What does it mean to allow muftis to perform civil marriages?

Turkey is faced with a new sharia arrangement. The draft law granting provincial and local muftis the authority to perform civil marriages passed in the subcommittee of the Turkish parliament
Monday, 09 October 2017 07:08

The sharia arrangement of "marriage authority for muftis" which passed in the parliament’s subcommittee is getting a lot of reaction. Lawyers, authors, women and many other segments of society think that this arrangement is "a new stage of transition to sharia and it is an expression of the desire to marry young children without any regulation and to enslave women…" Lawyers and authors explained what essentially this regulation means to soL.

Turkey is faced with a new sharia arrangement. The draft law is granting provincial and local muftis the authority to perform civil marriages passed in the subcommittee of the Turkish parliament.


An author, critic, and academic Erendiz Atasü says that the reason why they insist on the draft law giving muftis authority to perform civil marriages is to build the next stage of transition to the Islamic republic.

She evaluated the new arrangement to soL as follows:

"While the citizens have no problem with getting married and the country is going through a lot of serious problems, look what the rulers of the country are dealing with! The reason behind this strange insistence on mufti performed marriages cannot be anything else than building the next step in the transformation of the Republic of Turkey to an Islamic republic, perhaps a sultanate; and transforming secular law to sharia law. The fact that our rulers take every opportunity to violate women's human and citizenship rights, taking a stance against women, makes the problem even more severe. The attacks of police to women defending rightfully and peacefully the civil law against mufti marriages with nightsticks, tear gas and water cannons is nothing but an expression of government’s desire to enslave us, women."


Stating that they are watching the developments with concern, the President of Judges Union Ayşe Sarısu Pehlivan, explained "we don’t understand the attempts to return back from the modernisation road we started taking 91 years ago" and she added:

"On one hand, we are celebrating the 91st anniversary of Turkish Civil Code which is the most important foundation of bringing the status of Turkish women and Turkish family structure to an important stage among the modern states. On the other hand, we are watching the news about Draft Law on the Amendment of Population Services Law allowing muftis to perform civil marriages with a lot of concern. We don’t find these attempts to return from the modernisation road we took 91 years ago understandable.

It is not acceptable to say that European churches have the authority to perform civil marriages and ignore the possible future incidents in our country where child rape cases are increasing, and child brides and mothers are a grim reality.

Opposing this regulation is the first duty of every secular and republican jurist".


The general secretary of the Union of Judges and Prosecutors (YARSAV) which has been closed, Leyla Köksal, states that this arrangement is the "final touches of religion-based state." "It is a clear abuse and this abuse will add another layer of separation to the society which is already highly separated."

Leyla Köksal adds the following:

"I want to loudly oppose this draft bill as both a woman and a jurist in my country which is a heaven (or maybe I should say hell) of women choosing among the many faces of death.

First, I want to remind the Article 10 of our Constitution as a jurist. 'Everyone is equal before the law without distinction as to language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, and sect, or any such grounds".

Who is a mufti? Mufti is a person working for the provincial organisations of Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) that enlightens people about Islam, regulates and supervises religious services. The Article No. 90 in the law regulating religious affairs states that the first job of muftis is “carrying out religious affairs pertaining to faith, worship and moral principles." In this case, we are talking about an arrangement that is brought for only Muslim Turkish citizens, and that invalidates the principle of secularism even more strongly than previous arrangements, taking a big step toward the religion-based state.

Again, our constitution states in the last section of Article 24 that 'No one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion, in any manner whatsoever, for personal or political interest or influence, or for even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political, and legal order of the State on religious tenets'.

This draft bill is a clear abuse and it is going to add another layer to increasing levels of the separation in the society. The distinction between people marrying with and without muftis will create a new source of marginalisation and neighbourhood pressure. It will add a new one to women’s chains, reinforcing their slavery once again. The obedience to husband and good deeds of getting beat-up are going to be advised on the wedding table from now on, encouraging men further.

And this regulation changes the Reform Laws specified in the Article 174 of our constitution which aim to raise Turkish society above the level of contemporary civilisation and to safeguard the secular character of the Republic, and speeds up our regression form the Republican values.

We must look for the underlying reasons behind giving the authority to perform the civil marriage to muftis when we have an increasing number of femicides and scared of facing with our problem of child brides, ignoring child mortality, not to mention other social problems and downfalls. This authorization will not only fail to solve these problems but also will trigger insolubility. Not just women but also men should oppose this arrangement that comes out of nowhere without even adding a statement about the necessity of this arrangement into the draft, as if there are long lines for marriage registrars and mukhtars (local authorities) and people who can’t wait to marry creates chaos in society. These are the last touches of establishing a religion-based state which started with small steps at first but then speeded up with education policies without even need to disguise their motive anymore."


Reminding that the road to this bill that authorises muftis was built gradually, Lawyer Müjde Tozbey Erden says that "if the bill is enacted, child marriages will be legalised. This means the sale of little girls through the marriages performed by imams escaping from regulation and their sexual abuse by the help of state".

She states the following:

"There will be a lot of adverse effects of granting authority to perform civil marriages to muftis. The first is giving more credit to clergymen and justifying religion to have a stronger legal and social basis. The second is to open the way to the marriages of children under 16.

Based on the current law, religious marriages are not recognised by Turkey's secular system. People who don’t have a civil marriage can’t have a religious marriage either. And the youngest age for civil marriage is 16. The Turkish Criminal Code doesn’t allow the marriage of children under16 and punishes parents and everybody else involved in the marriage ceremony. However, in 2015 Turkey’s Constitutional Court announced that civil marriage is no longer a legal requirement for religiously married citizens. This decision legalised the religious marriage and opened the way for child marriages.

On the other hand, the Constitutional Court reduced the age limit from 15 to 12 in the definition of child sexual abuse in 2016, treating the children above 12 as adult women. The punishment of anyone who has sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl with her consent is different from the punishment of anyone who has sexual relation with an 8-year-old girl now.

These things considered together, the road to this bill that authorises muftis was built gradually. Child marriages are going to be legal in our society from now on. This means the sale of little girls through the marriages performed by imams escaping from regulation and their sexual abuse by the help of state".


Kadir Sev says that "granting authority to perform civil marriages to muftis has nothing to do with religious sensibilities" and adds:

"Allowing muftis to perform civil marriages is not an innocent will. Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters know this best. They can’t even defend the bill properly anyway. They are trying to avoid the issue saying nonsense like this "we will prevent the excess demand for marriage registrars, and we are looking out for the religious sensibilities, we are not forcing anyone. They might as well force!

The Minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu defended the arrangement saying that 'this is not legalization of religious marriage or a new type of marriage'. What is it then? People could have an additional religious ceremony if they want, there is no obstacle for that. There are muftis everywhere. They can give the same authority to imams with the same justification in the future it seems like.

They are defining every aspect of life with religious references. Imams started to take up official duties everywhere including hospitals, prisons, and schools. The borders supposed to exist between mosques and public institutions in a secular country have been removed. Some of the lectures are given in mosques and some Quran courses are given in schools. We are witnessing opening the universities with Quran recitals. Granting authority to perform civil marriages to muftis is a very important step in making the country more religious."