Propaganda-laced sermons distance Turks from the mosque

In recent years, the politically-charged character of the sermons read in mosques in Turkey has resulted in a backlash from worshipers, many of whom have ceased to go to the mosque.

Filiz Gazi / Duvar English

In recent years, the politically-charged character of the sermons read in mosques during the Friday prayer in Turkey has resulted in a backlash from worshipers, many of whom have opted to cease going to the mosque, according to theologians who spoke to Duvar English.

The reading of sermons in mosquesduring the Friday prayer has been a tradition in Muslim countriesdating back to the Hijra, the migration of the Prophet Muhammad fromMecca to Medina in 622. In the Ottoman empire, sermons were read inArabic and the first Turkish sermon was read in the city of Bursa in1911.

Today, Friday prayer sermons in Turkeyare prepared by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), andfrequently feature content concerning women, the family andsexuality. One Friday sermon from September 13 dealt with theabortion, and included the following lines: “From the moment ofreaching the mother's womb until death, every life is important. Dueto Islamic law and moral guidelines, unless the birth of a baby posesa threat to the life of the mother, the baby cannot be aborted forarbitrary reasons.”

Another Friday sermon from July 5 tookaim at transgender people : “Interfering with one's gender andengaging in efforts that lead toward genderlessness results in adisaster not just for the individual but for an entire generation. Toact as if choosing one's gender is an area of freedom is to disregarddivine will and is a deviation from service,” read part of thesermon.

According to theologian Cemil Kılıç,the Friday prayer sermon in Turkey has been transformed from anIslamic ritual into a political ritual. “The Friday prayers are notconducted with the consent of Allah but rather for the enjoyment ofthe [ruling Justice and Development] AKP and for the approval of thepresident,” Kılıç said.

“They are increasing polarization inTurkey and strengthening the “us versus them” mentality,” saidKılıç when asked how the sermons are affecting the masses. As aresult, a certain segment of society is no longer attending Fridayprayer in Turkey.

“In particular, members of a mosquecommunity who do not vote for the AKP no longer prefer to attendFriday prayers. They do not want to listen to political propaganda.For example, I perform my daily prayers but for the Friday prayer Ihave not been going to the mosque for nearly ten years,” Kılıçsaid, adding that imams who do not want to read the sermons providedfor them can be removed from their positions.

“There must be pulpits that are freeand independent. The government must not interfere with what it issaid at the mosque,” said theologian İhsan Eliaçık, who addedthat a sermon should be prepared individually by an imam's mosque.

According to Kemal Türksoy, the formerdeputy mufti of the province of Zonguldak, the Friday sermon ispublished on an unofficial website operated by the Diyanet.

“Everyone can read it before Friday.If an imam deviates from this sermon, the community can complainsince it is following these sermons,” Türksoy said.

Türksoy said he was removed from hisposition by the Diyanet because of a prayer he read for the founderof the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, prior to the April23 National Sovereignty and Children's day holiday. For this, he wasaccused of conducting politics at the mosque. Türksoy added that theDiyanet harbors anti-Atatürk sentiment.

“The sermon read in the [centralAnkara] Kocatepe mosque is the same one read in the villages. Thecultural level of the communities at different mosques is not thesame. For this reason mosques must be independent. Imams must betrusted, and they must be brave,” Türksoy said.