Istanbul: Islam is the largest religion in Turkey according to the state, with 99.8% of the population being automatically registered by the state as Muslim, including anyone whose parents are not of any other officially recognized religion. Recent independent polls show lower percentages, with 9.4% to 13% being not religious at all. The same studies show that roughly 90% of irreligious people are younger than the age of 35.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (born 26 February 1954) is a Turkish politician serving as the current President of Turkey, holding the position since 2014. He previously served as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014 and as Mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998.
Recently, education has become a central issue as parents around the country are protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s changes and scrambling to find schools of their choice as standards slide and unemployment swells. Most controversial has been Mr. Erdogan’s push to expand religious education, in ways that thrill his supporters and alarm his critics. Despite the fact that Turkey is officially a secular country with no official religion, many public schools are closing, on little or no notice, and being replaced by religious schools. The Imam Hatip schools teach the national curriculum, but roughly half their courses are religious and their core classes — those which a student has to pass to matriculate — are the Quran and Arabic.
Currently all public schools from elementary to high school hold mandatory religion classes which mostly focus on the Sunni sect of Islam. In these classes, children are required to learn prayers and other religious practices which belong specifically to Sunnism. Even while Prime Minister, six years ago, Mr. Erdogan declared his desire to “raise a pious generation.” “Do you expect that a party with a conservative, democratic identity would raise an atheist youth?” he said, challenging his opponents about the aims of his Justice and Development Party. “You may have such an aim, but we don’t.”
The New York Post reports:
Some parents are pulling their children from the religious schools and sending them to private ones, or settling unhappily for technical and vocational schools.
In Besiktas, a district on the European side of Istanbul, parents have been fighting a losing, two-year battle to prevent their neighborhood school from being turned into an Imam Hatip school.
“We started with a slogan ‘Don’t Touch my School,’” said Gunay Imir, a retired factory worker and trade unionist whose youngest son is still at the school. “Then we saw the problem was much more widespread and now we have the Movement for Secular, Scientific Education.” The movement coordinates activists from 20 cities around the country, she said.
The school has been partially converted into an Imam Hatip school and Serife Arslan, who wanted a secular education for her son, could only find an alternative miles away.
Photo Credits: Hudson Institute