Rise of Islamic schools causes concern in secular Turkey
When Turkish pupils received their school entry exam results after the end of last term, textile worker and father Halil Ibrahim Beyhan received an unpleasant surprise. His daughter had been assigned to a religious high school, like thousands of other students under a new system that caught many parents off guard.
Parents, educators and civil society groups have decried the move as another attack on Turkey’s secular principles by the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing the government of imposing religion on students.
‘My child will be forced to wear a long skirt. She will be forced to put a headscarf on her head too. It is not mandatory for now, but who knows it won’t be one day?’ said Beyhan, 49. ‘I am a practicing Muslim, I fast, I say my prayers and read the Koran, but I still want my daughter to be educated in a normal school,’ he said.
As part of a new nationwide exam introduced this year, some 40,000 students have been assigned to religious high schools either because they did not select any school, scored low marks or due to a technicality.
Most of them have been placed in schools nearest their home, but since so many religious schools have opened in recent years, it was difficult for some to avoid Imam Hatips -- schools specialising in religious education combined with a modern curriculum.
Erdogan himself was educated in Istanbul at an Imam Hatip, beginning an education that saw him gain a place at university and then climb the ladder of Islamic politics. The name of the schools openly describes their religious vocation -- Hatip being derived from the Arabic for sermon.
Parents raced against the clock to pull their kids out of the schools by Monday, the first day of the new academic year in Turkey. But it turned into an ordeal for many of them, like Beyhan, who could not find a slot in another school. His 14-year-old daughter Hacer, who has just started at Guzeltepe Imam Hatip High School in Istanbul’s conservative Eyup district, fears she may have to put off her dream of becoming a doctor.
‘My dreams have been shattered. Since they want all the girls to wear a headscarf in this school, those who don’t wear one may face discrimination. This is my biggest fear,’ she said.
A new report by the Education Reform Initiative at Sabanci University revealed that the number of Imam Hatip schools in Turkey has increased by 73 percent in five years. In recent months, parents have demonstrated outside schools which have been turned into Imam Hatips. In one them, some 200 demonstrators stormed a government building in Kadikoy district.