A Turkish mufti (Muslim religious scholar) was under fire from Turkish Cypriots for suggesting that women should fulfill their duty to their husbands by accepting their “invitation to bed,” believing that his statement was a sign of imported encroachment of fundamentalist Islam in their secular community.
— Thomas Reese, S.J. (@ThomasReeseSJ) January 19, 2023
Ahmet Unsal, the head of the Turkish Cypriot Department of Religious Affairs appointed by Turkey, reportedly stated during a lecture about marriage obligations that women should marry without any hesitation and bear children because matrimony “isn’t about having fun.”
Unsal also urged women to avoid other men except their husbands to “protect their virtue” and safeguard the properties of their husbands. He also said that men should pay for their wives’ necessities, adding that Allah detests divorce.
The Turkish Cypriot community did not receive Unsal’s message well. Hundreds of demonstrators, 46 trade unions, and even politicians took to the streets on Monday to protest against Unsal’s statements despite heavy rain in the northern part of Nicosia, Cyprus’s capital.
Joining the protestors is Dogus Derya, a well-known female lawmaker in the Turkish Cypriot community and a member of the left-wing CTP party. She told Unsal that they don’t live in a theocratic regime similar to Afghanistan or Iran.
She also criticized Unsal for presenting “his fantasies about subjugating women as the word of Allah” and argued that religious laws have no place in a secular community.
“He has exceeded his authority and area of responsibility,” Derya said about Unsal. “He considers women as incubators and men as money machines. He sees women not as human beings but as ‘goods’ subjugated to men.”
“We want him to know that Cypriot women don’t ask their men how many children they’ll have, what job they’ll do, whether they’re going to divorce or not,” Derya added. “We won’t allow you to impose your fundamentalist way of life on us women or on our country.”
The demonstrators also shouted, “Unsal go home. What do you care about Cyprus.” They also read a joint statement noting that they will continue to resist ”all those who are trying to change our way of life.”
Unsal defended his remarks, saying they were in line with Islamic teaching. Although the Turkish Cypriots’ Department of Religious Affairs head is appointed primarily by Turkish Cypriot authorities, the Turkish government also has the final say in the matter.
To this day, Cyprus remains divided between Greek and Turkish halves, with the majority of Greek Cypriots being Orthodox Christian and the majority of Turkish Cypriots being Muslims. Turkey is the only country that recognizes Northern Cyprus, inhabited mainly by Turkish Cypriots, and maintains a 30,000-strong force in the area.
While Turkey has attempted to fit the Turkish Cypriot community into its society for decades, the country under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become more religious, which contradicts the largely secular Northern Cyprus.
Education minister Nazim Cavusoglu said that parents could incorporate Islamic instruction into their children’s education and may also choose not to do so. Human rights activist Mine Yucel also said that many Turkish Cypriots don’t want religion to dictate how they should live.
“For a while now, those in Turkey have been complaining that we lack morals here, and there is a need for more religion in the north,” Yucel said. “There are attempts to have a more religious society here. ... We are opposed to that.”