Sharp rise in Turkish Islamic schooling upsets secular parents

December 2, 2014
(Students of Tevfik Ileri Imam Hatip School hold a scarf as they wait for the arrival of President Tayyip Erdogan for the opening ceremony in Ankara November 18, 2014. Turkey has seen a sharp rise in religious schooling under reforms which Erdogan casts as a defence against moral decay, but which opponents see as an unwanted drive to shape a more Islamic nation. Almost a million students are enrolled in "imam hatip" schools this year, up from just 65,000 in 2002 when Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power, he told the opening of one of the schools in Ankara last month. The scarf reads, "Stand tall! Turkey is with you." Picture taken November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

(Students of Tevfik Ileri Imam Hatip School hold a scarf as they wait for the arrival of President Tayyip Erdogan for the opening ceremony in Ankara November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

Turkey has seen a sharp rise in religious schooling under reforms that President Tayyip Erdogan casts as a defense against moral decay, but which opponents see as an unwanted drive to shape a more Islamic nation.

Almost a million students are enrolled in “imam hatip” schools this year, up from just 65,000 in 2002 when Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party first came to power, he told the opening of one of the schools in Ankara last month.

The schools teach boys and girls separately, and give around 13 hours a week of Islamic instruction on top of the regular curriculum, including study of Arabic, the Koran and the life of the Prophet Mohammad.

“When there is no such thing as religious culture and moral education, serious social problems such as drug addiction and racism fill the gap,” Erdogan told a symposium on drug policy and public health earlier this year.

But in the drive to create more imam hatip places, parts of schools have been requisitioned, prompting protests from parents who want secular education for their children.

“We are against the governance of education by religious rules,” said Ilknur Birol, spokeswoman for the “Don’t Touch My School” initiative, an umbrella grouping for angry parents. “This system is not rooted in youth with a forward-looking perspective enlightened by science, but in a generation that values obedience.”

Filiz Gurlu, a parent at the Kadir Rezan Has school in Istanbul where one of two buildings was converted to imam hatip facilities, said primary students were now cramped in a single building.

Read the full story by Dasha Afanasieva and Can Sezer here.

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