An announcement made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday that imams can deliver sermons in mosques in three languages, either in Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic, according to the most widely spoken language among the mosque attendees, has received support from intellectuals who interpreted the move as a “positive” one.
Meeting with muftis and opinion leaders during a visit to the southeastern province of Mardin, the prime minister said: “I have positive views about the delivery of sermons in the mother tongue. You can give your sermons in Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic in the way mosque attendees will understand.”
“This is a very positive step,” Kurdish politician and writer İbrahim Güçlü told Today's Zaman, adding that this move will lead to further mingling of the peoples living in the country's Southeast where people from different ethnicities and languages reside.
He said the move would lead to a feeling of relief among the people in the region.
According to Güçlü, the delivery of sermons in three languages in mosques could also be seen as a step toward granting Kurds the right to receive education in their mother tongue, which has been a long-standing demand of the Kurds in the country.
He said the prime minister might be preparing the nation for such a step with his Sunday announcement.
Secretary-General of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) Üstün Bol interpreted the government's announcement on Sunday as a step toward Turkey's normalization.
“The fact that people will receive religious services in their mother tongue is an important step towards societal peace. In addition to being an individual right and freedom, the delivery of sermons in people's mother tongue shows Islam's power of unification, and the use of different languages is not a means of separation but unification,” Bol told Today's Zaman.
Speaking about the issue on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said people's needs and sensitivities are taken into consideration during religious services.
He recalled the airing of a religious program in connection with the Mawlid al-Nabi (Mevlid Kandili in Turkish) in Kurdish on TRT Şeş last year.
“If the attendees of a mosque do not know Turkish and if the imam of the mosque can speak the language of the locals, it is more appropriate for him to deliver his sermon in the language the people will understand. Yet, we don't know for the time being where this is possible. We don't have exact data on this. Currently imams deliver their sermons by taking the needs of the locals into consideration,” he said.
Mardin Mufti Dursun Ali Coşkun said the mufti's office is ready to take action for the delivery of sermons in three languages in the province, adding that such a practice is appropriate for the region.
A businessman from Mardin, Süleyman Akdağ, also hailed the move, saying: “This is what should have been done for the region. When you give a sermon in Kurdish, people will understand it better. Since most of the people in the villages know Kurdish better than Turkish, it is better to address to them in Kurdish.”
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which launched an initiative to resolve Turkey's long-standing Kurdish problem in 2009, has taken significant steps to allow Kurds to enjoy broader cultural and political rights. To this effect, a state-run television station, TRT Şeş, which broadcasts in Kurdish, was launched in 2009 by the government. For many years, the use of Kurdish was banned in Turkey due to suppressive state policies. It is the first state-sponsored Kurdish TV channel in Turkey.
In its latest move, the government sponsored a law that was approved in Parliament last month which enables suspects to use their mother tongue in court when delivering defense statements.