Religion in Turkey
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Islam is the largest religion of Turkey with around 99.0% percent of the population being registered as Muslim. Most Muslims in Turkey are Sunnis forming about 74%, and Alevis form about 5% of the Muslim population. There is also a Twelver Shia community which forms about 3% of the Muslim population. Among Sunni Muslim presence in Turkey there is a small but considerable minority of Muslims with Sufi heritage and affiliation. Christians (Oriental Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic) and Jews (Sephardi), who comprise the non-Muslim population, make up 0.7% of the total.
Turkey is officially a secular country with no official religion since the constitutional amendment in 1924 and later strengthened in the Kemalist Ideology, alongside the Atatürk's reforms and the appliance of laïcité by Atatürk at the end of 1937. However, currently all public schools from elementary to high school hold mandatory religion classes which only focus on the Sunni sector of Islam. In these classes, children are required to learn prayers and other religious practices which belong specifically to Sunnism. Thus, although Turkey claims to be a secular state, the enforcement of secularism in public grade schools is controversial. Its application to join the EU divided existing members, some of which questioned whether a Muslim country could fit in. Turkey accused its EU opponents of favouring a "Christian club".
Beginning in the 1980s, the role of religion in the state has been a divisive issue, as influential factions challenged the complete secularization called for by Kemalism and the observance of Islamic practices experienced a substantial revival. In the early 2000s (decade), Islamic groups challenged the concept of the secular state with increasing vigor after the Erdoğan government had calmed the issue in 2003. Although the Turkish Government states that 99% of the population is Muslim, academic research and polls give different results of the percentage of Muslims which are usually lower, but most of which are above the 90% range. In the most recent poll conducted by Sabanci University, 98.3% of Turks revealed they were Muslim. Of that, 16% said they were "extremely religious", 39% saying they were "somewhat religious", and 32% saying they were "not religious". 3% of Turks declare themselves with no religious beliefs.
Islam is the religion with the largest community of followers in the country, where most of the population is nominally Muslim, of whom over 72% belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. Over 25% of the population is Shia Alevi. There is also a small Bektashi community belonging to a Sufi order of Islam that is indigenous to Turkey, but also has numerous followers in the Balkan peninsula. Islam arrived in the region that comprises present-day Turkey, particularly the eastern provinces of the country, as early as the 7th century. The mainstream Hanafi school of Sunni Islam is largely organized by the state, through the Religious Affairs Directorate, which was established in 1924 following the abolition of the Caliphate and controls all mosques and Muslim clerics, and is officially the highest religious authority in the country.
As of today, there are thousands of historical mosques throughout the country which are still active. Notable mosques built in the Seljuk and Ottoman periods include the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, the Yeşil Mosque in Bursa, the Alaeddin Mosque and Mevlana Mosque in Konya, and the Great Mosque in Divriği, among many others. Large mosques built in the Republic of Turkey period include the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara and the Sabancı Mosque in Adana.
The remainder of the population belongs to other faiths, particularly Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syriac Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant), and Judaism (mostly Sephardi Jews, and a smaller Ashkenazi community.) Turkey has numerous important sites for Judaism and Christianity, being one of the birth places of the latter. Sinced the 4th century, Istanbul (Constantinople) has been the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (unofficially Fener Rum Ortodoks Patrikhanesi), which is one of the fourteen autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches, and the primus inter pares (first among equals) in the Eastern Orthodox communion. However, the Turkish government does not recognize the ecumenical status of Patriarch Bartholomew I. The Halki seminary remains closed since 1971 due to the Patriarchate's refusal to accept the supervision of the Turkish Ministry of Education on the school's educational curricula; whereas the Turkish government wants the school to operate as a branch of the Faculty of Theology at Istanbul University.
Istanbul, since 1461, is the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. There have been 84 individual Patriarchs since establishment of the Patriarchate. The first Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople was Hovakim I who ruled from 1461 to 1478. Sultan Mehmed II allowed the establishment of the Patriarchate in 1461, just eight years after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Patriarch was recognized as the religious and secular leader of all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and carried the title of milletbaşı or ethnarch as well as patriarch. 75 patriarchs have ruled during the Ottoman period (1461-1908), 4 patriarchs in the Young Turks period (1908–1922) and 5 patriarchs in the current secular Republic of Turkey (1923–present). The current Armenian Patriarch is Mesrob II (Mutafyan) (Մեսրոպ Բ. Մութաֆեան), who has been in office since 1998.
