Debating Turkey’s constitution
For a while now, Turkey has been in a hustle in anticipation of the new constitution. As this hustle continues, last week, the Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Ismail Kahraman's "Secularism cannot feature in the new constitution" statements sparked off a wide-spread debate. It is a good thing that it become a matter for debate; because with the debate, the question "What is secularism?" has been answered correctly once more.
The best way to understand the misconceptions about secularism is to look back in Turkey's history. Especially after the 70s, this concept was started to be used in a different sense by those who deemed themselves as "secularists". So much so that, while, during the 70s, our teenage girls could enter schools and universities wearing headscarf, but in 80s, they were not allowed to do so. In 90s, in addition to it, Quran courses and religious vocational high schools were banned across the country. "Pious" individuals working in government offices, the army, and administrative positions were identified and blacklisted. In 1997, the ruling right-wing government was toppled by a post-modern military coup. All of these were supposedly done in the name of "preserving secularism". According to the advocates of this oppressive system, secularism meant "being anti-religious"; it was a means to suppress the religious masses rather than liberating the society.
But in fact, secularism means that the state adopts the same attitude towards all belief groups. In other words, regardless of one's belief, both that person and their belief should be under state protection. The statements made by the President Erdoğan to Mona Shazly during his visit to Egypt in 2011 summarize the subject best: "The secularist state structure does not ensure atheism; it ensures the freedom of religious belief."
In our lives, especially in the Muslims countries, there will always be people who try to distort the meaning of secularism and interpret religion through a superstitious mentality. It should always be kept in mind that these people wish to exploit the concept in question for their own benefit and for distancing beliefs and believers from the society. Secularism, in fact, is an Islamic concept; it is defined by the Quran. Secularism is the preservation of religion. It means loving, respecting and caring for every person equally, regardless of their beliefs. Our Prophet (saas) put this concept into practice most perfectly by keeping under protection the members of other religions under his rule and the polytheists who signed a treaty with him alike. The articles of the Constitution of Medina stand as the clearest testimony to this.
In secularist Muslim countries, believers should comprehend and get across the true meaning of secularism better. They should not give way to those who exploit secularism as leverage against religion. Secularism should cease to be used as an instrument of oppressing believers, and become a symbol of the freedom religion provides. Otherwise, just as in the old Turkey, left-oriented deep states might usurp all the rights of believers, stigmatize the people of that country as "anti-system", and even oppose the existence of right-wing governments through military coups and memorandums. They might deprive the believers of democracy, and impose a system that will provide democracy only catering for themselves. In a Muslim country, they might throw people in jail just for being a Muslim, impeding their rights and freedoms. Therefore, Muslims should act with a mentality that will put a stop to these wrongful practices. They should be able to demonstrate that the concept of secularism secures both their own freedoms as Muslims, and the freedoms of others. They should be able to get across the fact that the true freedom can only be ensured by the conception of democracy in the Quran, not by the oppressive practices of left-oriented deep states.
Thus secularism will no longer be exploited by those against religion, and it will be a testament to the libertarian, intellectual and peaceful side of the religious people. (Photo: Toni Rodrigo)