A long-distance bus driver’s unwillingness to stop so that a passenger could pray in Turkey has helped ignite a fresh debate over secularism in the predominantly Muslim country.
Following the driver’s refusal at the weekend, the passenger complained on Twitter, drawing a controversial response from the travel company.
“None of the rights defined by (Turkey’s) constitution can be used to violate the democratic and secular conception” of the republic, the firm Oz Ercis said in a statement, which went viral.
The controversy is the latest example of a long-standing debate in a country with a Muslim majority but a secular tradition, despite the erosion of this principle under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The bus was making one of the longest journeys through Turkey – connecting the Van region near the Iranian border in the east to Izmir on the Aegean coast in western Turkey – the travel firm’s lawyer said on Tuesday.
The journey takes more than 24 hours.
“The company finds itself at the center of a controversy on secularism. We are being singled out as a target. But we are respectful of all beliefs,” said the lawyer, Tuncay Keserci.
“It is not possible… to ignore the rights of other passengers who do not pray and who want to arrive at their destination in time, for a passenger to pray,” the firm’s statement added.
The response drew both praise and criticism, with supporters commending Oz Ercis for their “courage” in defending secularism, while detractors said they would not travel with the company again.
The Islamic faith provides that travelers can adapt prayer times and length when travelling.
“We are victims of a lynching campaign, as if we were preventing people from praying,” said Keserci, adding that the passenger in question was able to pray later when the bus stopped at a rest area.
Keserci said secularism “does not mean that we are not religious. Secularism also protects Muslims.”