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President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Wikimedia

Turkey, November 4, 2017 : President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought into force a new controversial legislation which will now allow state-approved Muftis to perform and register marriages that will be considered legal. The move is being seen as a blow to Turkey’s secular foundations.

The new law, which was proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, was passed in the Turkish parliament last month, signed by Erdogan on November 2, and was published in the Official Gazette on November 3, which denotes its official implementation.


Who is a Mufti?

The state religious affairs agency of Turkey is called Diyanet.

Diyanet employs Muftis; clerics who take care of all religious and worship across the nation.

What Is The New Legislation All About?

Turkey has a dominant Muslim population. However, the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had formally established a secular state under a constitution in 1923.

Religiously observant couples often got married by local clerics. However, as per the previously applicable rule of law, it was mandatory for all couples, including the religiously observant couples, to be married by a state registrar from the local municipality, to legalize the marriage.

Now, the new law has accorded formal recognition to marriages performed by clerics.

Criticisms Of The Move

Erdogan has been repeatedly accused of eroding the secular nature of present-day Turkey.

Critics of the new law now fear the move,

  1. May bear considerable impact on unregistered marriages and child marriages
  2. May divide the society into two groups- Those who have marriages registered by clerics and those who do not.
  3. May motivate members of other religious sect to demand for similar rights that might completely hamper Turkey’s secularism.

Increase In Unregistered Marriages

As per the previously operational trend, couples who got married by a mufti would go on to get their marriages registered by the municipality. However, by formally recognizing marriage-ceremonies conducted by clerics as a civil marriage, couples would now be able to forego with that practice.

Critics fear this new law will pave way for higher unregistered marriages, thereby breaching Turkey’s civil code.

Sezgin Tanrikulu, an MP with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) hence believes the Erdogan’s law was “not an actual need”.

According to a report by AFP, Tanrikulu was quoted as saying “The AKP has taken another step that harms the state’s secular pillars and that moves people away from secularism.”

Affect On Child Marriages

According to UNICEF, Turkey tops the list of child marriages almost 15 per cent women married by 18.

Granting authority to religiously motivated clerics, who may have underlying contentious intentions, and who may or may not be knowledgeable or equipped enough to deal with larger issues of growth and population, may support underage or forced marriages that will harm Turkey’s secular stand.

However, the Erdogan government believes the new legislation will provide greater religious freedom to the people of Turkey. However, it will be too soon to say whether the new legislation will be successful or not.


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