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Freedom Of Expression! Imams With Liberal Views Being Sacked, Those Supporting Erdogan Are Safe

Citing a clampdown liberal imams in Turkey where the room for freedom of expression is shrinking rapidly, DW in a report has said that they can find themselves arbitrarily fired if they don’t toe the line set by the state religious affairs office. The vague charges against them leave those accused with little recourse, it added.

Turkey’s directorate for religious affairs, Diyanet, keeps watch over its imams — the religious scholars whose work is mostly that of leading prayers in mosques. Diyanet provides its imams at 90,000 mosques with guidelines that govern morals, prayer, and the teaching of the faith. Violations are punished harshly — most of the time, the imam is discharged immediately.

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The body, which also organises Islamic religion courses for children, declined to comment on the exact number of dismissals, but the fate of certain individual imams who spoke to DW shone a light on the severity of the problem. Overall, Diyanet employs about 117,000 people, though not all of them are imams.

Abdullah, a 35-year-old imam, opposed a mufti who issued a fatwa, stating that women could not enter a supermarket unaccompanied by men. “I saw it differently,” Abdullah said. The result: He was sacked afterwards.

After disagreeing with the fatwa, he said his Facebook profile was searched and turned up an entry in which he permitted women wearing nail polish to pray and perform religious ablutions.

“Then everything happened very quickly,” Abdullah said. “Right after that, the investigations were underway.” After six years in office, the authority dismissed Abdullah without notice. “A breach of guidelines” was the only reason he received.

Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer, known to many as the “rock imam,” was dismissed nine months ago, again for a “breach of guidelines” when he formed a rock band in the Mediterranean seaside town of Kas.

“Immediately after its founding, Diyanet started hassling the band, they sent the investigators to our shows, and turned my entire life upside-down,” he said.

The accusations were soon to follow: Tuzer put on concerts without the proper permission and earned significant additional income. He would have submitted his bank statements to them, but that, he said, wouldn’t have changed anything.

However, he said even before his music shows he had fallen out of favour with his superiors by saying, “The inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison, certainly went to heaven.” Local higher-ups did not approve of the statement because the US inventor born in 1847 was a Christina. Tuzer called the turn of events a “disgrace to democracy and freedom.”

In the south-eastern Anatolian city of Sirnak, the 46-year-old ST was sacked after 25 years serving as an imam because he was a member of a trade union.

Another case is that of Zekeriya Bilada, an imam in the town of Nevsehir. He received an invitation from the ultranationalist Good Party (Iyi Party) to lead a prayer for the party shortly before the local elections on March 31.

Bilada said almost all Turkish imams made political statements during the local elections and added that those who prayed for the AKP candidate Binali Yildirim are still in office.

Turkish opposition members criticised that the presidential office for religious affairs is increasingly acting on political motivations. The widely shared accusation is that the authority acts in the interests of the conservative Islamic AKP government.


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