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Turkish President Erdogan passes Controversial Religious-marriage Law; Is Getting Marriages Registered by Muslim Clerics Against Secularism?

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

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President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Wikimedia
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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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Pakistan Reacts Sharply To U.S. Religious Freedom Charges

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused

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Pakistan
A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for victims of a deadly suicide bombing in a park, March 28, 2016, in Lahore. VOA

Pakistan is denouncing a U.S. decision to place it on a list of countries Washington says are the worst offenders of religious freedom.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities… there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise,” the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a strongly-worded statement.

The reaction comes a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his designation of “countries of particular concern” that allegedly have engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Freedom Violations

The countries on the blacklist are exposed to punitive sanctions, but Pompeo waived them for Pakistan, citing U.S. national interests.

Pakistan had until now been on a U.S. watch list for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated” severe violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan
Pakistani volunteers collect debris from an Ahmadi mosque demolished by an angry mob, in the eastern city of Sialkot. VOA

While rebuking Tuesday’s U.S. pronouncement as “unilateral and politically motivated,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry noted Pakistan is “a multi-religious and pluralistic society” of more than 200 million people, mostly Muslims.

“Around four percent of our total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths. Ensuring equal treatment of minorities and their enjoyment of human rights without any discrimination is the cardinal principle of the Constitution of Pakistan,” it said.

Ahmadis most persecuted community

The statement did not mention the Ahmadi sect, which critics say is the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. The constitution bars the community from “posing as Muslims” and from calling their worship places “mosques.”

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback while defending downgrading of Pakistan reiterated Tuesday the challenges facing the Ahmadi community.

USA, Pakistan
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington. VOA

“The Pakistani government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also — and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people — the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations,” said Brownback.

Blasphemy laws

He cited, among other things, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a cause for the downgrade of the country’s religious freedom ranking. The laws prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty.

Rights groups have long complained Islamist groups misuse the law to intimidate minorities in the country.

Insulting Islam or its prophet is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where mere allegations have led to mob lynchings. A former provincial governor, a federal minister, judges and lawyers are among those assassinated in Pakistan by extremists merely for calling for reform of the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse or for hearing cases and defending alleged blasphemers.

Asia Bibi

In a historic judgement this past October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammad. The women denied the charges from the outset as an outcome of a local feud and the country’s highest court cited lack of evidence in overturning her conviction by a lower court.

Pakistan
Radical Islamists rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who spent eight years on death row accused of blasphemy, in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Bibi and her family have been in hiding since her release. Her lawyer fled Pakistan shortly after the landmark court ruling announced on October 31, saying his life was in danger.

Bibi is awaiting a rehearing of her case by the Supreme Court and is residing in a safe place under government protection, say Pakistani officials.

Pakistan also arrested hundreds of Islamist activists and their leaders last month for staging days of mass violent protests to denounce the court for freeing Bibi.

Also Read: Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

The government has charged the detainees with treason and terrorism and officials have vowed to put them on trial in special courts.

“It’s our hope that they will, the new leadership in Pakistan, will work to improve the situation. There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi,” said Brownback.

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused of committing severe violations of religious freedom. (VOA)