Turkey: Secular Turks attack religious council's code for women

The Guardian
A powerful state body regulating the role of Islam in Turkey has come under fire over an article on sexual behaviour that equated flirting with adultery and condemned women for wearing perfume.
Secularists and women's groups hit out after the directorate of religious affairs (Diyanet) published the article on its website setting out recommendations for proper sexual conduct.
Invoking the prophet Muhammad, it put the onus squarely on women by urging them to cover up and behave modestly to avoid provoking male sexual desires.

"Women have to be more careful, since they have stimulants," the article stated. "The women communicating with strange men should speak in a manner that will not arouse suspicion in one's heart and in such seriousness and dignity that they will not let the opposite party misunderstand them, that they should not show their ornaments and figure and that they should cover in a fine manner."

On the use of perfume, it continued: "His highness the prophet Muhammad did not think kindly of women who put on perfumes outside their homes and go strolling and saw this as immoral behaviour."

The article said women and men should not be alone together unless married and questioned the role of females in mixed-gender workplaces. It blamed "social and moral" decline in the west for the legalisation of abortion.

The article was widely condemned in the pro-secular media. Yusuf Kanli, a columnist in the English-language Turkish Daily News, said it reflected a "very primitive mindset", adding: "Is this mentality at all different with that of the Taliban that placed Afghan women behind chadors?"

Kizbes Aydin, the head of Cigle Evka2, a female cultural group, said that the recommendations incited violence against women. "They justify the implementation of violence with excuses such as 'she has perfume', or 'she dressed up provocatively'."

The article is especially striking since Diyanet has a reputation for promoting a moderate interpretation of Islam. It is sponsoring a study of the hadiths, the sayings ascribed to Muhammad, with a view to striking out those judged inauthentic or misogynistic.

Diyanet was established in 1924 after the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate by Ataturk to ensure the practice of Islam did not encroach on Turkey's secular constitution. It directly employs more than 70,000 clerics and had an annual budget of around £500m in 2006.

By: Robert Tait

29 May 2008

Source: The Guardian