Fatma Akay-Türker, until her resignation, served as the only woman on the highest board of the Islamic Faith Community of Austria. Her unexpected departure raised some eyebrows among the Muslim community. Pictured: Vienna, Austria. (Image source: Xell/Wikimedia Commons)
Fatma Akay-Türker, until June 16 spokeswoman for women's affairs of the Islamic Faith Community of Austria (IGGÖ), has stepped down with a statement:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to inform you that I have resigned from my position in the Shura Council at the IGGÖ as well as my job as Islamic religious education teacher.
Therefore, I declare that I have no connection whatsoever to any institution, organization or political establishment.
Dr. Fatma AKAY-TÜRKER
IGGÖ has always been proud of their female participation with women serving as chairpersons in local faith communities in the Austrian provinces of Vorarlberg and Burgenland. Yet, given that Akay-Türker, until her resignation, served as the only woman on the highest board of the IGGÖ, her unexpected move raised some eyebrows among the Muslim community. Notably, the non-governmental organization "Muslimische Jugend Österreich" (Muslim Youth of Austria) asked in a press release:
"Where are the visible audible women in the Muslim community? What is the significance and the role of women in the Islamic community in Austria?"
According to its website, IGGÖ represents all Muslims residing in Austria. In addition, IGGÖ says it pursues an "Austrian way of Islam", without elaborating what this may entail, and acts as an "interface" between Austrian Muslims and public and civil institutions as well as other religious groups. IGGÖ is also tasked with the organization of Islamic religious education in schools, without any interference by the Austrian state. Most interestingly in light of recent developments, IGGÖ believes in the "strengthening of the agenda of women".
In 2019, Akay-Türker was called to serve on the administrative council of IGGÖ, the only woman to do so. Her credentials were impeccable: first, her parents immigrated from Turkey to Austria, in 1989; she and her sister followed and attended school in Vienna, where Akay-Türker began asking questions and reading "consciously". Because the children of guest workers ("Gastarbeiterkinder") did not usually pursue higher education, she became a salesperson. After the birth of her first son, she enrolled at university, in Turkish Studies, and graduated with a doctorate after her fourth child was born. Her thesis discussed women in the Ottoman empire in the 16th century. She then became a religious education teacher in schools outside of Vienna.
When she turned 18, Akay-Türker started wearing the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, too late for her family's taste. In turn, she told her own ten-year-old daughter, "You can start wearing the hijab whenever YOU want, but not before you graduate high school."
After Akay-Türker's announcement of her resignation from the IGGÖ's administrative council, she gave only one interview to justify her rationale. She said she had accepted the offer to serve on the administrative council on the condition that she represent the interests of Muslim women and start internal reforms, because "Muslim women are hampered in their development by difficult circumstances and a theory of coercion."
"I could not tolerate that women can only pray in the back of mosques and are not properly recognized. I wanted to change this traditional picture, but the IGGÖ refused to question this, even institutionalized it...
"Religion is not only a man's preserve. Women have a right to be treated in a dignified, fair and respectable manner. As soon as women demand their God-given rights, they are discredited as degraded as feminists. Enough is enough! I cannot accept the intimidation of women."
She accused the IGGÖ of "advocating traditional Islamic theology, which we must definitely question because it does not correspond with the message of the Koran." In addition, "as a highly educated, intellectual Muslim woman and as a result of my lengthy research of the Koran and my Islamic studies, I can say that there is no reason to deduce from the Koran that women should be discriminated against."
"I believe in democracy, freedom, questioning deadlocked theological structures and the equality of human beings. In a world dominated by men I fight for the right of women to speak out, against all forms of discrimination and the sexualization of women.
"Relevant passages [of the Koran] regarding women must be reinterpreted. But this was not accepted among the men [in the council]. The classical interpretation of the Koran cannot solve the problems of women. ... My motto is: God created humans and does not address them according to their gender, but according to their personality."
Reacting to Akay-Türker's resignation, IGGÖ president Umit Vural announced the appointment of an "independent commission on the topics of equality, promotion of women and diversity in our faith community." He added that the proportion of women in the IGGÖ has risen steadily in the past years: "Competent women are found in key positions such as the Islamic Religious Institute and the secretariat of the shura council." Nevertheless, he conceded, "equality of women has not, by far, been achieved among our group." In the meantime, a man has filled Akay-Türker's position.
Some observers might regard Akay-Türker's resignation as an internal action involving only the Muslim community. They might decide that the discussion whether Muslim women are granted "their rights" or have any rights at all within their religion, should not concern non-Muslims. It is true that Muslim women enjoy full political and personal rights according to the Austrian constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and other covenants. Akay-Türker, in her interview, laments the lack of women's rights in her own religion, Islam. One then might wonder about the following:
- What is Akay-Türker's view of "true and authentic Islam"? Is her view perhaps a subjective one that includes some wishful thinking that has very little in common with Islam as taught by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where teachers articulate the normative aspects of Islam, including the teaching that "men are a degree above women", according to Koran 2:228?
Is her view of Islam one that was propagated by the Islamic prophet Mohammed? Does she negate the countless hadith, or sayings and teachings of the prophet Mohammed, regarding the status of women in Islam?
The female interviewer evidently fell victim to the age-old technique of dissembling to non-Muslims on the teachings of Islam, and did not know what the Koran says about women, -- for instance, Koran 4:34:
"Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has made one of them excel over the other, and because they spend out of their possessions (to support them). Thus righteous women are obedient and guard the rights of men in their absence under Allah's protection. As for women of whom you fear rebellion, admonish them, and remain apart from them in beds, and beat them. Then if they obey you, do not seek ways to harm them. Allah is Exalted, Great."
The interviewer therefore fell victim was unable to ask relevant follow-up questions.
In her interview, Akay-Türker was successful in portraying Islam as a victim of projections and abuse. Thus, the likable Akay-Türker could act as a role model for a "new and true" version of Islam that is compatible with an enlightened society. Unfortunately, it is not clear how this might be achieved.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is an Austrian human rights activist fighting for the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the U.S. First Amendment. In 2009 she as charged for incitement to hatred and later found guilty for denigrating the religious teachings of a legally recognized religion. Her case was later accepted at the European Courts for Human Rights. She is the author of the book, "The Truth is No Defense."