‘Turkish financing of mosques abroad should be banned’ - scholar

Turkish financing of mosques abroad should be banned as they are tools to propagate political Islam, David L. Phillips, Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columba University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, said in Politurco, a new online platform which primarily focuses on Turkish politics, Middle East and Muslim world.

“After deep soul searching about the meaning of spirituality and Turkey’s political agenda, I have concluded that Turkish financed mosques are not legitimate places of worship,” said Phillips, formerly a senior adviser to the U.S. State Department and the United Nations Secretariat. 

“They propagate political Islam as sources of division and proponents of discord. Turkish financing of mosques outside of Turkey should be banned,” he said. 

Turkish financed mosques across Europe aim to support President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his neo-Ottoman agenda, while at the same time trying to destabilise secular democracies and enhance Turkey’s influence particularly in the Balkans, he said. 

Turkey’s Department of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) is the main institution providing support for building of mosques in Europe and trains imams to work in those mosques. Phillips said the department was not staffed by religious clerics, but by bureaucrats and political henchman.

Turkey is building the largest mosque in the Balkans in the Albanian capital Tirana, while Diyanet has restored more than 30 religious structures from the Ottoman period and built at least 20 new mosques in Kosovo since 2011. 

Turkish foreign policy follows a similar pattern of using mosques to propagate political Islam in Central Asia, Phillips said. “Rather than nation-building in newly-independent states, Turkey supports Muslim community building.”

“These mosques have classrooms for Islamic education as well as Turkish language instruction,” Phillips said. Facilities supported by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, he said, “function like madrassas, corrupting Qur’anic education to radicalise impressionable youth.” 

Some from the Western Balkans have joined Islamic State to become fighters in Syria and Iraq, he said.

Phillips noted that the opening of a Diyanet-financed mosque in Cologne last week turned into a political event with Erdoğan, who was officially visiting Germany, showing up and the venue filled with people supporting and protesting the Turkish president. 

“The mosque in Cologne is a lightning rod for controversy, highlighting Turkey’s insidious perversion of Islam. Muslims in Germany should build their sanctuaries without support from Turkey. By politicising Islam, Erdoğan poisons the purity of their devotion and gives Islam a bad name,” he said.