SHAFAQNA | Nasibeh Yazdani – Turkey‘s Constitutional Court ruled that a university student’s right of education and freedom of religion was violated with the headscarf ban imposed in the country at the time.
In 2014, Sara Akgul who was a student at Istanbul’s Bogazici University made an individual application to the Constitutional Court after exhaustion from years of seeking other judicial remedies.
According to the decision published on the official gazette on Tuesday, Akgul received a scholarship from the Education Ministry between the years 2000 and 2005.
However, the school expelled Akgul in her fourth year on the grounds that she did not renew her registration. The reality was, she was not allowed to attend lectures or tests due to her headscarf.
After being granted a student amnesty in 2009, Akgul returned to her university and graduated in 2012. However, that year the Education Ministry proceeded for Akgul to return the scholarship they had granted her.
The court unanimously ruled that the right of education and freedom of religion was violated, a new case should be heard to remove the violations and its results, and the applicant be paid a sum of 20,000 Turkish liras (around $3,700) for non-pecuniary damages, yenisafak reported.
History of headscarves ban in Turkey
In a survey of 16,000 people across Turkey conducted by the private consulting firm Ipsos KMG in 2016, 60 percent of women across Turkey said they wear a headscarf, PRI reported.
The headscarf ban in Turkey took place following the end of World War I and the rise of Ataturk to power.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, introduced a series of clothing regulations designed to keep religious symbolism out of the civil service. The regulations were part of a sweeping series of reforms that altered virtually every aspect of Turkish life—from the civil code to the alphabet to education to social integration of the sexes, National Gographic told.
Mustafa Kemal saw the hijab as “backward,” and not in line with his ideas of a “modern” Turkey (Vojdik, 2010). Ataturk did recommend the hijab not be worn, although he did not go so far as to make it a national law to ban the headscarf. Some local governments did however try to ban the wearing of the headscarf in Turkey.
Over time, as the Islamists and secularists contested for power, the hijab in Turkey became a focal point in how they wanted Turkey to be politically.
By the 1970s, though, and particularly after Turkey’s military coup in 1980, discouraging headscarves had taken on the force of law.
In 1982, the government called for a ban to the headscarf in public office buildings, which included universities. This act, while supported by secularists, was staunchly challenged by those calling for religious freedoms, and also by currents wanting more Islam in government and in Turkish society.
Because of this, universities were places were the ban’s politicization became more noticeable. For example, “In the mid-1980s, female university students in Istanbul began challenging the ban, arguing that it violated their right to religious freedom. These young women participated in protests and demonstrations at universities and hunger strikes to persuade state officials to eliminate the ban.
In response, the Higher Education Council twice re- moved restrictions on wearing the headscarf, in 1989 and 1991. The Turk-ish Constitutional Court, however, annulled both repeal attempts, holding on March 7, 1989 that secularism was an essential condition for democracy and that, “[i]n a secular regime, religion is shielded from a political role” (Vojdik, 2010: 668-669).
The issue of the hijab in Turkey increased in publicity in 1998, when a medical student by the name of Leyla Şahin was unable to take her medical examinations because she wore the hijab in the university (Istanbul University), and did not follows calls to take the headscarf off.
In 1999, Turkish politician Merve Kavakci was booed and told to leave the parliament building after she went in wearing a hijab. This incident further highlighted the lack of freedom of religion in Turkey, and the secular position against having the hijab visible in public, political buildings, International relations reported.
It was gradually lifted for the students in universities after 2010, while the ban for public employees was also lifted in 2013.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government led by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became a pioneer in terms of resolving the country’s headscarf issue, which left millions of Muslim women in a dilemma to make a choice between their faith and education or professions.
Through the democratization package aiming to guarantee democratic rights for all citizens, the government passed laws and made amendments to the existing ones to ensure women wearing headscarves could receive education and work as public servants, Daily Sabah reported.
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