Why not turn all schools into imam-hatips?

Why not turn all schools into imam-hatips?

One of the priorities over the 13-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been raising “pious generations,” meaning the country’s education system has been a special target for the party, and its de facto leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The main tool used for this purpose has been the imam-hatips, vocational schools founded with the aim of training government-employed imams and khatibs. Many senior members of the AKP, including President Erdoğan himself and his children, are graduates of these schools.

Hit by the changes in the education system after the Feb. 28, 1997, post-modern coup –the military considered imam-hatips as the “backyard of the Islamists where militants are recruited” and duly set out to weaken them – imam-hatips were in a crisis when the AKP came into power in 2002. The number imam-hatips in the country was 450, with a total of 71,100 students.

The AKP gave special importance to these schools, transforming them from vocational schools to centers raising youth “devoted to their national and moral values.” In 2012, the AKP implemented a new education system, known as “4+4+4,” which extended mandatory schooling to 12 years divided into three levels. The law also reinstated the secondary stage of the imam-hatips, making it possible to start religious education at the age of 9.

That is why it was not surprising to see President Erdoğan in an imam-hatip school on the first day of the new education year on Sept. 28.

“They said, ‘Turkey doesn’t need that many imams,’ and ‘Turkey doesn’t need that many khatibs.’ The goals of these schools is not just to raise imams and muezzins,” Erdoğan said at the opening ceremony of a new imam-hatip in Istanbul, adding with pride that the number of students at imam-hatips had now reached 1,600,000.

These eight-year schools, in addition to regular classes such as Turkish, mathematics and science, offer two hours a week each of the Quran, Arabic, the life of the Prophet Muhammad and one hour each of religious culture and basic religious information classes in the middle school stage. In the high school stage – the second four-year term – the vocational classes including the Quran, Arabic, the hadith, et cetera take up one-third of the weekly classes. In addition, there are questions regarding the quality of non-religious classes offered to the students, although the curriculum is no different than regular schools.

Private Education Institutions Federation (ÖZFED) chair Halil Çil told daily Hürriyet that home-schooled children who get their high school diplomas via centralized exams are “twice as successful on the university entrance exams as those who attend imam-hatips and other vocational schools.”

The AKP not only prioritized imam hatip attendance, but also increased the tone of Islam in regular education.

According to a report by the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen) published last June:

- Religious education has been made compulsory in the first three grades and pre-school education under the name of “moral values education;”

- Girls as young as 9 are allowed to wear headscarves in schools;

- Religion courses have been increased to two hours a week in high schools;

- A course on preparing alcoholic beverages and cocktails in tourism vocational schools has been abolished;

- References to religious concepts in the curriculum have been increased;

- Children with autism are subjected to mandatory religious courses, while gym classes they desperately need have been reduced;

- Schools have been forced to have masjids, leading many schools to shut down their laboratories and libraries and turn them into prayer rooms;

Meanwhile, the AKP has taken no action regarding compulsory religious courses, despite public demand and repeated decisions from the European Court of Human Right (ECHR) on applications of Alevi parents.

In the last 13 years, the AKP has done its best to make sure that the upcoming generations are shaped with a Sunni-minded “our religion” theme, with the aim of creating a stronger “ummat al-Islamiyah.”

President Erdoğan also made another point in his speech.

“We didn’t go there [to imam-hatips] to become ‘washers of the dead,’ but there is actually a need for ‘washers of the dead’ in this country, too,” he said, arguing that all Muslims should have knowledge of the Muslim custom of bathing the dead, regardless of whether they are imams or muezzins.

Well, Mr. President, now that is not fair. If all Muslims should know how to prepare their dead for burial, the AKP should either instate “how to wash your dead” classes in all schools, or turn all schools into imam hatips.

No one wants to become “incomplete” Muslims just because there are not enough imam-hatip quotas.