A “model” Islamic education from Turkey?

February 25, 2010
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Turkish girls at the Kazim Karabekir Girls' Imam-Hatip School, 10 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

In the Beyoglu Anadolu religious school in Istanbul, gilded Korans line the shelves and on a table lies a Turkish translation of “Eclipse,” a vampire-based fantasy romance by U.S. novelist Stephanie Meyer. No-one inside the school would have you believe this combination of Islamic and western influences demonstrates potential to serve as a ‘moderate’ educational antidote to radical Islam.

But there is fresh outside interest in schools like this, which belong to the network known as imam-hatip.  Some people, particularly officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have suggested the Turkish system can light the way to a less extremist religious education for their young Muslims.

The interest is understandable. The imam-hatip network is a far cry from the western stereotype of the madrassa as an institution that teaches the Koran by rote and little else.  Originally founded to educate Muslim religious functionaries in the 1920s, the imam-hatip syllabus devotes only around 40 percent of study to religious subjects like Arabic, Islamic jurisprudence and rhetoric. The rest is given over to secular topics.

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Computer class at the Kazim Karabekir Girls' Imam-Hatip School, 10 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

For Turks, however, it’s ironic that a system which for over a decade has been suppressed by the military enforcers of secularism could be seen to champion any institutional accommodation between the Islamic and the secular.

In his office close to the Golden Horn inlet of the Bosphorus, former imam-hatip pupil Huseyin Korkut believes the schools could work abroad if they remain true to “Islamic values.” But he bristles at the idea of the network being pigeonholed into helping solve international security problems.

“We are disturbed by this understanding that these schools would educate ‘soft’ Muslims that could easily adapt to the needs and requirements of the international authorities,” said the moustachioed economist. Calling himself a typical graduate of the system, Korkut works at Kirklareli University and is general director of the imam-hatip graduates’ association.

Read Simon Akam’s whole feature here.

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Turkish boys read the Koran at the Beyoglu Anadolu Imam-Hatip School, 8 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

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