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Turkish bus driver refuses to stop for passenger prayer, igniting fresh secularism debate

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A long-distance bus driver’s unwillingness to stop so that a passenger could pray has helped ignite a fresh debate over secularism in predominantly Muslim Turkey.

Following the driver’s refusal to stop over the weekend, the passenger complained on Twitter, drawing a controversial response from the travel company.

“None of the rights defined by [Turkey’s] constitution can be used to violate the democratic and secular concept” of the republic, the Öz Erciş bus company said in a statement that went viral.

The controversy is the latest example of a long-standing debate in a country with a Muslim majority but a secular tradition, despite the erosion of secularism under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The bus was making one of the longest trips through Turkey — from the Van region near the Iranian border in the east to Izmir on the Aegean coast in the west — the company’s lawyer said on Tuesday.

The journey takes more than 24 hours.

“The company finds itself at the center of a controversy on secularism. We are being singled out as a target. But we are respectful of all beliefs,” said the company’s lawyer, Tuncay Keserci.

“It is not possible … to ignore the rights of other passengers who do not pray and who want to arrive at their destination on time, for a passenger to pray,” the company’s statement added.

The response drew both praise and criticism, with supporters commending Oz Ercis for their “courage” in defending secularism, while detractors said they would not travel with the company again.

The Islamic faith provides that travelers can adapt prayer times and length when travelling.

“We are victims of a lynching campaign, as if we were preventing people from praying,” said Keserci, adding that the passenger in question was able to pray later when the bus stopped at a rest area.

Keserci said secularism “does not mean that we are not religious. Secularism also protects Muslims.”

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