By Sibel Hurtas
Sare Davutoglu, the wife of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, is a gynecologist known for her conservative approach to medicine. A graduate of Istanbul University’s medical faculty, she worked at a clinic at the Islamic University of Malaysia in the 1990s. Interviews she gave during that period, her argument that Islam’s edicts on health could be used in modern medicine and her alleged support of the fatwa institution made headlines in the Turkish media after she became the first lady last year. The issue was important, for many people in rural Turkey still resort to faith healers and exorcists instead of doctors. Ridding the health sector of faith healers and transforming the people’s mentalities is actually the history in a nutshell of the struggle doctors have in Turkey. Hence, Sare Davutoglu’s views on Islamic medicine were met with concern and criticism.
A conference on religious healing, often known as prophetic medicine, held under the auspices of the Turkish premier’s wife, discussed the incorporation of Islamic teachings into the medical field and sexual proclivities.
And while her views were thus far judged on the basis of interviews or speculation, they boiled down to a concrete initiative in October. An annual congress on prophetic medicine, which used to convene in the form of small gathering, was this year held under Sare Davutoglu’s patronage and for the first time hosted by a university — the Cukurova University in the southern city of Adana. Local governor’s offices, public hospitals, education departments and mufti’s offices were officially mobilized to boost participation to the event.
More than 160 speakers took part in the four-day prophetic medicine congress, which opened on Oct. 7. Only a handful of physicians attended the event, while the majority of participants were members of theology faculties and masters of the Quran with no academic background.
The presentations at congress, which opened with recitation of Quranic verses, covered issues such as healing concepts in the Quran and the hadiths, the Prophet Muhammad’s treatment practices and recommendations (cauterization, wet cupping, etc.), substance abuse, Islamic faith and immunology, the effects of worship on human health, circumcision, organ donation and mental health through prayer.
Recep Cigdem from Harran University’s theology faculty made one of the most attention-grabbing presentations, titled “Islam’s approach to sexual life.” The presentation, made available to Al-Monitor, addressed anal and oral sex as well as sadism and masochism, and included the following lines: “The hadith [says] ‘He who has an anal intercourse with his wife is accursed.’ Allah does not look [approvingly] to those who approach men or women from the anus. Though different views exist on this issue, they are not supported by the verse. … With regard to oral sex, some Islamic scholars describe it as permissible, while others as something objectionable. There is no religious text that openly describes it as something prohibited. … Sadism and masochism are inappropriate. … Stimulating drugs are not advisable. … Sexual plastic surgery (breast enlargement, penis enlargement) is not advisable unless it is medically necessary. … There is no religious text banning masturbation. In the face of adultery and similar risks, masturbation is imperative and necessary.”
Mustafa Unverdi from Gaziantep University’s theology faculty made another interesting presentation — on organ donation, a controversial topic in Islam. The paper, which he made available to Al-Monitor, said, “The opponents of organ donation argue it is unknown to which person transplanted organs would be a witness and hence interpret organ transplantation as a sort of evading accountability. I, however, believe these verses are metaphoric. Organ transplantation does not pose a problem in terms of religious accountability because the foundation of accountability rests on reason and will. Organ transplantation does not amount to the transfer of personality. In sum, since no problem is seen in terms of faith, I believe that organ and tissue transplantation is not only legitimate but also imperative and necessary as a treatment when the necessary conditions arise.”
These presentations are quite important in terms of weeding out superstitions from the faith-related medical realm. Yet the congress was largely brushed aside by the media, falling victim to prejudices for being called a “medical” event. Had it been presented as a congress aimed at weeding out superstitions from Islam, it would have certainly received the attention it deserved.
Medical professionals also raised objections to the “medical” label of the event. Neslihan Mungan, the head of the medical chamber in the host city Adana, released a critical press statement that read, “Scientific truth can change only in time with positive evidence and can be interpreted only with the use of scientific data and norms of proven efficiency. Faiths should not be expected to be part of or contribute to this platform. Obsolete knowledge that has not passed through the filter of reason is nothing more than superstition. Superstitions cannot guide science. They hamper science and prevent the progress of societies. In this context, the organization of congresses in Turkey and the speeches there should not be made by individuals outside the related field. Medical congresses should be organized by doctors and theology congresses by theologians.”
The medical label of the congress was not a coincidence, but rather an omen that the winds of conservatism, which have blown strong under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), are swaying the health sector as well. Last year, the Health Ministry paved the way for the use of traditional treatments in public hospitals, including wet cupping, leeches and bone setting.
In August, the ministry began equipping hospital rooms in Ankara with Qurans, books about the life of the Prophet Muhammad and prayer rugs. Like all other public institutions, hospitals across Turkey have been equipped with prayer rooms. This drive raises questions not only about Islamization in the health sector but also about discrimination, with the state catering to the followers of only one religion.
In a country where faith healers and exorcists are still in business, especially in underdeveloped regions, a congress addressing medicine on the basis of Islamic beliefs under the auspices of the prime minister’s wife is a disputable matter. One wishes these efforts were canalized to weeding out superstitions from faith-related medical issues, which would have served both to enlighten the people and break prejudices toward Islam.