Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday praised the number of young people attending religious imam-hatip schools, citing the figure as 1,300,000 students, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
“They [the former secularist establishment] said “Lets close them [religious imam-hatip schools],” and they were closed. They decreased potential students from 600,000 to 60,000. How? With that famous Feb. 28 [military intervention in 1997]. Thank God, today there are 1,300,000 students at primary and high school level [imam-hatips],” said Erdoğan during the opening ceremony of the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Anadolu Religious High School in İstanbul.
Erdoğan called on students of religious high schools to stand against people trying to divide the Muslim ummah, the entire community of Muslims bound together by ties of religion.
Religious imam-hatip schools are known for providing the grass roots of the political Islamist movements in Turkey.
President Erdoğan, who is also an imam-hatip graduate, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been trying to increase the number of imam-hatip schools.
According to statistics released by the Education Union (EğitimSen), the number of imam-hatip schools rose to 1,961 in 2015 from 450 in 2002 when Erdoğan’s AKP came to power.
Recently the İstanbul Governor’s Office issued a circular asking district education directorates to refer Syrian students living in areas densely populated by Syrians to religious imam-hatip schools, the Diken news website reported on Sept. 18.
In a similar development in İzmir, students who achieve a designated score in the secondary education examination are offered a scholarship if they choose to study at religious imam-hatip schools.
Amid ongoing debates about the Turkish military and police force falling under the control of President Erdoğan, a religious imam-hatip school in İzmir, promised its graduates preference in enrollment at military and police academies in June.