New Turkish Law Allows Muftis to Conduct Civil Marriages

Muftis Civil Marriage

Turkey’s parliament and president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, passed the law allowing Muslim clerics to conduct civil marriages despite the fact that many activists protested because of the possibility that the new law could lead to more child brides. Opponents of this law describe it as a blow to women’s rights and secularism and part of an ongoing effort to impose religious values on a polarized society. The law was published in the country’s official gazette last Friday.

MarriageAlthough child marriage is outlawed in Turkey and is punishable by imprisonment for the man who marries an underage girl and for third parties who plan the marriage, it remains prevalent, especially among less educated families. It is a controversial political issue and a topic of contention between liberal and conservative segments of society. One third of all marriages in Turkey are child marriages and one third of women get married under the age of 18. However, there is a discrepancy in the legal framework regarding child marriage: the minimum age for the marriage of girls is 15 according to the Turkish Penal Code, 17
(for both sexes) according to the Turkish Civil Code and 18 according to the Child Protection Act.

Previously, only state officers in branches of the family affairs directorate were able to conduct marriages. Now, Muslim clerics, known as “muftis”, are also allowed to conduct civil marriages. A mufti is an Islamic scholar who interprets and expounds Islamic law. Muftis are jurists qualified to give authoritative legal opinions known as fatwas, a non-binding but authoritative legal opinion or learned interpretation on issues pertaining to the Islamic law.

“Women’s rights are going to decline,” said Nazan Moroğlu, an expert on gender law and a lecturer at Yeditepe University. “Everything that has been pushed on to women in this land has been done in the name of religion.”

Supporters of the law point out that it does not change the requirements for a legal civil marriage. They say it does not create a loophole that allows child marriages or polygamy, and simply makes it more convenient for citizens who are religiously observant. Opponents say it is part of a broader campaign by the government to impose conservative Islamic values on a divided society, the Guardian reports.

Other recent changes that have been made in Turkey, such as changes to the school curriculum that have ended the practice of teaching evolution in high school and introduced a state-sponsored explanation of the concept of jihad, contribute to the opposition to the new law. “From the way this draft law was prepared without the participation of sides who will be affected, such as muftis or women’s groups, it is a sign of an enforcement of an idea,” said Selina Doğan, an opposition MP in Istanbul.

In 2016, a parliamentary commission was established by the ruling party to study the causes for high divorce rates. They introduced a series of recommendation that were seen as a backward step on women’s equality. Among the recommendations was a widely condemned proposal that would have granted amnesty to some men convicted of child sex assault if they marry their victims. The recommendation was tabled as a bill late last year then withdrawn after widespread protests.

Photo Credits: Pinterest

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