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Religion in Turkey: 2021 Report & Essential Tips

Turkey is a country with a diverse religious landscape, where Islam is the dominant religion. However, other religions such as Christianity and Judaism are also practiced on its religious grounds. Mosques are the most prominent religious structures in Turkey, with the Blue Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque being two of the most famous mosques in Istanbul.

Kurdish and Armenian communities in Turkey have their own religious communities. The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest churches in the country, providing worship spaces for different religious instruction and orthodox clergy. Meanwhile, Hagia Sophia, a former church turned mosque turned museum, has been converted back into a mosque in 2020, sparking controversy and debate about the role of religion in Turkish society.

bosphorus view from blue mosque

Apart from mosques and churches, there are also historical synagogues such as Kasturya Synagogue that can be found in Turkey. These provide worship spaces for Jewish communities who practice their faith within these religious foundations.

The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians have been living in Anatolia since ancient times. They were one of the first people to adopt Christianity as their religion after Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Today they still maintain their unique culture and traditions while practicing their faith freely alongside other religions.

The Catholic Church has also established itself within Turkey over time, providing a place of worship for those who follow this branch of Christianity.

Major Religions Practiced in Turkey: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism

Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the three major religions practiced in Turkey. Each of these religions has a rich history and culture that has shaped the country's society over time. In this section, we will discuss each of these religions in detail.

Islam: The Largest Religion in Turkey

Islam is the largest religion in Turkey, with over 99% of the population identifying as Muslim. The majority of Muslims in Turkey are Sunni, while a small minority are Shia Muslims. Islam has played a significant role in shaping Turkish culture and society since the Ottoman Empire.

Prayer times are an essential aspect of religious practice for Muslims in Turkey. Many mosques offer regular services throughout the day, with Friday prayers being particularly important. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and gather together at night to break their fasts with family and friends.

Christianity: Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Protestants

Orthodox Christians make up the largest Christian community in Turkey. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is located in Istanbul and serves as the spiritual center for Orthodox Christians worldwide. There are also smaller Catholic and Protestant communities present throughout the country.

The Christian community in Turkey faces challenges due to its minority status. However, they continue to practice their faith openly and participate actively within their communities. Prayer times are also an essential part of Christian religious practice, with many churches offering regular services throughout the week.

Judaism: A Long History Dating Back to Biblical Times

The Jewish community in Turkey has a long history dating back to biblical times when Jews first settled on Turkish soil during ancient times. Today there are still active synagogues and Jewish communities present primarily concentrated around Istanbul but also found scattered across other cities such as Izmir.

Despite facing discrimination and persecution throughout history – most notably during World War II – Turkish Jews have managed to maintain their traditions through generations by practicing their faith openly while contributing positively towards Turkish society at large.

Minor Religions Practiced in Turkey: Alevism, Yazidism, and more

A Diverse Religious Landscape in Turkey

Turkey is a country with a rich and diverse religious landscape. While Sunni Islam is the dominant religion, there are also many other religions and religious minorities present in the country. In this section, we will discuss some of the minor religions practiced in Turkey, including Alevism, Yazidism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and more.

Alevi Muslims: A Unique Blend of Shia Islam and Pre-Islamic Turkish Traditions

Alevi Muslims are one of the largest religious minorities in Turkey. They practice a unique blend of Shia Islam and pre-Islamic Turkish traditions. The Alevi community is estimated to have between 10-15 million followers in Turkey alone. Despite being recognized as Muslims by the state, Alevi Muslims face discrimination from Sunni Muslim groups due to their practices that differ from mainstream Islamic practices.

One of the key differences between Alevi Muslims and other Muslim groups is their worship practices. Unlike Sunni or Shia Muslims who pray five times a day facing Mecca, Alevis gather in informal prayer houses known as cemevis where they engage in communal worship rituals that include music, dance, and poetry recitation.

Yazidis: An Ancient Religion Predating Islam and Christianity

The Yazidis are another religious minority group present in Turkey. They practice an ancient religion that predates both Islam and Christianity. Yazidism has faced persecution throughout history due to its beliefs being considered heretical by mainstream Abrahamic religions.

Yazidi beliefs involve the worship of one God who created seven angels to govern different aspects of life on earth. The most important angel for Yazidis is Melek Taus or Peacock Angel who represents both good and evil.

Other Religious Minorities

In addition to Alevi Muslims and Yazidis, there are also small communities of Christians (both Orthodox and Protestant), Jews, Bahá'ís present in Turkey. These groups may face discrimination or persecution due to their religious beliefs.

The Orthodox Christian community in Turkey is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the Byzantine Empire. However, due to various historical events such as the fall of Constantinople and population exchanges between Greece and Turkey, the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey has significantly decreased.

The Role of Religion in Turkish Culture and Society

Religion has been an integral part of Turkish culture for centuries. The majority of Turks identify as Muslims, with religious values deeply ingrained in the community. In this blog post, we will explore the role of religion in Turkish culture and society.

Religious Values

Religious values are a significant aspect of Turkish life, with religious services and classes being widely attended. The influence of religion can be seen in various aspects of Turkish life, including media, institutions, education, and work. There is a strong sense of community among those who share similar religious beliefs. This sense of community is often reflected in the way people interact with one another.

