Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday denounced a European court ruling against Turkey’s compulsory religion courses, calling them a necessary tool to fight Islamic radicalization.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that compulsory religion courses in Turkish public schools violated educational freedoms, and called on Turkey to reform its school curriculum.
“If proper religion is not taught, it produces unhealthy and incorrect religious information that leads to the radicalization seen in our
neighboring countries,” Davutoglu said during a joint conference with the education minister in Ankara.
Davutoglu was apparently referring to the extremist Islamic State group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and is holding 49 Turks abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq in June.
He rejected claims that his Islamic-rooted government was using religion courses as a tool of coercion on children whose parents do not practice Turkey’s dominant Sunni Islam.
“In some countries students are even taken to church as part of religion and morality classes. It’s impossible for us to ignore this,” he said. “Just like I should know about Marxism despite the fact that I am not a Marxist, it is necessary for an atheist to have knowledge of religious culture.”
He said, however, that Ankara would review the European court ruling.
The case reviewed at the Strasbourg involved a complaint from members of Turkey’s Alevi minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The Alevi parents of a student argued that the compulsory religious courses promoted a Sunni understanding of Islam.
“The Turkish education system was still inadequately equipped to ensure respect for parents’ convictions,” the court said, ordering that Ankara “remedy the situation without delay”.
The ECHR told Turkey to allow students to “be exempted from religion and ethics classes without their parents having to disclose their own religious or philosophical conviction.”
Alevis, who follow a moderate form of Islam and make up around a quarter of Turkey’s 76 million citizens, have been strong supporters of Turkey’s secular system, even though they frequently complain of official discrimination.
In Turkey, only Christian and Jewish students can be exempted from religion and morality classes.