Role of Islam in Turkish Education Fuels Secularist Fears

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Role of Islam in Turkish Education Fuels Secularist Fears

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ISTANBUL: The recent initiatives in Turkey to bolster traditional moral values, increase Islamic teachings, and establish prayer rooms in schools have sparked debates over the role of religion in education. These measures have divided opinions in a nation that commemorates 100 years since the founding of the secular republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Under President Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership and the AK Party’s influence, Turkey has seen a transformation reflecting conservative Islamic beliefs, including the expansion of Islamic education via “Imam Hatip” schools, part of Erdogan’s ambition to foster a more religiously devout generation.

However, opposition from secularist groups, unions, and concerned parents has emerged, citing concerns that Islamic influence is extending beyond designated religious schools and encroaching on general education. Demonstrations against recent religious policies, supported by opposition parties and leftist factions, drew around 2,000 protestors in Istanbul.

Critics argue that compulsory religious classes, the incorporation of additional religious and morality lessons, and the establishment of prayer spaces in all schools, known as mescits, are evidence of a broader Islamic influence creeping into secular education.

A joint program called CEDES, endorsed by several ministries, aims to instill national, moral, spiritual, and cultural values in children. However, opponents allege that Islamic values are at the core of CEDES, furthering concerns that it promotes religious ideology in school curriculums. Secularists have taken legal action, contesting CEDES’ constitutionality and secular principles.

The government, while denying any religious bias in CEDES, maintains that the project is in line with universal and national values, emphasizing its voluntary nature and parental consent.

Despite assurances from the Education Ministry that the project focuses on universal values, social media posts have shown children participating in mosque cleaning activities and other religious-oriented events, fueling suspicions of religious indoctrination.

This ongoing tension reflects a deeper societal divide in Turkey over the role of religion in public life and education, underscoring the challenges of balancing secular principles with religious influence.