Turkey’s top Muslim cleric says imams who smoke may not be sent on haj

Turkey’s top Muslim cleric said religious personnel who smoke cigarettes would not be appointed to accompany Turkish pilgrims on the pilgrimage to Mecca, part of a drive by the country’s Islamist leaders to combat smoking, pro-government daily Yeni Şafak reported on Monday.

Ali Erbaş, head of the state Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, said the preference would be for non-smokers to carry out duties during the annual haj and umrah pilgrimages. Erbaş said in the future it was possible that smokers would not be allowed to sit exams to even become imams in the first place.

“Cigarettes are said by many wise men and scholars to be haram. That’s also my personal conviction. We need to be very careful and behave very sensitively on this point,” Erbaş said.

Being an imam was a “sacred duty” he said.

Erbaş said that when he saw cigarette butts around the tents where pilgrims stay during the haj, “it feels as though a dagger had been thrust into my heart.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is known for his fierce opposition to smoking and last year turned his attention to e-cigarettes, calling them bizarre and addictive.

The Diyanet has also issued fatwas, non-binding but religiously authoritative legal opinions, stating that celebrating the new year, playing the lottery, feeding dogs at home, dying moustaches, holding hands in public and purchasing Bitcoin were incompatible with the principles of Islam.