Some Turks Say Government is Adding Religion to Country’s Schools

Ahmet Guvener, a Christian pastor in Turkey, got an exemption to keep his daughter from taking Islamic religion classes required by her school. But the alternatives the school offered her were more religious classes.

His daughter had to choose from three electives: the life of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, a study of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, or basic religious knowledge. Without that class, she would fail the year. Guvener, who heads the Protestant Church in the city of Diyarbakir, in southeast Turkey, says that “It seriously damaged my child’s psychology.” He accuses the school of forcing religious education on the students, but the teachers union denies that claim.

Turkey is a country between Europe and the Middle East, has long followed the secular, non-religious ideals of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first president of Turkey. The country is majority Muslim, but the schools are not all religious. Recently, the education system had banned Islamic headscarves for women in schools and made schoolchildren begin the day reciting a pledge of allegiance to Ataturk’s legacy. Now, supporters of that secular tradition claim President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, is taking a new path. They say Erdogan, a Muslim whose wife wears a headscarf in public, is building an Islamic education system. They point out he has stated his goal is to raise “pious generations.” That is, he wants the Turkish people to be more religious.

“Education is an ideological tool,” said Sakine Esen Yilmaz, secretary-general of the Education and Science Laborer’s Union, a liberal group that opposes the increase of religion in schools. Education is now being used “to raise an obedient generation that will serve the government.”

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