Turkish school asks students to practice grieving their mothers in Islamic values class

A religious Imam Hatip middle school in Turkey’s eastern Kars province has set up a prop grave and had students stage their mothers’ deaths during a “values club” event. An All Teachers’ Union representative criticized the practice for disregarding secular education principles. 

The student acts out a grieving scene beside the prop grave.

Duvar English

The religious Kars Merkez İmam Hatip Middle School in eastern Turkey had its students practice “patience” by imagining their mothers’ deaths and wailing for them beside a prop grave, according to Feb. 25 reporting by the daily Cumhuriyet.

The school shared the images of a student praying and mourning beside the prop grave. The course aimed to teach students “patience” as part of the activities of the “values club,” stated the school in its social media post.  

“Our students performed her longing for her deceased mother through the ‘patience’ theme,” explained the school. 

The club was established under the ÇEDES (“I am sensitive to my environment, I claim my values”) project established by an Education Ministry and Religious Affairs Directorate collaboration. 

The All Teachers’ Union branch representative Serkan Bebek objected to the practice saying it violated the Education Ministry’s secular education principles and students’ freedom of religion and conscience. 

Bebek added, “The rhetoric of the ÇEDES program aims to instill students with ideological values of a single religion and sect.” The union representative held that the program forcefully ignored students and parents of different beliefs.

“These back-to-back protocols signed with religious organizations and foundations seek to eliminate secularism and tolerance of other beliefs created by the republic,” Bebek criticized the recent activities of the Education Ministry.

Turkey’s Education Ministry officially started collaborating with the Religious Affairs Directorate with the ÇEDES project in 2021. The ministry assigns imams and preachers to schools nationwide as “spiritual counselors.”

The protocol defines the project's objective as, “to bring up students who love science, are curious and careful about culture according to national, moral, humane, spiritual, and cultural values.” 

Minister Yusuf Tekin has declared that the ministry would uphold the protocols it has with Islamic cults and organizations, which he defined as “NGOs” in 2024.

He also announced curriculum changes for all levels of education “illuminated by our guidepost morals.” The Education and Science Workers' Union (Eğitim-Sen) reacted to the ministry by putting “creationism” at the center of its new biology curriculum and dismissing evolution theory as "unproven.”

The Education Ministry’s proximity to certain Islamic organizations such as the İsmailağa community as well as compulsory religion classes and the increasing influence of religious officers at schools has long been criticized by teachers’ unions and other advocates of secular education.