Well, they’ve done it. Just when you thought that the Turkish leadership couldn’t alienate itself from its people any further, they’ve gone ahead and done it again.
The Turkish president makes himself a new sultan in the 21st century. The man above the law. The leader, Duce, Führer of Turkey. Whoever tells something he does not like is jailed.
Speaking only one day after her husband President Recip Tayip Erdogan pronounced a woman to be “above all a mother” (on international women’s day no less) First Lady Emine Erdogan made a statement rivalling that of her husband’s.
In a throwback to the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, she commended the work of the harems from this time, claiming that they were “educational establishments that prepared women for life”.
It shows again: Erdogan and his wife lost reality, live in a dream world of Islamic phantasies.
It is hard to imagine that these comments could have been more poorly timed.
Indeed, if they were made only weeks ago, they would have been criticised, not only for their offensive content, but for being reminiscent of the time that President Erdogan stated, “women and men are not equal”.
Yet these comments were not made weeks ago. They were made today.
And unfortunately for the Erdogans, that these comments were made today, means that they were made only two days after comments by the President resulted in thousands protesting on the streets of Istanbul.
Yet even this is not where it ends. It turns out that not only were these comments particularly incendiary, but they have also proven to be false.
Indeed, as Ozlem Kurumlar, political science professor at Istanbul University pointed on his private twitter account, “In the time of Murad III (a sultan from the 16th century), books were the only thing that never entered the harem”.
This means that not only were the statements of the presidential family politically unwise, they were also historically inaccurate. Perhaps this is why, as another tweeter pointed out, men residing in harems were required to be castrated.
Certainly, harems were a place where the elite resided. Therefore, it is highly likely that education did take place in these institutions. However, to conceive them as a place to be harkened back to, is to overlook the struggles that women face today in modern Turkey.
So in the face of these bizarre, and untimely remarks from the first lady, one is forced to ask, just why exactly are such comments being made? What purpose are the President and his first lady aiming to serve when they claim (as she did), that traces of the Harems left from the 6th century could serve as “an inspiration”?
Well perhaps it is not simply these comments in isolation. Indeed, if it were sexism or encroachment on women’s rights alone that were causing this level of disruption among the Turkish people, then similar levels of unrest would have been present when the President called for Turkish women to have at least three children. Or perhaps similar resentment would have resulted from his labelling of birth control as “treason”.
The First Lady of Turkey even does not know well about the real position of women in Islam and during the time of Prophet Muhammad:
God chose no playgirl out of the harem, but an emancipated and successful business woman from Mecca for the Prophet: Khadidjah bint Khuwaylid (approx. 555-620 A.D.).
The first wife of the Prophet played a formative role during the birth of Islam and sufficiently supported the spread of the new religion.
She employed the young Muhammad and proposed marriage to him through a mediator.
There is only one world religion that was financed by a woman – Islam.
Not a man, but a woman was “the first Muslim.”
A woman was the most important adviser and supporter of the Prophet.
She – and not a Turkish harem girl- is a model for all present Muslim women because God consciously chose an emancipated woman for his messenger. Khadidjah is the opposite of the image of women in Turkey, propagated today by Mr. Erdogan.
The rules of the Qur’an should grant women not less but many more rights. The Qur’an granted them six so far unknown rights including the law of inheritance, the right to personal property, the necessity to agree to marriage and the prohibition to kill female descendants.
However, it is nowhere written in the Qur’an that women should not be granted more rights. The Qur’an does not impose a limit to progress but indicates a clear direction towards emancipation.
The Prophet promoted the emancipation and education of women. In contrast to the Prophet
The enslavement of women – as well in the harem- contradicts as well with the actions of the Prophet, who declared all his female and male slaves to be free (see Ibn Kathir’s Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, Vol. 5, p. 284: see Open Letter p. 12).
But these reactions seem part of a broader picture.
Indeed, as the President continues to grapple with a dissenting media, with a refugee crisis, with requests from the European Union and with wars against ISIS and Kurdish forces, it is almost understandable that Erdogan and his wife seek to harken back to a simpler time.
Though understandable, it is not. Modern Turkey has proven to be an amazing place. A country directly on the border between Europe and Asia, it is a modern democracy that has a unique balance to strike. And as it moves forward in this century, it can expect to receive great assistance from the west in achieving this.
However, the west is currently in no position to support a flailing theocratic, authoritarian regime. If Erdogan is to retain support in the west, he will need to cease violating the very things that it holds dear. But more importantly, if he is tor retain support in his own nation, he will need to do the same.
Comments such as those made by himself or his wife in recent times are unwelcome in modern Turkey. This is a message one would have expected him to have understood. We can only hope that he does so sooner, rather than later.