Turkey lifts generations-old ban on Islamic head scarf

Tue Oct 8, 2013 1:03pm EDT
 
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By Humeyra Pamuk

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey lifted a ban on women wearing the Islamic head scarf in state institutions on Tuesday, ending a generations-old restriction as part of a package of reforms the government says are meant to improve democracy.

The ban, whose roots date back almost 90 years to the early days of the Turkish Republic, has kept many women from joining the public work force, but secularists see its abolition as evidence of the government pushing an Islamic agenda.

The new rules, which will not apply to the judiciary or the military, were published in the Official Gazette and take immediate effect in the majority Muslim but constitutionally secular country.

"A regulation that has hurt many young people and has caused great suffering to their parents, a dark period, is coming to an end," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his AK Party, which has its roots in Islamist politics.

The debate around the head scarf goes to the heart of tensions between religious and secular elites, a major fault line in Turkish public life.

Erdogan's critics see his AK Party as seeking to erode the secular foundations of the republic built on the ruins of an Ottoman theocracy by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

His supporters, particularly in Turkey's pious Anatolian heartlands, say Erdogan is simply redressing the balance and restoring freedom of religious expression to a Muslim majority.

"There was a witch hunt for civil servants with a head scarf," said Safiye Ozdemir, a high-school teacher in Ankara who for years had to remove her head scarf at work against her wishes, but had started to defy the ban in recent months.   Continued...

 
Turkish women stand near their homes in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, close to the border with Syria, November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh