Imam hatip schools are Turkey’s success stories

Imam hatip schools are Turkey’s success stories

Religious vocational schools known as “İmam-hatip” high schools – are they “separate schools” that harm the societal integrity? 

I had cited examples from Northern Ireland in my article about Kurdish people and schools. The fact that Catholic and Protestant students have attended segregated schools since one can remember has led them to socialize separately, thus generating a more acute social segregation. It is a democratic right to be able to have your mother tongue taught to you and to use it, but, as I had written, we should not fall into the trap of “segregated schools.” 

Quite a number of questions were asked; most of them asked “[But] are imam-hatip schools not like that?” 

There were genuine questions; and there were others whose aim was not to ask but to say, “Come on, admit it; imam-hatip schools are like this also.”

Dean of theology 

Did you read the interview in daily Hürriyet’s Sunday edition by our colleague Gülden Aydın with the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Marmara University, Professor Ali Köse? In that interview, Professor Köse explained that imam-hatip high schools and theology departments in Turkey have just the opposite function of the madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He pointed out that there is “curriculum integrity” among imam-hatip schools and other high schools in Turkey, in every other subject except for additional religious subjects. 

As a matter of fact, radical Islamist movements were never able to find their grassroots at imam-hatip schools and theology departments. These schools have not been home to violence and fanaticism. Moreover, several students, after gaining religious knowledge in these schools, have continued on with their education in totally secular departments of universities that educate and prepare them for secular professions. 

The outcome is obvious: Far from being a platform for violence and terror, imam-hatip schools have not yet been a platform for radical Islamists. 

Segregated schools are something different 

To maintain “curriculum integrity” in core subjects is vitally important and imam-hatip schools are included in this curriculum integrity. They are more religious; however they are extremely conscious and sentimental in matters such as the flag, the country and the national anthem.

These two should not be confused: To create “scholastic diversity” to meet social, cultural and industrial needs in education and the “segregation school” concept that instigates clashing identities. 
The essence of one of the founding principles of the republic, the unification of education, in this sense is integrity of curriculum. None of the school types in Turkey should be looked down upon. 

Islam and modernization 

There are two productive fields in Turkey through which Islam encounters and is introduced to modernity: One is life itself; the other is, thanks to the integrity of curricula, the imam-hatip schools and faculties of theology. 

Life itself refers to: urbanization, developing market economies, women being able to get out of the house and integrate into society, and the women’s branches of all political parties. Pious people take part in modern life through such means; they develop new syntheses in their own private lives. 

Imam-hatip schools and theology faculties at universities, on the other hand, merge classic Islamic knowledge with modern knowledge. This is a success story for Turkey. Since countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot achieve this, they are struggling with issues of bigotry, extremism and radicalism. 

Direction of publications 

For 70 years, the theology faculties at universities and imam-hatip schools exist; it was the theologians who were fiercely opposed to the decision to remove philosophy lessons. 

Who wrote the brilliant book, titled “The Projections of the Anti-women Discourse on Islamic tradition,” for the first time ever in Islamic history? The Turkish theologian, academic, headscarf-wearing Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal, Ph.D. 

It would not fit into the full page of the newspaper if we listed the names of books, articles and academic theses on Islam and modernity, Islam and philosophical thought, “renewal” (tecdit) in Islam and jurisprudence. It is possible for everybody to be bothered by some things; however, Turkey, as a basic dynamic, has straightened out and is on its way to solving issues of religion and secularism, religion and modernity. What are hard to solve are ethnic issues. 

Taha Akyol is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept. 30. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.