Turkey’s justice minister: Giving muftis authority to perform marriages is a secular move

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Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ gives a speech during a press conference as the cabinet meeting continues in Ankara, Turkey on July 24, 2017. AFP

Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Sunday that a recent government move to give authority to muftis – Muslim legal experts who are empowered to make rulings on religious matters, working under the Directorate of Religious Affairs – to perform civil marriages is not against secular principles but that “on the contrary, it is a requirement of secularism.”

Responding to criticism from opposition party deputies in a series of tweets on Sunday, Bozdağ said “The proposed legislation will make it easier and faster to go through the official marriage process and actually protect women’s rights.”

Underlining that everyone has the right to have their marriage officiated however they choose, the justice minister claimed this is a practice that is actually needed in a secular system.

On July 25 the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) proposed legislation in Parliament to allow muftis, supervisors of imams in local mosques, to perform civil marriage ceremonies.

A mufti works under the Religious Affairs Directorate and deals with the religious affairs of Muslims in provinces and districts. While muftis do not have the legal authority to marry couples, this is bound to change in the event the bill is approved by Parliament.

The bill, which was previously discussed, received criticism from experts who argued it would allow an increase in child marriages.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Şenal Sarıhan had asked in a parliamentary question: “From what need is this kind of transfer of authority born? Are marriage officers and municipalities not able to meet the need? What is being planned, under circumstances that will emerge after this change, to prevent the continuous sexual abuse and exploitation of children under the status of ‘marriage’ and ‘marriage by an imam,’ which is already very common in Turkey and which is causing social problems and violations of rights?”

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