Islam, Sufism, Alevis: Religion in Turkey

Who is Ataturk?

Turkey is a fascinating country with diverse cultural and religious traditions. Most of its inhabitants profess Islam, but there are also Christians and Jews in the country. In official documents, all citizens are automatically listed as Muslims at birth unless their parents specify otherwise. Because of this record, most Turks (99.8%) consider themselves Muslims, although there are some who practice no religion or belong to minorities.

The Turkish constitution recognises Sunni Islam, some Catholic and Orthodox sects of Christianity and Judaism. However, not all branches of Islam and Christianity are officially recognised. People belonging to religious minorities usually have the freedom to practise their faith, but may face some social problems. For example, changing religion may cause judgement from others. Turkish schools teach the basic principles of different religions, but the main focus is on Sunni Islam.

Islam in Turkey

Turkey has an ancient Islamic history, which is reflected in its architecture and monuments. During the Ottoman Empire, the country was the centre of Sunni Islam. Although not all Turks strictly follow Islam, its influence is felt everywhere. Religious customs such as prayer and saying "Praise be to Allah" are common in everyday life. Mosques are called to prayer five times a day. These traditions emphasise the importance of Islam in Turkish society. Approximately 80% of Muslims follow Sunni Islam, while about 20% follow the Shiite faith, mostly Alevis.

Secularism and politics

Turkey began to develop a strong secular tradition after the abolition of the caliphate. In the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made Islam the unofficial religion of Turkey and reduced expressions of religious affiliation. Atatürk believed that mixing religion with politics hindered democracy and modernisation. He took control of official Islamic institutions to weaken their political influence, inspired by the laicising ideas of France. This provoked resistance from Islamic fundamentalists, but the mainstream position became that religion is a faith, not a way of life, and should not influence the civil sphere. Some secular ideals have led to legal restrictions on religious expression, such as banning women with hijab from working in public institutions until 2013.

In recent years, restrictions on religious practices have become the subject of fierce debate. Traditional secular morality has come into question as Erdogan's government, a supporter of political Islam, promotes more conservative religious values. Turkey's educational system has introduced compulsory religious instruction and changed the management of schools and universities in favour of religiosity. Restrictions on alcohol and active public promotion of modest dress have also become more common. The country is increasingly divided between supporters of a secular state and more conservative Muslims, and has seen state institutions shift in favour of Islamists.

President Erdogan


Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism, has a significant influence in Turkey. This religious movement in Turkey, which focuses on self-knowledge and spiritual rapprochement with God, is not a sect, but rather an internal trend within Islam. Belonging to a Sufi order can coincide with a Muslim's Sunni or Shia identity. There are many Sufi orders and communities in Turkey that adhere to this tradition.

Sufism emphasises the possibility of direct knowledge of God through ecstatic worship and other spiritual practices. It is based on various forms of ritual meditation, such as dhikr, the repetition of prayer formulas. For example, Sufi dervishes of the Mevlevi order practise a special form of meditation involving spinning during a worship ceremony known as sema. This Turkish order, known for its spinning Sufis, attracts people from all over the world.


The Alevis are the largest religious minority in Turkey. Their exact population number is debatable, but recent figures put their number at between 20 and 25 million. Formally they belong to Shiism, but their interpretation of Islam differs from Shiite communities in other countries. The Alevi religious tradition combines Islam with elements of Turkish culture.

The practices of the Alevis differ markedly from the Sunni majority of Turkey. For example, they do not fast during Ramadan, but do so during the Ten Days of Muharram to commemorate the death of the Shiite Imam. They also do not perform the customary bowing movements during prayer as Sunnis do. Alevi teachings emphasise mutual aid, and although formal almsgiving is not required, the value of helping and supporting one another is highly valued. Unlike mosques, Alevis gather for prayer and fellowship in various places known as "cemevi".

Alevis in Turkey can be divided into three categories based on language: Turkish-speaking Azeris, Turkish-speaking Arabs, and Kurds. Each of these groups reflects a unique religious and cultural identity within the Alevi faith. The largest Alevi groups consist of Turkish- and Kurdish-speaking Alevis.


In conclusion, Turkey is a unique mix of cultures and religions, reflecting the rich diversity of peoples and their historical heritage. The majority of the population is Muslim, but there are also members of Christianity and Judaism living in the country. Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed, but some social norms may create obstacles for those who deviate from majoritarian religious practice.

Questions and Answers

Q: What role does religion play in Turkey?
A: Religion, especially Islam, plays an important role in Turkey's history and culture. It is an important aspect of the lives of many Turkish citizens and influences various areas of society, including politics, education and customs.

Q: What is the distribution of religious groups in Turkey?
A: The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni. However, there are also small numbers of Christians, Jews and other religious communities.

Q: What is the importance of religion in the daily life of Turkish citizens?
A: Religion in Turkey plays an important role in the daily life of citizens, influencing their customs, traditions, lifestyle and outlook. Many aspects of social life, such as family values, rituals and holidays, are permeated by religious practices and beliefs.


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