‘We are a Muslim country so we should have a religious constitution’: Senior Turkish politician calls for the country to scrap secularism
- Turkey’s parliament speaker has called for a Muslim constitution
- Ruling AK Party has been pushing to replace the existing constitution
- Currently the constitution is secular and bans Islam from public life
Turkey’s parliamentary speaker has called for the country to enshrine Islam in its constitution, after nearly 100 years of secularism.
Speaker Ismail Kahraman said thatTurkey needed a religious constitution, aproposal which contradicts the modern republic’s foundingprinciples.
While Turkey is a secular state which has no official state religion, some 96.5 per cent of the population is Muslim.
‘For one thing, the new constitution should not havesecularism,’ Kahraman said, according to videos of his speechpublished by Turkish media.
‘It needs to discuss religion … Itshould not be irreligious, this new constitution, it should be areligious constitution.’
As parliamentary speaker, 75-year-old Kahraman is responsible for overseeing efforts to draft a new constitution, a move which is being pushed by President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.
When the Turkish republic was formed from the ruins of an Ottomantheocracy in the 1920s, it’s ‘founding father’ Mustafa Kemal Ataturk banished Islam from public life, replaced Arabicwith Latin script and promoted Western dress and women’s rights.
The AK Party has its roots in political Islam, and have tried to restore the roleof religion in public life. They have expanded religiouseducation and allowed the head scarf, once banned from stateoffices, to be worn in colleges and parliament.
In charge: As parliamentary speaker, Kahraman, pictured with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is responsible for overseeing efforts to draft a new constitution.
The AKP is pushing to replace the existing constitution,which dates back to the period after a 1980 military coup.
Critics fear a new constitution could concentrate too muchpower in the hands of Erdogan, who wants an executive presidencyto replace the current parliamentary system. The government haspromised that European standards on human rights will form thebasis of the new text.
Mustafa Sentop, a senior AKP member who heads aparliamentary commission on constitutional reform, said a drafttext retained the precept of secularism and his party had noteven discussed removing it.
But Kahraman’s comments drew criticism from governmentopponents suspicious of the ruling party’s Islamist ideals.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition andsecularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), tweeted: ‘Secularismis the primary principle of social peace … Secularism is thereto ensure that everyone has religious freedom, Ismail Kahraman!’
Devlet Bahceli, leader of the opposition NationalistMovement Party (MHP), said it was not right to open secularismup for debate and called on Kahraman to take back his words.
Ankara police used pepper spray to disperse about 50demonstrators, including some CHP lawmakers, who gatheredoutside parliament. Dozens of people were detained.
NATO member Turkey, which aspires to join the EuropeanUnion, has long been touted by its Western partners as a modelsecular, democratic nation with a majority Muslim population.
President Erdogan and the ruling AK Party he founded, their roots in political Islam, have tried to restore the role of religion in public life.
Erdogan’s fervent supporters see him as a champion of thepious working class, resetting the balance of power in a countrythey say was dominated by a secular elite for much of the lastcentury. Turkey’s most influential leader since Ataturk, Erdoganwon almost 52 percent of the vote in an August 2014 presidentialelection.
The AKP holds 317 of the 550 seats in parliament and wouldneed 330 votes to submit its draft constitution to a referendum.This means it must win over lawmakers from other parties, acampaign which Kahraman’s comments could risk undermining.
‘These statements are going to complicate efforts towards anew constitution,’ a senior AKP official told Reuters.
‘We willhave to convey very clearly to the public that such an approachis not being considered. But frankly, after yesterday’sstatement, it is not going to be easy.’
Kahraman said the current charter was already religiousbecause it declared Islamic holidays as public holidays, even iffails to cite ‘Allah’ once.
Turkey amended its original 1924 constitution four yearslater to drop Islam as the official religion of the state.Historians consider that measure the basis of the modern,democratic and secular Turkish Republic. The currentconstitution does not promote any official religion.
Turkey is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, but a fifth of its 78million people is estimated to be Alevi, which draws from Shi’a,Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions. Turkey is also home to about100,000 Christians and 17,000 Jews.
A Pew survey from 2013 showed 12 percent of Turks wantSharia, a legal framework regulated by the tenets of Islam, tobe official law.