At a recent conference in Cologne on the future of Europe's Muslims, Ali Erbaş, the head of Turkey's state religious authority, the Diyanet, railed against what he called the "increase in anti-Islamic discourse and actions... [that] threaten European multiculturalism."
In his keynote address to the conference, hosted by Turkey's main Islamic body in Germany, DITIB -- based in the Cologne Central Mosque, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated during a visit to Germany in September -- Erbaş declared:
"... racism, social exclusion... xenophobia, attacks against mosques... [and] discriminatory discourse and actions disregard human life and honor... restrict [Muslims'] rights, make social and cultural institutions dysfunctional and harm the common morality and conscience of humanity."
Referring to Islamophobia as a "crime against humanity," Erbaş said:
"It is... futile... to discuss Islam using geographical or cultural adjectives, such as European Islam, French Islam, moderate Islam, etc. Instead, the most correct stance is to understand Islam correctly, to work so that [Islam] will bring more value and beauty to life and support endeavors in this direction."
This was not the first time that Erbaş accused Europe of "Islamophobia." In April 2018, responding to the "Manifesto against the new anti-Semitism," signed by more than 250 prominent French intellectuals, artists and politicians and calling on Islamic theologians to remove the verses of the Quran that call for the killing and punishment of Jews, Christians and Muslim non-believers, Erbaş said that the situation in Europe was "crossing the line of Islamophobia and becoming anti-Islam."
At the time, Erbaş asserted: "There is such massive ignorance on the part of the signatories that the declaration [makes it sound] as though the Quran encourages murdering people of different faiths. But there is one more lie or falsehood in it." Denying an assertion in the French text that the Vatican Council removed a part of the Bible denigrating Jews, he continued:
"There is no information [affirming this]. But they pretend as if some insults targeting Jews were removed from the Bible.
"I don't know if among the signatories are Christians, but if there are, they should first look at their own book. What is there in the Bible concerning Jews? First have a look at that."
Yet, it is actually Erbaş who was giving misleading information, both about the violent anti-Jewish and other non-Muslim teachings in Islamic scriptures, and about the message of the manifesto. Furthermore, the Diyanet does not even recognize Judaism and Christianity as authentic faiths -- as is immediately apparent on its official website.
Take, for instance, the website's interpretation of the 140th ayat (verse) of the surah (chapter) Al-Baqarah. The verse reads:
"Or do you say that Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants were Jews or Christians? Say, 'Are you more knowing or is Allah?' And who is more unjust than one who conceals a testimony he has from Allah? And Allah is not unaware of what you do."
In the Diyanet's interpretation of the verse, the religious figures whom Jews believe to be their prophets, and the religion of Jesus, all originated with Islam:
"Christians and Jews said that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants were Jewish or Christian like themselves to prove or strengthen the illusion that they are superior to or more elite then Muslims."
But as the 65th verse of the surah Ali Imran states, the Torah and the Bible came after prophet Ibrahim [Abraham] and the names of Judaism and Christianity emerged centuries after those prophets. As a matter of fact, the word Jew was derived to refer to Yahuda [Judah], the fourth of the eleven sons of prophet Yakub, and it was not initially the name of a religion. It was the name of the tribe of the members of the Yahuda ancestry. It was at least seven centuries after prophet Musa [Moses] that the lineage of Israel was called Jewish and their religious belief Judaism. Hence, it is not possible to refer either religiously or ethnically to the prophets in that [Quranic] verse as Jewish. These prophets were not considered Christian either because they all lived centuries before prophet Isa [Jesus]. The word Christian was not even used to refer to the religion of Isa; the community bound up to prophet Isa was called 'Nazarenes' at the time and the word 'Christian' was used for the first time and exclusively for the people of Antakya [Antioch] who believed in prophet Isa after [he died]. Thus, the words Judaism and Christianity do not even completely refer to the religions of Musa and Isa, not to mention the religions of prophet Ibrahim and other prophets mentioned in the [Quranic] verse. For these words emerged at a time when the religions of the said prophets were distorted and structurally altered through the incorporation of beliefs and forms of worship that were not originally in the essence [of the prophets' real religion].
"In conclusion, as the 67th surah of the Al-i Imran surah says, Ibrahim was neither Jewish nor Christian. He was a Hanafi Muslim. He was purified of all types of shirk [the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism] or similar flaws. And the prophets that were of his lineage also followed his path. Just like Ibrahim, their religion was also Hanafi [one of the four Sunni Islamic schools]. And Hanafism was not idolatrous. It was not Judaism or Christianity either. It is the religion of Tawhid [oneness of Allah] that Allah sent to humanity from the very beginning and that is the most suitable for human nature. So it is completely contrary to facts to claim that they [the prophets] were Jewish or Christian..."
These are the words of the very institution whose president, Erbaş, accused Europe of "Islamophobia." How ironic that this is the same Erbaş who claimed at the conference in Cologne that the "increase in anti-Islamic discourse and actions... threaten European multiculturalism," while the Diyanet is responsible for decrees that do not allow for the slightest bit of multiculturalism in Turkey. In fact, all religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey are persecuted with the blessing of the Diyanet. The Alevis are a prime example of such a persecuted minority.
Erbaş's attack on Europe for "restrict[ing Muslims'] rights, mak[ing] social and cultural institutions dysfunctional and harm[ing] the common morality and conscience of humanity" seemed particularly out of place, given the Diyanet's rulings on societal behavior in Turkey.
One ruling that the Diyanet made in 2016, for instance, was that it is permissible for a father to lust after his daughter "by touching her thick clothes or by looking at and thinking about her body," on condition that "the daughter is older than nine."
More recently, in January 2018, the Diyanet also stated that girls as young as nine may marry and become mothers under Islamic law. The legal age of marriage in Turkey is 18, or 17 with parental consent. People can also marry at 16 with court approval. However, child marriage in Islamic ceremonies is widespread in the country.
In a different ruling, the Diyanet took Islamic law to new heights by claiming that the practice of "triple talaq" -- whereby a Muslim man can divorce his wife simply by repeating, "I divorce you" three times -- can be carried out via fax, phone, SMS or mail.
Yet another Diyanet ruling states:
"According to Islam, a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man... The criterion sought for in marriage is whether the person [potential spouse] is Muslim or not..."
The English-language Turkish publication Ahval News reported that "the Cologne gathering appeared to be DITIB's response to the German government's Islam Conference held in Berlin in November." The purpose of that conference -- titled "Muslims in Germany – German Muslims" -- was "to explore how Muslims and non-Muslims get along with each other in daily life in very practical terms and what can be done to share best practices for an Islam 'in, from and for Germany.'"
In spite of its stated aim "to define conditions and opportunities for successful co-existence in daily life, in mosque congregations and the surrounding neighbourhoods, and everywhere Muslims and non-Muslims interact," the German government's conference evidently angered the Diyanet. Not only were secular Muslims among the participants at the event, but German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said there that mosques in the country should train their imams in Germany, not rely on foreign entities, such as the Diyanet.
It is important to stress that the Diyanet is not a minor institution in Turkey or elsewhere: it not only dictates religious policy at home, but is responsible for the building of mosques across the world, including in Germany. Its president's recent rant against Europe -- from a podium in Cologne, no less -- was disingenuous, false and a perfect example of projection. It is European liberalism that is under assault, not the other way around.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.