We made bogeymen of the imam hatip schools

We made bogeymen of the imam hatip schools

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan devoted his speech on Tuesday to the imam hatip schools [religious vocational high schools], asking “Why don’t you like these schools?” After that, in a completely unnecessary move based entirely on politics, he asked a series of questions such as: “Is it because they do not educate terrorists?” His series of questions was very hard to understand and accept. I am not focusing on these questions, because it is unnecessary even to discuss them.

On the contrary, I want to answer the real question: “Why don’t you like these schools?” It’s a very good question. Why don’t we like them? Maybe it’s not that we “don’t like” them, but why do we keep our distance from them?

The reason is only too obvious.

Our generation considered religion education, Quran education and even Arabic prayers, beyond a certain limit, to be dangerous. We immediately associate them with reactionaryism. We were taught that these things would be the cause of the collapse of the secular system. The word “reactionary” (“irticacı” in Turkish) was coined during our era. Religion was a subject with which we preferred not to be too deeply involved. So were the love of Allah and respect for the Quran; we preferred our knowledge to be limited to knowing a few prayers.

That was the general atmosphere. We were raised that way.

This environment was significantly fed by the followers of late former prime minister and founder and leader of the National Salvation Party and later the Welfare Party, Necmettin Erbakan. They saw the imam hatip schools as their back yards. At their green (Islamic) flag rallies, they put forward students and graduates of the imam hatip schools. They told us they wanted to educate them differently.

In such confusion, we always kept our distance from the imam hatip schools. Even if it was not pronounced openly, the danger inherent in these schools was whispered in our ears.

I was raised in the Erenköy district of Istanbul. Our neighbors were the Topbaş family. They were a large and religious family. Their sons (Abidin and Osman Topbaş) were close friends of mine. They attended imam hatip schools. They received a much stricter education than I did. They had additional religious education. Even at that time, I remember realizing that they and I were not hugely different, and began questioning why such a distance existed between those schools and our lives.

Years have passed by but the fears of the secular segment of Turkish society have not entirely diminished. They still have a certain concern and anxiety. Even today, the concern is that all schools will become like imam hatip schools one day.

Still, we haven’t researched why some young people and their families prefer imam hatip schools. We do not try to understand them. We are in a strangely defensive mood. We have not recovered from the assumption that one day, the graduates of imam hatip schools will dominate all our lives and will reign over our daily activities.

I can now hear some of my readers saying, “What will happen when they are knocking at our door tomorrow?” These are the reactions that demonstrate that these fears still exist.

I am among those who do not believe that this country will one day be ruled by religious principles. I object to our restraining ourselves with unnecessary fears, and regarding those who think differently as enemies. You can, if you want to, continue this war you will not be able to win. I, now, believe in the new Turkey.