Turkey Passes Bill Extending Access to Islamic Education

Posted March 30th, 2012 at 2:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkish lawmakers have approved a controversial education bill that allows middle school students to attend religious courses.

The legislation passed Friday with 295 votes in favor and 91 against.

The reform extends compulsory education from the current eight years to 12. It also reverses a 1997 law backed by the military, which closed Islamic middle schools and allowed only high school students older than 15 to attend such institutions.

The new law allows students in both middle and high schools to attend elective courses on the Islamic holy book, the Quran, and the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

A large segment of urbanized Turks fears that the conservative government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to reinforce the Islamic religion in the education of Turkish youth and gradually dismantle the secular republic.

Opponents of the reform have demonstrated for days in Turkish cities. Police in the capital, Ankara, have used water cannon to disperse crowds that wanted to march on parliament while the bill was debated.

Turkey is a Muslim-majority nation that also has a strong secular tradition.

Debate on the bill in parliament has resulted in scuffles among lawmakers.