Diritto e Religione nelle Società Multiculturali/ Law and Religion in Multicultural Societies/ Derecho y Religión en las Sociedades Multiculturales/ Droit et Religion dans les Sociétés Multiculturelles/ Recht und Religion in Multikulturellen Gesellschaften/ 多元化社会中的法与宗教 / القانون والدين في المجتمعات متعددة الثقافات

by Mustafa Yasan


The first case of COVID-19 Pandemic in the Republic of Turkey was detected on 10.03.2020 according to the official release of the Ministry of Health. The date of the first death due to the virus was 15.03.2020. The date of the preparation of this text is 25.04.2020. As of this date, the total number of cases of coronavirus is 107.773 while the total number of deaths is 2.706 according to the statements made by the Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca. Another statistic is about the number of patients who have recovered. As of today, 25.582 patients have been discharged from hospitals.

Up to now, various measures have been taken by the Presidency and Ministries in Turkey to struggle the COVID-19 Pandemic. The first of these measures was the establishment of a scientific board within the Ministry of Health in 10.01.2020. The Scientific Board has been acting as an advisory board presenting the required measures to be taken to the authorized institutions. The recommendations of the Scientific Board have been largely adopted by the competent authorities, and decisions have been taken on measures, following the recommendations. Some of these measures were specific to religious life in Turkey. In Turkey, the Presidency of Religious Affairs (PRA) is the constitutional institution that is authorized to coordinate and regulate the religious services for the Muslims[1]. However, PRA has been strongly criticized by society because of being too late to take and apply the required measures.

In this text, the measures taken on issues falling within the mandate of the PRA and the effects of these measures will be emphasized. However, we must express that the Christian and Jewish communities have taken their precautions and measures by using their own initiative based on the Treaty of Lausanne with the coordination of the Ministry of Internal Affairs[2]. Accordingly, all Christian and Jewish congregations interrupted their mass worships and services until the threat of coronavirus ends. Until then, it was also decided to carry out the services and worships with a closed-circuit system.

Although the Ministries and related public institutions announced their measures in the days following 10.03.2020, when the first case was declared, the PRA had not revealed any measures until 16.03.2020. This delay is still considered as one of the reasons for the spread of the pandemic in Turkey. In this process, PRA was contended with stating that only those who were sick should not come to the Friday prayer, which is performed collectively. It was not a prohibition but wish only. This passive approach of the PRA was criticized in public opinion, and the PRA had to make important resolutions within the scope of the fight against the COVID-19 virus on 16.03.2020. The most prominent of these measures was the interruption of mass worships in mosques and masjids, including Friday prayers, until the danger of spreading the corona virus disappears. However, it was stated that mosques will be kept open for those who want to worship individually.

The PRA made a decision that was subject to controversy and criticism in the public on 27.03.2020. By that decision, the Friday Prayer was performed only in Ankara and at a mosque and with the participation of a limited number of public officials determined beforehand. That Friday Prayer was broadcasted live on a state TV channel. The live broadcast of the prayer and the mosque where was the prayer was performed was located in the Presidential complex were criticized by both religious scientists and social scientists. Despite these reactions, this symbolic performance of Friday Prayer is still being applied by the PRA except live TV broadcast[3].

In Turkey, a part of the measures taken in the religion sphere against the threat of coronavirus is related to the holy month of Ramadan, a month which is considered special and holy by Muslims. The Scientific Committee established within the Ministry of Health declared the precautions to be taken in Ramadan, and within this framework, the Circular on the Measures of Ramadan was put into effect by the Ministry of Interior. These measures can be briefly followed by the banning of collective iftar and sahur meals[4], restriction of the shrine, tomb visits, visiting the cemeteries only individually in a controlled manner such as using masks[5]. The PRA made another decision regarding the month of Ramadan on 08.04.2020. According to this decision, the tarawih prayer, which is performed collectively in mosques during Ramadan, will not be performed in mosques as long as the measures taken about the coronavirus continue.

Another development regarding the measures for coronavirus threat on religion sphere of Turkey was about umrah visits. Umrah is a visit to the holy lands such as Mecca and Medina as well as the pilgrimage. In Turkey, close to 100,000 people perform the Umrah visit within a year. Although opinions had been made in the public that umrah visits should have been cancelled when the threat of the coronavirus occurred in China, the PRA did not resort to any measures in this regard[6]. On the other hand, the Ministry of Health declared the quarantine for 10.330 Turkish citizens who were performing Umrah visits. For applying the quarantine Umrah visitors were settled in empty dormitories in Konya and Ankara after their arrivals. The quarantine was decided for 14 days as first and then it was extended to 21 days. In addition to that, there is uncertainty about the pilgrimage organization that is supposed to be held in July this year, since Saudi Arabian officials have declared that pilgrimage agreements have been postponed for now.

[1] The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey Article 136.

[2] As a sample, for Armenian Orthodox Church http://www.turkiyeermenileripatrikligi.org/site/corona-virusu-ile-ilgili-onlemler/

[3] https://www.diyanet.gov.tr/tr-TR/Kurumsal/Detay/29453/diyanet-isleri-baskanligindan-cuma-namazi-ile-ilgili-aciklama

[4] İftar is the dinner for the end of fasting worship. Sahur is the breakfast for the beginning of fasting worship.

[5] https://www.icisleri.gov.tr/koronavirus-ile-mucadelede-ramazan-ayi-tedbirleri-genelgesi

[6] https://www.diyanet.gov.tr/tr-TR/Kurumsal/Detay/28361/umre-ziyaretleriyle-ilgili-basin-aciklamasi# ; https://www.diyanet.gov.tr/tr-TR/Kurumsal/Detay/29397/diyanet-isleri-baskanligindan-koronaviruse-karsi-alinan-tedbirlerle-ilgili-aciklama


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