FaithWorld

In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

turkey headscarfFreshman Busra Gungor won’t have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey’s Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf. (Photo: Women demonstration for headscarves at the  Constitutional Court in Ankara on October 23, 2008/Umit Bektas)

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country’s secular constitution.

“I was ready to wear the wig, just like my cousin did,” said Gungor, a 18-year-old student wearing a pastel-colored headscarf. “This is about my freedom. I don’t see why my headscarf should be seen as a threat to anybody.”

The debate is not unique to Turkey — France and Kosovo, for example, ban headscarves in public schools, and parts of Germany bar teachers from wearing them.

Turkey’s Erdogan scores reform referendum victory

erdoganTurkish voters strongly backed constitutional reforms on Sunday, handing a government led by conservative Muslims a new victory in a power struggle with secular opponents over the country’s direction.

“The winner today was Turkish democracy,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told followers. Erdogan had portrayed the reforms as an effort to boost the Muslim nation’s democracy and help its European Union candidacy. (Photo: Tayyip Erdogan at a news conference in Istanbul September 12, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Though Erdogan’s AK party has pushed political and economic reforms and spearheaded Turkey’s drive for EU accession since coming to power in 2002, the secular establishment accuses it of using its parliamentary majority to introduce a hidden Islamist agenda. Until the advent of AK, a secular elite had held power since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey in 1923. With the army’s once-formidable power clipped by EU-driven reforms, high courts are seen as the secularists’ last redoubt.

Ban on headscarves in schools upsets devout Muslims in Kosovo

kosovo scarfThe leader of a protest against Kosovo’s ban on headscarves in public schools says devout Muslims could resort to violence to get their way, though Islam is not central to the lives of most Kosovo Albanians.

The June 18 rally in the capital Pristina by 5,000 women in headscarves, supported by some bearded men, was held after a few headscarf-clad girls were prevented from entering their schools.  It was an extraordinary sight in Kosovo, whose 2 million population is 90 percent Muslim but mostly secular in lifestyle. (Photo: Kosovo Muslim women protest in Pristina against a headscarf ban in public schools, June 18, 2010/Hazir Reka)

The Kosovo education ministry banned religious garb in primary and high schools late last year, prompting heated debate about religious liberties in the country, a former province of Serbia that declared independence two years ago.

GUESTVIEW: Who is Jewish enough for Anglo-Jewish schools?

big benThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Heather Miller Rubens is a PhD candidate in History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School.*

By Heather Miller Rubens

On June 11, London’s Jewish Chronicle ran the provocative headline: “Jewish girl’s King David place goes to non-Jew.”  This breaking news is the latest incident in the Anglo-Jewish community’s struggle to establish a means of identifying their own that comports with British law.  Since the British High Court recently declared the Orthodox Jewish matrilineal lineage test in violation of England’s racial discrimination laws, Anglo-Jews have had difficulty determining who counts as Jewish for admissions to Orthodox Jewish schools. (Photo: Big Ben, 9 May 2010/Chris Helgren)

In England, religious schools are permitted to give admissions preference to applicants who share the school’s religious affiliation.  Usually this preference is a matter of mutual agreement between the students and the schools.  Until recently, the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR), the designated authority over Orthodox Judaism in England, instructed Orthodox Jewish schools that a child was considered Jewish if he or she was born to a Jewish mother, regardless of his or her level of religious observance.  Failing this, a child could also apply to undergo a conversion that would be recognized by the OCR.  However, in December of 2009 the OCR’s matrilineal test was declared illegal in R v The Governing Body of JFS.

Out with the old? Turkish secularists seek new vision and leader

chp

Republican People's Party (CHP) congress with portrait of Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Ankara May 22, 2010/Umit Bektas

Turkey’s secular opposition is expected to choose a new, younger leader this weekend at a congress that will usher out an old guard who had posed little threat to the Islamist-leaning ruling party’s hold on power.  The Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s oldest party and the voice of the secularist elite, is seeking a makeover in the hope of stopping Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan from winning a third consecutive term in an election due next year.

Having been trounced by Erdogan’s AK Party — which has its roots in political Islam — in the last two general elections, CHP delegates will meet Saturday and Sunday in Ankara, where they are widely expected to choose Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a moderate, as new chairman, party insiders say.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews lose grave battle in Israel

Israeli police arrest an ultra-Orthodox Jew, protesting the digging up of ancient graves, in the coastal town of Ashkelon May 16, 2010.  REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli police arrest an ultra-Orthodox Jew protesting in Ashkelon on May 16, 2010/Amir Cohen

A heavily guarded operation to dig up ancient graves to make way for a new hospital emergency room has exposed  traditional tensions between Israel’s Jewish secular majority and ultra-Orthodox minority.

Police said they arrested 15 religious protesters on Sunday outside Barzilai hospital in the coastal town of Ashkelon, where plans to build a treatment facility that could withstand rocket attack from the Gaza Strip turned into a political battle in Israel.