Bus Driver's Refusal to Stop for Muslim Prayers Sparks Outrage in Turkey

A long-distance bus passenger in Turkey complained on Twitter that the driver refused to stop so he could pray, sparking a conversation about the majority Muslim nation and its secular constitution.

According to reports, the bus was traveling from the Van region, near the Iran border, to the city of Izmir, which is close to the Aegean Sea. The route goes east to west through the country, taking over twenty-four hours.

The travel firm, Oz Ercis, responded to the man’s complaint, saying, “None of the rights defined by (Turkey’s) constitution can be used to violate the democratic and secular conception” of the Republic,” which went viral, sparking the controversy.

According to the firm’s lawyer, Tuncay Keserci, “It is not possible to ignore the rights of other passengers who do not pray and who want to arrive at their destination on time, for a passenger to pray.” He added that they respect all beliefs and feel they are being “singled out as a target” in the controversy on secularism.

Secularism goes back to the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, which reads, “All subjects of the empire are called Ottomans, without distinction whatever faith they profess,” to prevent a separatist movement. When the Turkish nation was founded in 1923, Ataturk’s People’s Republican Party emphasized nationalism and secularism. This secularism remains as article two of the Turkish constitution and reads, in part, ” The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and Social state.” This article stands even as the country’s AK Party chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pushes to Islamize.

The bus company’s stance drew some support, while hardline Muslims vowed to boycott.

The travel firm added that passengers could wait until the bus stopped at a rest area. This does not go against tradition, as the Quran specifically mentions shortening or combining prayers while traveling.

“Secularism does not mean that we are not religious. Secularism also protects Muslims,” said Keserci.

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