A Turkish government order allowing Muslim public employees to take time off from work for Friday prayers has been challenged in the country's top court.

The order announced on Friday gives state employees the right to leave for Friday prayers during working hours.  

Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, a prominent lawyer, filed a lawsuit at the highest administrative court in the country hours after the announcement, arguing the government order goes against Turkey's secular consitution.

 Witness - East of Istanbul

"This is an exploitation of religion for political goals," Eminagaoglu told Al Jazeera. "The freedom of belief should be protected for all, but it should not be exploited in the favour of one part of the society over another.

"Judges and teachers are public employees. Are they going to leave their jobs and go pray? The prayer times are different all around the country. People will have to follow prayer times to get work done at public offices."

'Against a secular state'

The lawsuit purports that the new prayer practice goes against "the secular Turkish state of law" and is discriminatory as "it will reveal if people are worshippers or not", which is a private matter.

The court challenge seeks the immediate suspension and consequent annulment of the prayer order.

Ahmet Iyimaya, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), told Al Jazeera that secularism is an assurance of religious liberties in democracies, not an obstacle against it.

"I do not understand how ... giving people the chance for collective worship at a particular time conflicts with secularism," said Iyimaya, a veteran lawyer.

"In Turkey, there is a tendency to easily categorise any practice as discrimination. Why would anybody discriminate if one is worshipping or not? There is no discrimination according to eye colour or outfit."

The lawsuit also asked the highest Turkish criminal court to take legal action against the AK Party, alleging the government's move broke laws guarding the secular constitution.

'More to follow'

Lawyer Eminagaoglu said he believes if the order is enforced, other similar religous ones will follow.  

"What if the government adjusts the working hours according to five-time daily [Muslim] prayers or [Ramadan month's] fasting times? Where would be the end of it?" he told Al Jazeera.

Devout Muslim males are obliged to attend Friday prayers. Turkey follows a Monday-Friday work week as in the West, unlike other Muslim-majority countries.


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In 1997, an attempt by the-then conservative coalition government to change state employee working hours in line with Ramadan fasting hours was annulled by the judiciary.

"There is a circle in Turkey striving to clash secularism with values of religion in the public sphere," the MP Iyimaya said.

Turkey is constitutionally secular, but it is often criticised by the public for certain practices such as mandatory religious courses at schools largely covering Sunni Islam, and non-binding controversial decrees by the country's Directorate of Religious Affairs.

In a recent decree, the directorate said "engaged couples needed to refrain from flirting, living together … holding hands and other behaviours that are not endorsed by Islam".

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Source: Al Jazeera