Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which has its roots in political Islam, has preached a message of religious freedom as a way to expand liberties for believers in the officially secular country. It has assured the European Union it would respect freedoms for religious minorities. There has been some progress for minorities, but it is halting. The government’s focus seems to be more on assuring religious rights for pious Sunni Muslims, as in ending of the university headscarf ban. Religious minorities still face an uphill struggle to practice as they see fit.
Turkey’s Alevis, some 15-25 million whose faith is rooted in Islam but mixed with other traditions including ….shamanism, form the country’s leargest religious minority but they have never been recognised as a formal religion. This means they can be lumped together with Sunni Muslims, as a recent court case about the mandatory religion classes in state schools showed. The classes, taught in all primary schools, serve as an instruction guide to being Muslim, with topics ranging from how to pray in a mosque to fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Alevi Hatice Kose took the education ministry to court to win permission to pull her son out of the classes and change the curriculum to include information about Alevis. She won the case, but the government has said it has no power to change the classes, which it says are protected in Turkey’s constitution.
For more on this, see our feature here. And here’s the full slideshow from the Alevi prayer service pictured above.