Turkey's Islamic schools flourish

Islamic schools in Turkey are showing clear signs of revival as children flock back to them, following the end of a five-year crackdown.

    Turkish PM Erdogan has ended discrimination against Turkey's Islamic schools

    The alumni association for Turkey's Islamic schools said it

    expected the number of pupils attending the "Imam hatips" to rise to

    35,000 this year, from 23,000 last year.

    "Registrations are up by 60 to 70% at least," said

    association chairman, Ibrahim Solmaz on Tuesday.

    The provisional figures suggest the renaissance is most

    pronounced in Istanbul

    , while the increase in pupil registrations

    across the rest of the country is less spectacular.


    The turnaround comes after a period of decline that began in

    1997, when Turkey's secularist military removed the country's first

    Islamist government, led by Necmettin Erbakan.

    The number of children attending Islamic schools - which

    reached 600,000 under the Erbakan government - began a steady

    decline that led to the closure of a quarter of the country's

    600 Imam hatips.

    But at the Acibadem school in

     Istanbul, parents estimated the number of girls

    attending the Imam hatip had doubled since last year.

    The school made the headlines last year when, under the

    secularist government of former prime minister Bulent Ecevit,

    several dozen of its pupils were expelled for wearing Islamic



    "It's not surprising that we're seeing such a rush...

    The promises made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have

    brightened up these children's horizons"

    Musa Gumus,

    However, the playground was once again full of headscarf-clad girls

    as the school prepared for

    its traditional tribute to the secularist founder of the modern Turkish state,

    Kamal Ataturk.

    Musa Gumus, the father of one of the girls expelled last year,

    said much had changed since the November election victory by the

    Justice and Development Party, which portrays itself as a moderate

    grouping with Islamist roots.

    "It's not surprising that we're seeing such a rush," said Gumus,

    whose daughter is now back at the school for her final year.

    "The promises made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have

    brightened up these children's horizons."

    Another father said his daughter planned to study pharmacy "while at the

    same time learning more about her religion".


    Headscarves are now tolerated in Turkish schools, but remain

    outlawed in universities and other public institutions - a ban that

    Erdogan has so far shied away from tackling



    the prime minister last week vowed to abolish discriminatory

    university admission rules that slash entrance exam

    results for applicants from so-called "professional

    schools" - which includes the Imam hatips.

    The handicap mainly affects girls, who account for 95% of

    pupils at religious schools, while boys are far more likely to be

    sent to secular establishments to preserve their chances of entering

    higher education.



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