Top Turkish mufti preaches Jihad near besieged Afrin border

"The highest level of Jihad is the armed struggle," said a Friday sermon read at over 90 thousand mosques amid Turkey's military offensive on Syrian Kurds.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey's top official Islamic body on Friday issued a sermon on the necessity and in praise of Jihad or holy war to over 90 thousand mosques it operates across the country as a Turkish military campaign against US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces continued in its fourth week.

The head of Directorate of Religious Affairs, Diyanet, Professor of Islamic Studies Ali Erbas visited the southern Hatay province, a highly militarized region from where the army stages its attempted invasion of the besieged enclave of Afrin in Syrian Kurdistan.

Acting as the county's grand mufti, he read out the jihad sermon at Hatay's Habib the Carpenter Mosque, symbolic for being the oldest within modern Turkey's borders, originally an ancient Roman temple converted to a mosque after the conquest of Antioch by the early Muslim armies in the seventh century.

"We, as a nation, today are in the midst of an existential struggle. Our Little Mehmet is demonstrating to the whole world how we can sacrifice our very own existence for our faith, flag, and homeland," Erbas said, a part of whose sermon was available on the website of the Diyanet.

Little Mehmet is an affectionate term for Turkish conscripts, some of whom currently engaged along with Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions in the offensive on Afrin.

"The highest level of Jihad is the armed struggle," the head of Diyanet proclaimed, describing it as a means of spreading Islam and destroying oppression from the face of the earth.

Erbas sat down with the Ankara-appointed governor and met with military officials.

The sermon did not mention Afrin but gave the Turkish military operations the army is conducting as a form of jihad.

Although Turkey is a constitutionally secular state, the taxpayer-funded Diyanet serves only the country's Sunni Muslim-majority population, despite objections from religious minorities and the irreligious.

A Kurdistan 24 correspondent in Afrin said Turkish airstrikes, shelling, and attacks by Ankara's Islamist proxies have killed up to 180 civilians, wounded 350 and displaced over 60,000 people.

The Turkish army has put the number of its soldiers killed at 31, with 143 others wounded.

"A believer succeeding in the jihad against his unrefined ego could be victorious in the face of enemies of Islam," the sermon also televised by the state TV's channel for Diyanet said.

"Jihad was not taking up arms and killing the innocent just for the sake of it," another part of the sermon argued, saying suicide attacks, violence and other atrocities committed in the name of Islam were 'falsely attributed' to Muslims.

"What networks of murder do have nothing to do Islam's understanding of jihad," dismissing interpretations by nonstate Islamist actors such as the Islamic State (IS) group, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or Taliban without naming them.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has long claimed that those groups "had nothing to do with Islam," and expressed strong discontent with calling the Islamic State group the way it brands itself.

Kurdish fighters salute an American comrade of theirs Robert Grodt who was killed in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, Aug. 2017. (Photo: YPG)
Kurdish fighters salute an American comrade of theirs Robert Grodt who was killed in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, Aug. 2017. (Photo: YPG)

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last month presented Erdogan as an antidote to the ideology of the IS, explaining that the Islamic Ummah (a religious concept supranational community) was heeding what the Turkish President had to say.

The government is increasingly employing a religious rhetoric with the portrayal of the war on Afrin as an Islamic as well as national one with some of its media presenting the US-armed People's Protection Units (YPG) fighting off the Turkish army as a horde of disbelievers.

Foreign Minister last week described the nature of the partnership between Washington and YPG that formed during the fight on the IS, as one of "Marxist, communist atheists."

It was the Parliament's Speaker, a self-declared anti-secularist figure with a 2016 promise that secularism would be abolished from the Constitution, Ismail Kahraman who first used the term "Jihad" for the war on Afrin.

Clerics at mosques meanwhile continue to be under an order by Diyanet to read aloud the 48th chapter of the Quran, Surah al-Fath (the chapter of Conquest) every night until Ankara's "Operation Olive Branch" is completed.

Editing by John J. Catherine