Politicized Friday prayer sermon supports blocking of social media platforms

Politicized Friday prayer sermon supports blocking of social media platforms

Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet Görmez (Photo: Today's Zaman)

March 28, 2014, Friday/ 18:10:00

The Religious Affairs Directorate has lent its support to restrictions on access to social media platforms YouTube and Twitter, which were blocked by the government to silence simmering dissent against it, after suggesting a politicized sermon be read in mosques across Turkey on Friday.

Congregating to perform the obligatory Friday afternoon prayer, Muslims listened to this week's sermon, titled "Freedom and Responsibility," which many felt aimed to justify a limitation of freedom of expression through supporting the social media bans. The sermon received backlash from the religious public, who claimed via messages on social media that they had been exposed to covert political propaganda at mosques, which are supposed to be immune to anything related to political disputes.

The sermon recalled a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad, underlining the importance of unity and solidarity. The hadith was used to demonize social media, which was referred to a “center of destruction” in the sermon. In the hadith, the Prophet made an analogy of a ship with an upper and lower deck. To get water, the passengers on the lower deck would have to go to the upper deck and bother those up there to get it. So those on the lower deck planned to make a hole in their deck so they would no longer have to go upstairs. The hadith advised that it is imperative that those on the upper deck say something and prevent their shipmates from making a hole that would cause the ship to sink.

Through this hadith, the sermon emphasized that users of social media can be as harmful as those on the lower deck who were trying to sink the ship. It argued that the bans do not necessarily mean freedoms are being restricted, since having freedom doesn't mean one has a license to do whatever s/he wants.

The sermon was interpreted by many congregated as veiled support for the government's increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Some commentators recalled the times of the Feb. 28 post-modern coup, when every week the military approved sermons before they were preached.

“We are all cruising toward eternity on a ship given to us by God for safekeeping. May our Lord send us to and make it easy for us to reach the coasts of peace, without letting others pierce this ship before it can be given back to its real owner,” the sermon said.

Twitter users, who are still able to connect to the microblogging site through virtual private network (VPN) proxies, lashed out at the religious authority's sermon topic. Some said bringing politics to the pulpits of mosques may alienate those who are not keen on the government's policies. Others pointed out that if the intention wasn't to send a political message to Muslims, then the sermon was unnecessary, as those flocking to the mosques already know that sometimes freedom is naturally restricted by the freedoms of others. Many criticized the religious authority for giving support to those who are in defense of rising censorship in the country. Derin Twit, a popular Twitter user who often tweets anti-government messages, said he felt like he was listening to a government declaration rather than a religious admonition.

Journalist Ahmet Dönmez said, “The Religious Affairs Party [referring the directorate] sent out a sermon to its corps across Turkey to call them to hold tight to their votes.” Many others lashed out at the Religious Affairs Directorate, accusing it of keeping silent and turning a blind eye to corruption and bribery -- in reference to a graft probe implicating some government members -- and of encouraging submission to the political authority.

Muslim clerics react against DİB's silence

The Anatolia Religious Affairs Directorate Members Association (ADİMDER) has chastised the Religious Affairs Directorate (DİB) and its theologians for remaining silent about a libel campaign targeting the Hizmet movement and Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Hasan Hüseyin Uyar, the chairman of the association, issued a written statement in which he said the silence of the men of God in the face of misconduct by politicians and their slander of the Hizmet movement have deeply disturbed believers.

Uyar recalled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's defamatory words to demonize the Hizmet movement. The prime minister had called Gülen a fake prophet, a tape plotter and an empty scholar, and the Hizmet movement a gang, a virus, traitors, enemies of fraternity and so on, adding that such a discourse does nothing but polarize the society.

“One sin [of a person who slanders a community] turns into millions of sins and returns to the person who committed it. One part of society is in a kind of competition to commit sin. Using these words [which sow suspicions about the faith of a Muslim] about believers who have nothing to do with them is among the cardinal sins, which include the encroachment on the rights of others,” Uyar said.