Turkish religious authority recommends Islamic jurisprudence to curb social media in new book

In a new book on social media use, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has suggested that when the current social media legislation – already stringent in Turkey – is insufficient to regulate online activities, Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) may be used instead.

This collage photo show Diyanet head Ali Erbaş and logos of social media companies.

Duvar English

In a new book entitled “Social Media Ethics,” the president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Ali Erbaş, stated that Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) might be applicable to regulate social media in instances where legal regulations are insufficient.

The book was published earlier this year after Turkey passed a restrictive social media law in July 2020, essentially requiring social media companies to submit to government requests for censorship.

According to reporting by daily Cumhuriyet on Sept. 7, Erbaş penned a preface for the Diyanet's book which expounds on the relationship between religion and social media.

When using social media, Erbaş wrote, “It is essential to build strong awareness…in particular, it is essential to develop a self-control system shaped by the awareness that Almighty Allah is watching over us all everywhere, at all time.”

He in particular emphasized that it is necessary to not be “condemned” to the virtual world and that citizens must try to remain in touch with the “world of truth.”

With regards to social media legislation, the book also states that at the point where social media legislation is insufficient to curb online behavior, “fiqh, which imposes both worldly and otherworldly responsibilities on individuals in return for their behavior, is effective.”

The book also discusses fake news and fake social media accounts. The book ssays that those who spread fake news or assume false identities should “be aware that they will not be rid of otherworldly responsibility, even if they save themselvesfrom punishment in this world.”

It says that “man is always watched by his creator and that none of his deeds will be left unanswered” – this, it reads, should be the morality that guides social media use when legal guidelines are insufficient.

Last week, in an online meeting, Erbaş further underlined his belief that there should be a religiously-driven regulation of social media use.

Social media, “which overflows the virtual and digital world and affects real life, may cause a departure from the moral principles, values and virtues that religion aims at the level of the individual and society,” he said.

Therefore, he said, there was a need for “the creation of a legal mechanism that will determine the legal framework regarding the use of social media as well as the construction of a strong consciousness” to counter what he sees as the “corruption of values” in the world.

Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code criminalizes “publicly degrading the religious values of a section of the public” and has historically been used to prosecute those who speak out against Islamic religious values.

Erbaş’s statements and official position on social media use raise the possibility of this being used to further persecute individuals who make dissenting statements on social media.

Internet and social media censorship has increased in Turkey under the reign of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

A new draft bill currently being prepared by the AKP will define "disinformation" as criminal activity in the Turkish Penal Code, and seeks prison time of up to five years for sharing "fake news" on social media.