Target: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey
Goal: Praise Turkish prime minister for allowing religious attire while preserving Turkey’s tradition of secularism
The conflict between a secular state and freedom of religion is hard to resolve, but Turkey may be inching closer to finding what may be a surprisingly reasonable solution. While at the outset of its founding the country has sought to establish a barrier between religion and the state, it may have gone too far since banning the headscarf in public settings impinges upon a citizen’s right to practice his or her faith. The recent repeal of the ban has restored that right. The balance between secularism and religious freedom on this issue tilts neither towards one or the other, but merely allows for a personal choice in the matter. Women are neither required to wear headscarves in the workplace as they are in many Islamic countries, nor are they discouraged from wearing them either as they often are by Western European rhetoric that equates headscarves and veils with outdated traditions that curtail women’s rights.
That was Turkey’s historical approach too as it used to view religious attire as an impediment to the development of a secular society. The Turkish state has striven to promote secularism by encouraging modern clothing styles since its founding years in the 1920s. In the 1980s, this tendency became codified in laws that forbade women from wearing headscarves in the public sphere including workplaces, universities, and government institutions such as the military and the police. Prime Minister Erdogan’s Freedom and Justice party has recently lifted the ban on headscarves in the workplace to promote the freedom of observant Muslims to follow a dress code that is in line with their religious beliefs. This follows an earlier repeal of a similar ban applying to universities; the right to wear headscarves might eventually be reintroduced to other settings where it is still forbidden.
Sign this petition to praise the Turkish prime minister Erdogan for promoting a society that permits religious attire while simultaneously preserving a secular state by not making it into a requirement.
Dear Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey
Thank you for finding a way to allow your country’s religion traditions to coexist along with a secular state not subject to religious law. Your party’s recent move to allow women to wear headscarves in the workplace is a brave step because it could be misinterpreted by critics as an attempt to shift the secular character of your state towards a religious one. Foreigners are especially liable to fall prey to this kind of thinking as their minds have been too inundated with examples of Islamic rulers that impose religion on their populations, sometimes even resorting to violent retribution to punish the women who choose to disobey their conservative dictates. This is not at all Turkey’s case, however, since the secular nature of Turkish society has been in place since the establishment of the state’s fledgling republic in 1923.
With that historical context in mind, the move to lift the ban on headscarves can be seen in a positive light — as a way of letting Muslim women observe their faith within a state whose laws are not excessively beholden to Islam, though undeniably influenced by it to some extent since it is after all the majority religion. Grappling with the thorny issue of how to allow a majority to express their dominant religious views in a state that strives to be secular will always remain a complicated matter. We thank you for finding a good balance that allows women the freedom to wear religious attire in observance of their faith without making a requirement out of it and hope that you will continue to preserve the precarious balance between secularism and religious freedom in the years to come.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Hamed Saber via Flickr