NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Muslim religious leader’s instruction to women to dutifully accept a husband’s “invitation to bed” to procreate has sparked outrage among many Turkish Cypriots, who saw the remarks as an imported encroachment of fundamentalist Islam on their secular community.
“We don’t live in a theocratic regime. This is neither Afghanistan nor Iran, sir!” said Dogus Derya, a prominent female lawmaker with the left-wing CTP party in ethnically divided Cyprus’ breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.
Derya has led a chorus of condemnation against Ahmet Unsal, the Turkish-appointed head of the Turkish Cypriot Department of Religious Affairs. Unsal reportedly told women during a lecture earlier this month on marriage obligations under Islam that it was essential for women to marry without delay and have children because matrimony “isn’t about having fun.”
Unsal also said women must stay away from men except their husbands to “protect their virtue” and to safeguard their men’s property. In turn, men are obliged to pay for their wives’ food, shelter and clothing, he said, noting that Allah abhors divorce.
Derya blasted Unsal as presenting “his fantasies about subjugating women as the word of Allah” and insisted that there’s no place for religious diktats in a state that functions under the rule of secular law.
“He has exceeded his authority and area of responsibility,” Durya said of Unsal.
“He considers women as incubators and men as money machines. He sees women not as human beings but as ‘goods’ subjugated to men,” the lawmaker continued.
“We want him to know that Cypriot women don’t ask their men how many children they’ll have, what job they’ll do, whether they’re going to divorce or not,” she said. “We won’t allow you to impose your fundamentalist way of life on us women or on our country.”
Unsal defended his remarks, saying his expressed views were in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
Several hundred protesters from 46 trade unions and other organizations braved the rain on Monday and took to the streets of the northern part of the divided capital Nicosia to voice their anger at Unsal.
The protesters chanted “Onsal go home, what do you care about Cyprus.” A joint statement read at the event said there would be no stop to efforts to block “”all those who are trying to change our way of life.”
Turkey has for decades tried to fit Turkish Cypriot society into its own mold, which has become more religious under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although the Religious Affairs head is technically appointed by Turkish Cypriot authorities, Ankara has final say.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 30,000 troops in the north.
Nazim Cavusoglu, the Turkish Cypriot education minister, said many Turkish Cypriots who are faithful Muslims seek religious instruction as part of their children’s education but parents can opt students out of such instruction.
Human rights activist Mine Yucel said many Turkish Cypriots don’t want religion to dictate their lives.
“For a while now, those in Turkey have been complaining that we lack morals here and there is a need for more religion” in the north, Yucel told The Associated Press. “There are attempts to have a more religious society here. … We are opposed to that.”