Diverse Religious Groups

Despite Islam being the official religion in Turkey, there is a diverse range of religious groups and affiliations throughout the country. For example, there are Armenian Catholics and Uyghur Muslims living in Turkey. These groups have their unique traditions and customs that are respected by the larger Muslim population.


Religion plays a significant role in many institutions throughout Turkey. For example, schools often offer religious classes to students from an early age. These classes provide students with essential knowledge about Islam's teachings while also instilling important values such as respect for elders and family.


The influence of religion can also be seen in various forms of media throughout Turkey. Many television shows feature characters who follow Islamic beliefs or incorporate Islamic themes into their storylines. Similarly, newspapers often publish articles related to religious events or issues affecting the Muslim community.


Religion also plays a role in the workplace environment throughout Turkey. Many businesses offer prayer rooms where employees can take breaks during their workday to pray or reflect on their faith.

Religious Holidays and Festivals Celebrated in Turkey

Greek Orthodox Christians, Bulgarian Orthodox Christians, and other religious groups in Turkey celebrate a variety of religious holidays and festivals throughout the year. These celebrations are an important part of Turkish culture and offer an opportunity for people to come together and honor their faith.

Easter Celebrations by Greek Orthodox Christians

The Greek Orthodox Christian community in Turkey celebrates Easter with great fervor. The week-long series of events and services culminate in a midnight mass on Easter Sunday. This is followed by a procession through the streets, where people carry candles and icons while singing hymns. After the procession, families gather to break their fast with traditional foods such as lamb, red eggs, and sweet bread known as tsoureki.

St. George's Day Celebrations by Bulgarian Orthodox Christians

Bulgarian Orthodox Christians in Turkey celebrate St. George's Day on May 6th with a traditional feast and procession. This day is dedicated to St. George, who is considered the patron saint of shepherds, soldiers, and farmers. People dress up in traditional costumes and march through the streets carrying icons of St. George while singing hymns.

Feast of Assumption Celebrations by Greek Orthodox Christians

The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated by Greek Orthodox Christians on August 15th and is a national holiday in Turkey. It marks the day when Mary was assumed into heaven after her death. The day is marked by parades, feasts, parties throughout the country with music performances that go late into the night.

State of Religious Freedom in Turkey

Secularism is one of the founding principles of the Turkish Republic. However, despite its constitutional guarantees for religious freedom and conscience, the government has been criticized for limiting these rights. In this section, we will discuss the state of religious freedom in Turkey.

Limitations on Religious Freedom

While the Turkish Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, there have been reports of violations of these rights. The government’s restrictions on foreign religious workers and missionaries entering Turkey have raised concerns about religious freedom. According to a state spokesperson, individuals who are not Turkish citizens can face difficulties obtaining residency permits if they are involved in religious activities. This policy has affected many foreign Christian missionaries who have been living and working in Turkey for years.

Moreover, some religious groups have reported being targeted by the government. Members of these groups were arrested and imprisoned without due process or proper legal representation. For example, members of the Gülen movement were accused of attempting a coup against President Erdogan's government in 2016 and were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

Challenges Faced by Religious Communities

Despite these challenges, many religious communities continue to practice their faith in Turkey. The country has a rich history with different religions coexisting peacefully for centuries. However, some minority religions such as Alevis face discrimination from mainstream Sunni Muslims due to their unique beliefs and practices.

The Armenian Orthodox Church is another minority religion that faces challenges in Turkey. Many Armenians were forced to leave during World War I when they were targeted by Ottoman forces during what is now known as the Armenian Genocide. Today, only a small number remain in Istanbul where they continue to practice their faith but do not receive recognition from the Turkish government.

Government Policies on Religion in Turkey

Recognition of Different Religious Groups

The Turkish government officially recognizes Islam as the country's dominant religion, but it also acknowledges the presence of other religious groups. Turkish citizens are free to practice their own religion, but religious institutions must register with the government and follow certain regulations. The government has established a Directorate of Religious Affairs to oversee Islamic affairs in the country, while other religious groups have their own governing bodies.

The Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of religion and conscience for all citizens. However, public institutions and officials are required to remain neutral on matters related to religion. Government statements have emphasized the importance of secularism and the separation of religion and state in Turkey. National education policies require schools to teach about different religions and promote a sense of national identity, while national identity cards do not include information about individuals' religious affiliations.

Religious Institutions Regulations

Religious institutions in Turkey must register with the government in order to operate legally. This includes mosques, churches, synagogues, and other places of worship. Once registered, these institutions are subject to government oversight and regulation. For example, imams who lead prayers at mosques must be trained by the Directorate of Religious Affairs and appointed by local authorities.

In recent years, there have been concerns about restrictions on religious freedom in Turkey. Some minority religious groups have reported difficulty obtaining permits for new places of worship or repairing existing ones. There have been reports of discrimination against members of non-Muslim faiths in employment or education.

