Originally published under the title, "Don't Celebrate New Year, but You Can Marry Child Girls!"
Muhittin Hamdi Yıldırım believes that Turks should not celebrate the New Year because they might find themselves making friends with Christians.
Turkey's leaders have the habit of chasing conspirators who they claim add fuel to Islamophobia in Europe. Those who ridicule the Islamic faith may not be the ones who conspire against Islam in faraway lands.
The final week of the year featured the usual scenes in Turkey: A man dressed as a janissary chasing another dressed as Santa Claus in order to give him a good beating… Provincial education directors warning pupils against "Christmas and New Year celebrations"...
Meanwhile, an apparently more creative man, Muhittin Hamdi Yıldırım, the chairman of an association of religious officials, called on Turks to celebrate the 1384th anniversary of the conquest of Mecca instead of celebrating New Year's Eve.
He has an explanation for why Turks should not celebrate the New Year: "[A verse in the sura] Maida tells Muslims not to make friends with Jews and Christians. This [commandment] also means that Muslims should not adopt their traditions." The logic is simple: If a Muslim celebrates the New Year s/he will have adopted a Christian tradition and will have made friends with Christians and therefore have sinned. (Don't tell President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that the Turks still have Sunday as the week's official holiday!)
All the same, despite their restless efforts, the Turks still lag far behind the Saudis in ridiculing Islam. As Raymond Ibrahim at the Middle East Forum notes, Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, the country's highest religious authority, recently said "There is nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married."
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti insists that Islam provides for the right to marry young girls.
In an earlier speech, the Saudi Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, had called for the destruction of all Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula. "The consistency makes perfect sense," wrote Mr. Ibrahim.
He also reminded that in 2011, Salih bin Fawzan, a prominent cleric and member of Saudi Arabia's highest religious council, issued a fatwa asserting there is no minimum age for marriage and that girls can be married "even if they are in the cradle."
Mr. Ibrahim wrote: "The grand point of the Saudi fatwa, however, is not that girls as young as nine can be married … but rather that there is no age limit whatsoever. The only question open to consideration is whether the girl is physically capable of handling her 'husband.'"
The Saudi clergy (and shariah) is very consistent in defying – not just modernity – but simple reason. In 2009, Saudi courts declined to nullify a marriage between a six-year-old girl and a 58-year-old man.
One in three marriages in Turkey involve at least one party under the age of 18.
Later, Sheikh Abdul Aziz insisted that girls are ready for marriage by the ages of "10 or 12." "Good upbringing," the Grand Mufti reasoned, "makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties." So, the Saudi intellectual challenge is between two ideas for the suitable age for female marriage: The cradle, or "10 or 12."
Apparently, the Turks are increasingly embracing Saudi Arabia's learned men. In 2013, a Turkish scholar, Erhan Tunç from Gaziantep University, found that one in three marriages in Turkey involved at least one party under the age of 18. His research also found that only 18 percent of child brides in Turkey are literate.
According to the International Strategic Research Organization, underage marriages in Turkey account for 14 percent of all marriages. Professor Nazan Moroğlu, president of the Turkish Federation of University Women, found that there has been an increase of 94.2 percent in applications to courts by families to get marriage permits for underage marriages.
The official account may be slightly brighter but it is not much different. According to the Family and Social Policies Ministry, more than 500,000 girls under the age of 17 have been married in the past decade or so.
More importantly, all of these numbers exclude "unofficial [religious]" marriages, which most probably outnumber official ones, especially in rural Turkey.
The learned men of Saudi Arabia tell the Muslims that men can marry "women" in the cradle. Fortunately, the learned men of Turkey do not recommend that – yet. They are busy running after people dressed as Santa Claus to beat them up and make sure Muslims do not celebrate the New Year.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.