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Turkish marriage law finally recognises Muslim weddings, infuriating Islamophobes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a bill into law that establishes “religious civil servants”—Imams and Muftis—authority to legally register marriages. The bill signed earlier this month was passed by the Turkish parliament after a lengthy debate in a society that is slowly reverting back to their centuries-long Islamic Ottoman traditions,[1] after it was forcefully pushed into hard-line secularism nearly a century ago.

Previous marriage law contradiction

Until this new law was passed, there was a legal contradiction in the secular Turkish Law whereby couples were allowed to live together and have children without any marriage ceremony, but it was illegal for observing Muslims to conduct an Islamic Marriage (Nikah) and opt-out of a civil marriage.

The previous law—one relic of the many draconian ‘secular’ laws—could be used to sentence Imams and married couples to two-to-six months of prison time. [2] The roots of this inconsistency dates back to 1926 when Islamic law in Turkey was abolished and the Swiss Civil Code—conforming to Catholic Church law—was imposed. [1]

The Turkish public continued to carry out Islamic marriages without the presence of a municipal officer, though doing so was a punishable offence. In essence, Islamic marriage on its own was considered a crime. This led to the depravation of rights of many woman and children, whereby they were considered mistresses and illegitimate children, respectively by the state. To add insult to injury, many couples were accused of adultery and given prison sentences.

The late Ahmed Davudoğlu Hodja, a Bulgarian (a former Ottoman territory) Turk and ex-director of the Istanbul High Islamic Institute said in the 1970s:

“I have not seen such cruelty even in Bulgaria.”

He was jailed for insisting that:

“The civil marriage cannot take the place of a religious marriage; both must be performed.”

Legal challenge

In 2014, an Imām was found ‘guilty’ of performing a religious marriage ceremony without the prior existence of a civil marriage contract. However, under well-known Islamic laws, it is impermissible for a couple to ‘live together’ without a valid Islamic marriage. This highlighted the paradox in the predominantly Muslim country. Observing Muslims had to conduct a civil marriage and obtain a contract before they could be married under Islamic law. This case was taken to Turkey’s constitutional court which, based on the pretext of ‘freedom of faith and conscience’, considered this law to be an ‘intervention’ in the ‘personal sphere’ and contrary to human rights. Furthermore, the court considered this law to be in ‘contradiction to the Turkish constitution’. [2] The Constitutional Court added:

“It is not considered a crime for people to live together [in Turkish law] without marriage but it is a crime for them to live together with religious marriage, there is a contradiction between these two.”

The contradictory law was annulled and a verdict delivered on Friday, 29th of May 2015.

The then Family and Social Policies Minister Aysenur Islam emphasised that this decision did not remove the minimum marital age requirement of 18 years of age.

Islamic Marriage recognition

Two years on, in an effort to rectify the unrecognised state of Islamic marriages and to remove the legal jargon surrounding a simple marital process, the Turkish Parliament has now passed a law authorising Government Religious officials to carry out Islamic marriage ceremonies (Nikah) and officially register the Marriage. The bill was approved into law by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, 3rd of November 2017. [3]

The majority of Muslims in Turkey already organise religious marriage ceremonies in addition to a civil marriage, this new law removes the requirement for the newly wed couples to carry out an additional civil marriage. Thereby, making it easier for Turkish couples to get married.

This law does not change the existing Turkish Civil Code that requires married couples to be at least 18-years old, but can be reduced to 17-years old with parental consent or a court decision. [4] In essence, this new law adds Government appointed Imāms to the list of officials authorised to register marriages. Until Thursday, 2nd of November 2017, the Turkish Civil Code only authorised municipal officers, village chiefs and foreign missions to officiate marriages. [5]

The move brings Turkey into line with many other countries including those where Muslims are now a minority, such as India, where laws exist recognising Islamic marriages without the need for a second civil marriage ceremony.

Islamophobic propaganda

Despite the Turkish President, lawmakers, ministers and other authorities clearly establishing that the new law does not permit any radical change to the nature of marriage or minimum age, typical to structural Islamophobia, the bulk of western media has taken every opportunity to conflate Islamic marriage with ancient racist projections such as “forced marriage” in their reporting of this news. [6] [7]

This could partly be because the “western world” and its former colonies has historically found a difficult problem in accepting plurality, viewing diversity as a threat to its traditional forced legal monism and authoritarian tendencies that gave birth to the modern nation state. For many observing Turkish Muslims, however, such a nervousness around legal pluralism and diversity is a relatively new and alien sentiment, since their background is in Sharīʿa, which was from the start a field of law containing various schools of law, operating in lands where it was common for non-Muslim minorities to operate their own courts and laws concerning things like marriage and divorce.

To put recent events in perspective, Turkey’s new law should be considered a prize for the wider Turkish society that has independently stood for their basic civil and religious rights for over 91-years against oppressive and contradictory “secular” legislation—inadvertently forming an unnamed civil rights movement, only led by their zeal and passion for their Islam and their Islamic identity.

If anything, this law is reflective of Turkish norms and culture. Such appears to be the nature of laws in Turkey today; emanating from the will of the people, as opposed to the western media’s supposition of a ‘one-man regime’. The latter is preposterous considering that Turkish laws are passed through stages of consultation and debate by democratically elected representatives of the people in an elected Parliamentary system, but such is the nature of Islamophobic propaganda. Facts do not matter.



[1] E. B. Ekinci, “Marriage ceremonies in Islam – Daily Sabah,” 19 October 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 14 November 2017].
[2] “Turkey court nixes religious marriage charge,” Anadolu Agency, 30 May 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2017].
[3] “Law allowing muftis to register marriages approved – Daily Sabah,” Daily Sabah, 3 November 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2017].
[4] “Turkish Parliament passes law allowing muftis to register civil marriages – Daily Sabah,” DAILY SABAH, 18 October 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2017].
[5] U. Uras, “Turkey: Religious officials to perform civil marriages | News | Al Jazeera,” Al Jazeera Media Network, 19 October 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2017].
[6] M. ÇELIK, “Forced child marriages against Islam, says Turkey’s President of Religious Affairs – Daily Sabah,” Daily Sabah, 14 January 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2017].
[7] K. Shaheen and G. Saracoglu, “Turkish marriage law a blow to women’s rights, say activists | World news | The Guardian,” Guardian News, 14 November 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 14 November 2017].


About Haneef Ibn Ahmad

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