Outrage as Turkish academic says people who don’t pray are ‘animals’ on state TV

© Stoyan Nenov
A Turkish Islamic professor has sparked a massive controversy by comparing people who do not pray to “animals.” The comments aired on a Turkish state TV program celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Let me put it straight, the verse of the Koran says... animals do not perform prayers and those who do not perform prayers are animals,” Mustafa Askar, a professor at Ankara University’s Faculty of Theology, said during a program celebrating a month of religious fasting for Ramadan on Turkey’s state-run TRT television channel. 

TRT television aired Askar’s claims that human bodies were made for prayer over the weekend. “Human beings were created to be prayer ergonomic,” he said.

The statements have triggered a heated debate in Turkey, with viewers questioning whether a state-run network even has the right to run such content. 

The country’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, Diyanet, said on Twitter that it was “unacceptable” to use such insults. 

“The place, importance and value of prayers in our religion are known by everyone,” said a statement posted on Twitter. “But it is unacceptable to denigrate or insult people by targeting their freedom of faith and worshipping.” 

The statement added that Askar’s use of Koranic verses goes against “Islam’s language of wisdom and its messages of mercy.”

Moreover, a member of the main secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Engin Altay, described Askar as a “lunatic.”

“I’ve read the Koran. There is neither a verse, nor a saying [by the prophet]. I think this individual is a lunatic,” Dogan news agency quoted Altay as saying. “The ones who are animals are actually those who let him appear on such an important broadcasting company like TRT.”

READ MORE: The end of "Secular Turkey" or Ottomans re-emergent? 

The law is not on Askar’s side either, as Turkey’s secular constitution guarantees freedom of worship. However, there are concerns that the country is becoming increasingly and more strictly Islamic under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli has remained silent on the issue. “We did not have the opportunity to watch [the show] in detail,” Canikli told the media. “If it constitutes a crime, necessary investigations and prosecutions are carried out by our prosecutors and our courts. There’s no obstacle.”