Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has for a second time appointed Professor Ali Erbaş as head of the Religious Affairs Directorate at a time of increased public unease about the top imam due to what many say is his involvement in politics.
The decision on Erbaş’s reappointment was published in the Official Gazette on Thursday. Erbaş will head the directorate, also known as the Diyanet, for another five years.
“Bismillah [in the name of God] once again with more love and excitement,” Erbaş said on Twitter as he shared a photo of Erdoğan’s decision in the Official Gazette. He offered his thanks to Erdoğan for his decision.
Erbaş is being criticized for promoting Erdoğan’s agenda using Islamic references and making controversial comments on a wide range of issues from homosexuality to the use of social media.
The top imam recently called for a new legal framework for social media use in Turkey, stating that the establishment of such a mechanism is necessary, amid discussions on a new government body that would identify for punishment users who produce or disseminate fake news online.
Such controversial remarks landed Erbaş under more fire as a large number of people, including opposition party members, former civil servants, prominent journalists and academics, in addition to social media users argued that he was speaking like a politician rather than a cleric.
Erbaş also attracted criticism for accompanying President Erdoğan and Mehmet Akarca, president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, during a ceremony marking the opening of a new building for the court and the start of the 2021-2022 judicial year on Sept. 1.
Akarca, Erdoğan and Erbaş stood side by side during the ceremony in which Akarca in his judge’s robe joined the top imam’s prayers marking the new judicial year, a scene slammed by many for violating the principle of secularism.
Erbaş was also the target of criticism when he said Islam condemns homosexuality because “it brings illnesses and corrupts generations,” adding that it also causes the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which leads to AIDS.
“Come, let’s fight together to protect people from such evil,” Erbaş said in one of his weekly sermons last year.