 general elections from the Republican People's Party (CHP) has pledged that the party would dramatically decrease the number of imam-hatip schools, prohibit the call to prayers through loudspeakers and abolish the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and replace it with a secular institution.
Speaking in a televised interview on pro-CHP Halk TV, Ciner made disturbing remarks about some of Turkey's most sensitive issues and signaled that CHP would try to strip Turkey of its religious identity by removing the Diyanet, muting the call to prayers and preventing imam-hatip students from attending universities by strictly confining them to attend faculties of theology after graduating from high school.
Ciner stated that Diyanet must be abolished as he argued that believers should not impose their own beliefs on other people. "The CHP must put an end to this" he said, adding that the "reason for the establishment of Diyanet was not to serve the interests of Muslims." He argued that Diyanet as an institution was exploited, and that his party would seek to abolish the Islamic identity of Diyanet if they come to power and create another institution which does not have a religious identity and is led by someone who has never publicly revealed his religious identity. "The Diyanet must completely be transferred to associations responsible for protecting and building mosques," Ciner added.
Expressing his discomfort about imam-hatip schools - meaning literally imam and preacher - schools of Turkey, which focus on a curriculum with theological lessons, Ciner pledged that the CHP would try to decrease the number of these schools. He underlined that both himself and the party were disturbed about the rise of imam-hatip schools in Turkey and suggested that they should be privatized.
"These schools should only exist to train students for theology programs in universities" he said, while he promoted the coefficient system which was imposed during the February 28 postmodern coup era, in which university placement scores from graduates from imam-hatip high schools were subject to a coefficient system equivalent to that applied for vocational schools, putting hundreds of thousands of students at a disadvantage.
Ciner claimed that the sound of athan - the call to prayer - through loudspeakers put pressure on society. "I will struggle to ensure that the athan is not called from loudspeakers" he said, insisting that the call to prayers should be made without 'disturbing' people.
The imam-hatip schools, which offer a mixed curriculum of Islamic theology and non-religious subjects, have long been targeted by the Turkey's secular elite, which have been at odds with conservatives. In late 1990s, imam-hatip students were forced to drop out of schools and were denied admission to universities by a deliberate decrease in high school grades.
99.8 percent of Turkey's population consists of Muslims. In recent years, the government has taken numerous initiatives to grant more rights to Turkey's ethnic and religious minorities through a series of democratic reforms. Currently on the government's agenda is the Alevi opening, which aims to grant more recognition and rights for Turkey's Alevi community.