Thousands Demonstrate in Istanbul Against Restrictions on Muslim Schools

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In Istanbul, Turkey, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate against the military's plans to restrict Muslim religious schools from a maximum of six years of education to just three.

Ibrahim Halil Celik, a member of the religious Welfare Party in Turkey's parliament, says that "blood will spill" and Turkey will become "worse than Algeria" if the plans go through. The Welfare Party has become the voice of Muslim traditionalism in Turkey and it is very popular — not simply because of religion, but because it is very, very good at meeting basic needs such as paved roads and safe drinking water.

Mustafa Ergun, a spokesman for graduates of religious academies, says:

"There are people in this country who will do anything to insult the faithful. They go crazy when a new Islamic academy or a Koran course is opened.

Because of them we are in pain, but these are the labor pains that precede a new birth."

The religious "preacher" schools in Turkey are a network of 610 institutions with nearly 1.5 million enrolled students. There is strict sex segregation and students are taught that women should tend to domestic affairs. They mix religious devotion with rigorous scholarship and graduates generally do quite well at getting into top universities, a first step towards careers in politics and government.

Retired General Dogan Bayazit, explaining the concerns of the secular military, says:

"It may carry [the country] to darkness when their graduates move into important positions and impose their teachings."


Religion in Secular Turkey

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