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"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Religious Education to Counter Proselytizing in Turkey

February 6, 2005, 11:50 am

By Sa’ad Abdul Majid, IOL Correspondent
ISTANBUL, February 4 (

A Turkish academician urged boosting religious education and launching an effective awareness campaign to counter Christian mission work in the predominantly-Muslim country.

The appeal followed revelations by a proselytizer who reverted back to Islam that missionaries attempt to sow a sectarian strife in Turkey by Christianizing a large number of its citizens.

Turks have to build on more proposals for combating Christianization in the country, Hedayet Aydar, a professor of religious studies at Istanbul University, told Friday, February 4.

Aydar proposed earmarking more teaching hours to religion lessons in primary schools, and encouraging students to join imam and preacher schools or universities of religious studies along with upgrading their standards.

Awareness Campaign

Aydar also pressed the need for an awareness campaign to raise alarm bells on the wide Christian missionary activities in the country and ways they use to lure more converts in.

He underlined the media has to join the fray by dedicating programs and articles to missionary activities and how best to combat them.

There is a need to give the true image of Islam and change misconceptions on the religion, often touted by those calling themselves secularists in Turkey, the prominent academician said.

“People under that category are most vulnerable to proselytizing since they either have no religious culture or share mistaken concepts on Islam.”

The Turkish army has said in a recent report that protestant missions plan to proselytize some 10 per cent of Turkey's 70 million population by 2020.

The report, titled “Proselytizing Activities in Turkey and the World”, said missionaries are trying to fill the “spiritual void” left by the youths' ignorance about the basic tenets and rituals of Islam.

Political Targets

Meanwhile, a former 37-year-old proselytizer, who reverted back to Islam two weeks ago after converting 20 years ago, warned against politically-motivated plans by proselytizers.

Elgar Shenar said he had been ordered as a proselytizer to intensify missionary work targeting members of the sects of Alawiyyin and Kurds.

Alawiyyin are originally a sect of the Shi`ah called ‘Nusayriyyah’. The Nusayriyyah is a movement that emerged in the third century after Hijrah. They claim that Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) is God-incarnated.

Shenar said he was dumfounded to find the Christianization in Turkey is no more than a political work meant to sow unrest and divisions in the community, citing that as the main reason for his return to Islam.

The revelation echoed the Turkish army’s report that said the proselytizers are seeking to pit the Sunnis against the Alawiyyin or the opposite to preach about the Christian faith.

Commanding a wide media attention, the former proselytizer regretted that thousands of Muslims, especially young men, had been Christianized by missionaries in areas densely populated by Turks of Arab or Kurdish descent.

He accused the US Defense Department of standing behind the missionary work in Turkey. He further claimed that he “knew his reverting back to Islam was reported to the Pentagon”.

Long-run Style

Shenar said International Protest Church, for which he was appointed as a priest and proselytizer, exploit huge financial, social, economic and psychological potentials to draw green youths to Christianity.

Proselytizing mainly focuses on poor areas in central and eastern Turkey, also exploiting the country’s keen interest to be a member of the 25-member predominantly-Christian European Union.

A report presented to the Turkish government in 2004 said Christian missionaries were sent to areas hit by the 1999 shuddering earthquake that left hundreds dead and many others displaced.

Shenar is a member of a Turkish Muslim family before converting while he was 17 years old at the hands of a teacher also working as proselytizer.

He remembered how the teacher approached him for conversion. The teacher helped Shenar in his studies before his Christianization in 1987.

After the conversion, Shenar was taken for studying theology for nine years in the Bible Academy.

The Turkish army report said that 15,000 Turks have been converted to Christianity, and other sects like Baha’iyyah over the past few years.

No law explicitly prohibits proselytizing or religious conversions in Turkey. But many officials regard proselytizing and religious activism with suspicion, especially when such activities are deemed to have political overtones.

Approximately 99 percent of Turkey's population is Muslim, the majority of whom is Sunni.

In addition to the country's Sunni Muslim majority, there are an estimated 5 to 12 million Alawiyyin, according to the US State Department.

There are several other religious groups, mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities, including an estimated 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 25,000 Jews, and 3,000 to 5,000 Greek Orthodox Christians.

The army report put at 69 the number of unofficial churches and places of worship related to other communities, including 47 churches for the Protestants, nine for the Baha'is and 13 for Jehovah's Witnesses sect.

Turkish fears are echoed by many in neighboring Iraq and Turkoman-populated areas on the joint borders.

British reports revealed in December 2003 that US missionaries, mainly evangelicals, were pouring into the predominantly Muslim Iraq , shrouded in secrecy and under the cover of humanitarian aid.


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