Pakistani judges look to Turkey on religious education

Pakistan is looking to the Turkish model of training imams as fears grow that the South Asian country’s current religious education system based on madrassas is geared toward breeding terrorists.

Thirteen senior judges from Pakistan concluded a visit Wednesday to Turkey, where they learned about imam-hatip religious vocational high schools and met with Turkey’s top cleric.

“Yes, we discussed the Turkish model in detail. The Turkish religious affairs director made certain suggestions regarding our education system,” Dr. Shahzad Iqbal Sham, the head of the Pakistani delegation, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

The group visited Turkey from May 15 to 25 as part of an in-service training program through the International Islamic University in Islamabad. The delegation met Monday with Professor Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.

“It was a comprehensive talk. [Görmez] highlighted the system of training imams in Turkey. We raised questions and those questions were answered very effectively,” said Sham, who is from the International Islamic University.

Görmez briefed the group about Turkey’s imam-hatip schools, which train religious clerics, but the Pakistani academic declined to comment on the idea that Pakistan wants to apply the Turkish model, citing his position as a university academic.

“Our religious education system is going through a transitional period. With the passage of time we will be able to modify our own system in Pakistan. The Turkish system is very effective for the people of Turkey,” Sham said.

“It doesn’t mean that I deny [Pakistan’s interest in the Turkish model]. Our problems must be addressed by the people of Pakistan but we require the assistance of the brotherly country at the national and global levels,” he added, referring to Turkey.

During a trip to Islamabad in 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, himself a graduate of an imam-hatip school, met with his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani. The Pakistani prime minister openly said his country was interested in Turkey’s imam-hatip model and expressed his intentions to switch to a government-supervised theological school system, like the one in Turkey, in order to replace the controversial madrassa system.

The Pakistani judges who visited Turkey this month spent time in Ankara, Istanbul and the Central Anatolian province of Konya as part of a judicial training program known as a “Shariah Orientation Course.”

Asked why the group chose Turkey, a country that is not governed by shariah law, Sham said: “Turkey has a lot of historical and cultural Islamic heritage. Moreover, there are certain changes in its political and legal system. That’s why we chose Turkey, to benefit from this brotherly country.”

Fulya Ozerkan, HDN