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.