Controversies over Government Policies

There has been controversy over some government policies related to religion in Turkey. For example, some critics argue that national education policies promote a narrow understanding of Islam at the expense of other religions or worldviews. Others argue that restrictions on religious dress or symbols violate individual freedoms.

Despite these controversies, many Turks continue to value secularism as an important aspect of their national identity. In 2008, the Constitutional Court narrowly rejected a proposal to allow women to wear headscarves in universities, citing concerns about preserving secularism. Similarly, consulate officials have been known to remove religious symbols or clothing from individuals seeking services at Turkish consulates abroad.

blue mosque view

Contemporary Issues Surrounding Religion in Turkey

Diyanet's Role in Shaping Religious Discourse in Turkey

Turkey is a country with a rich history of religious diversity, but the role of religion in public life has changed significantly since the establishment of the Republic in 1923. The Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) was created to oversee religious affairs and promote Islam as the dominant religion. Today, Diyanet plays an influential role in shaping religious discourse and promoting conservative Islamic values.

Diyanet controls all mosques and appoints imams, who are government employees. It also provides guidance on religious practices, issues fatwas (religious opinions), and oversees the education of Islamic scholars. In recent years, Diyanet has become more conservative under President Erdogan's leadership. For example, it has issued controversial fatwas that condone child marriage and promote female subservience.

Erdogan's Influence on Religious Policies and Practices

President Erdogan has been instrumental in promoting conservative Islamic values in Turkey. He has increased government funding for Diyanet and expanded its influence over religious education. He has also supported restrictions on alcohol sales and promoted dress codes that reflect Islamic values.

However, Erdogan's policies have been criticized by secularists who see them as an attempt to erode Turkey's secular identity. They argue that his policies have led to increased social polarization between secularists and conservatives.

The Challenges Faced by Protestant Communities in Turkey

Protestant communities face significant challenges in Turkey due to their status as a minority religion. They are not recognized by Diyanet, which means they cannot build churches or receive government funding for their activities.

As a result, many Protestant groups operate underground or worship in private homes. They are vulnerable to harassment from authorities or attacks from extremist groups.

Recent Years' Increase in Antisemitic Rhetoric in Turkish Media

In recent years, there has been an increase in antisemitic rhetoric in Turkish media reports. This has been fueled by the conflict in Gaza and Turkey's deteriorating relationship with Israel.

Antisemitic conspiracy theories are often promoted in the media, such as claims that Jews control global finance or are responsible for terrorist attacks. This rhetoric has led to increased hostility towards Jewish communities in Turkey.

Concerns over the Impact of Social Media on Religious Tolerance in Turkey

Social media has become a powerful tool for spreading religious messages and shaping public opinion. However, it has also contributed to increased polarization between different religious groups in Turkey.

Extremist groups use social media to spread hate speech and promote violence against minority religions. This has led to concerns about the impact of social media on religious tolerance and the potential for radicalization.

bosphorus bridge

Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation in Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal advocate for interfaith dialogue and cooperation in Turkey. His efforts have emphasized the importance of peaceful coexistence among different religious groups, which is essential for maintaining social harmony and stability in the country. One of the key institutions promoting interfaith dialogue in Turkey is the Ecumenical Patriarchate, located in Istanbul.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate serves as the spiritual center of the Eastern Orthodox Church and has played a significant role in promoting interfaith dialogue. Its leader, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has been a vocal advocate for interfaith cooperation and has worked tirelessly to build bridges between different religious communities in Turkey. He has also been an important voice on environmental issues, highlighting the shared responsibility of all faiths to protect our planet.

One issue that has been a point of contention between the Turkish government and the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the Halki Seminary. The seminary was closed by Turkish authorities in 1971, but efforts to reopen it have been ongoing with support from embassy officials and other leaders. The reopening of Halki Seminary would be a significant step forward for interfaith dialogue and cooperation in Turkey.

The Chief Rabbi of Turkey, along with other religious leaders and members of the Cem Foundation, have also been active participants in promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Their efforts have focused on building understanding between different religious communities through shared experiences such as cultural events or community service projects.

Understanding the Diversity of Turkey's Religious Landscape

The religious landscape of Turkey is diverse and complex, with a rich history that has shaped its culture and society. From the dominant religion of Islam to the minority religions of Christianity, Judaism, Alevism, Yazidism, and more, there are many different faiths represented in this country.

Religion plays an important role in Turkish culture and society. It influences everything from family life to politics and education. Religious holidays and festivals are celebrated throughout the year, bringing people together to share in their faith and traditions.

Despite its diversity, Turkey has faced challenges it also acknowledges other faiths. However, some minority religions have faced discrimination or persecution over the years.

The government has implemented policies aimed at promoting religious tolerance and understanding between different faiths. Interfaith dialogue and cooperation are encouraged as a means of building bridges between communities.

Contemporary issues surrounding religion in Turkey include debates over secularism versus Islamization in politics and education. There are also ongoing discussions about how best to balance religious freedoms with other rights such as freedom of speech and expression.

Despite these challenges, Turkey's diverse religious landscape remains an important part of its identity. By embracing its rich history and promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation, this country can continue to build a brighter future for all its citizens regardless of their beliefs.

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