Turkish pro-gov't cleric creates stir on social media over Atatürk fatwa

A popular pro-government Turkish cleric has created a stir on social media following a fatwa, an Islamic ruling, against remarks targeting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

"It is religiously impermissible to speak against Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,’’  Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü, also known as Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca, said during a discussion programme on Habertürk TV.

The statement is a divergence from the stance of many religious groups in the country, which see Atatürk, the first president of Turkey, who believed in the radical separation of state and religion and abolished the power of religious institutions, as a controversial figure.

"The republic is the last state (of Turkey),’’ Ünlü said. "If it were not for this state, we would be worse off than Syria and Yemen. There would be no such things as prayers, ablution, honour or chastity.’’

Ünlü also it was essential for the state to live and that nobody should be spared in ensuring its vitality.

The popular cleric’s comments were both lauded and met with criticism on Turkish Twitter.

"I expect the same outlook from (Turkey’s) theology circles,’’ one Twitter user said. "These are the kind of unifying words we need to hear.’’

"From now on, I will not hold in esteem a single word of his,’’ another user said.

Another user said Ünlü had given an intelligent answer to a question that was looking to bait him.

"Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca is going to bring the Kemalists into the fold of faith,’’ one user wrote. 

The 55-year-old cleric is one of Turkey’s most distinctive preachers and has become a household name with expansive Quranic knowledge, which he delivers in an unapologetic and humorous fashion.