Fewer women wearing headscarves in Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey - Fewer women wear headscarves today in Muslim majority Turkey compared to seven years ago, a survey released in Istanbul Tuesday by an independent think-tank showed.

The poll, conducted among 1,500 people in May and June by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), also found that while Turks today identify more with Islam they also give greater support to the country's secularist political tradition.

"Turks are becoming more religious but their religious identity is evolving - it is becoming secular," TESEV research coordinator Etyen Mahcupyan told a news conference. "With higher levels of education, the adoption of urban customs, and better living standards, lifestyles [of different social classes] have begun to converge ... A middle class is emerging," he said.

The survey showed that the number of women who do not wear the headscarf increased to 36.5 percent this year from 27.3 percent in 1999.

Among women who cover up, wearers of the head-to-toe chador have declined from 3.4 percent to 1.1 percent over the past seven years and only 11.4 percent of women wear the Islamic-style headscarf, which has heavy religion connotations, compared to 15.7 percent in 1999.

The number of women who wear a simple traditional head covering dropped from 53.4 percent to 48.8 percent, according to the survey.

The Muslim headscarf is viewed by secular Turks as a symbol of political Islam and is banned by law in government offices and universities.

The issue has polarized Turkish society, particularly since the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002 with abolition of the headscarf ban high on its list of electoral promises. It has so far been unable to honor this pledge.

According to the TESEV survey, only 22.1 percent of Turks believe that the secular system is under threat from religious reactionary movements, while 73.1 percent do not.

The study found a massive drop in the number of those favoring Islamic rule in Turkey, from 21 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2006.

An overwhelming majority of respondents opposed religious terrorism, with only 8.1 percent saying that attacks conducted in Iraq and Israel in the name of Islam were acceptable.

The study found that the majority of Turks identify with Islam.

The number of those describing themselves as "quite religious" climbed to 46.5 percent from 25 percent in 1999, while those describing themselves as "very religious" went up to 12.8 percent from 6 percent seven years ago.