There are many churches and synagogues throughout the country, such as the Church of St. George, the St. Anthony of Padua Church, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, the Neve Shalom Synagogue, the Italian Synagogue and the Ashkenazi Synagogue in Istanbul. There are also many historical churches which have been transformed into mosques or museums, such as the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church in Istanbul, the Church of St. Peter in Antakya, and the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra, among many others. There are probably 10 to 20 thousand Bahá'ís, and around a hundred Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies in Turkey.
Turkey has a secular constitution, with no official state religion. The strong tradition of secularism in Turkey is essentially similar to the French model of laïcité. The constitution recognizes the freedom of religion for individuals, whereas the religious communities are placed under the protection and jurisdiction of the state and can't become involved in the political process (e.g. by forming a religious party) or establish faith-based schools. No political party can claim that it represents a form of religious belief; nevertheless, religious sensibilities are generally represented through conservative parties. Turkey prohibits by law the wearing of religious headcover and theo-political symbolic garments for both genders in government buildings, schools, and universities; the law was upheld by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights as "legitimate" in the Leyla Şahin v. Turkey case on November 10, 2005.
Beginning in the 1980s, the role of religion in the state has been a divisive issue, as influential factions challenged the complete secularization called for by Kemalism and the observance of Islamic practices experienced a substantial revival. In the early 2000s (decade), Islamic groups challenged the concept of the secular state with increasing vigor after the Erdoğan government had calmed the issue in 2003.
Reforms going in the direction of secularism have been completed under Atatürk (abolition of the Caliphate, etc..).
However, Turkey is not strictly a secular state:
- there is no separation between religion and State
- there is a tutelage of religion by the state
Religion is mentioned on the identity documents and there is an administration called "Presidency of Religious Affairs" or Diyanet which exploits Islam to legitimize sometimes State and manages 77,500 mosques. This state agency, established by Ataturk (1924), finance only Sunni Muslim worship. Other religions must ensure a financially self-sustaining running and they face administrative obstacles during operation.
When harvesting tax, all Turkish citizens are equal. The tax rate is not based on religion. However, through the "Presidency of Religious Affairs" or Diyanet, Turkish citizens are not equal in the use of revenue. The Presidency of Religious Affairs, which has a budget over U.S. $ 2.5 billion in 2012, finance only Sunni Muslim worship.
This situation presents a theological problem, insofar as the religion of Prophet Muhammad stipulates, through the notion of haram (Qur'an, Surah 6, verse 152), that we must "give full measure and full weight in all justice”.
For example, Câferî Muslims (mostly Azeris) and Alevi Bektashi (mostly Turkmen) participate in the financing of the mosques and the salaries of Sunni imams, while their places of worship, which are not officially recognized by the State, don't receive any funding.
Theoretically, Turkey, through the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), recognizes the civil, political and cultural rights of non-Muslim minorities.
In practice, Turkey only recognizes Greek, Armenian and Jewish religious minorities without granting them all the rights mentioned in the Treaty of Lausanne.
Alevi Bektashi Câferî Muslims, Latin Catholics and Protestants are not recognized officially.
|Official recognition through the Constitution or international treaties||Government Financing of places of worship and religious staff|
|Sunni Islam - Hanafi||70 to 75% (52 to 64 millions)||No||Yes through the Diyanet mentioned in the Constitution (art.136) ||Yes through the Diyanet |
|Sunni Islam - Shafi'i||Yes through the Diyanet mentioned in the Constitution (art.136) |
|Shia Islam - Bektasi||25 to 30% (11 to 19 millions)||Yes ||No. In 1826 with the abolition of the Janissary corps, the Bektashi tekke (dervish convent) were closed  · ||No |
|Shia Islam - Alevi||No. In the early fifteenth century, due to the unsustainable Ottoman oppression, Alevi supported Shah Ismail I. who had Turkmen origins. Shah Ismail I. supporters, who wear a red cap with twelve folds in reference to the 12 Imams were called Qizilbash. Ottomans who were Arabized and persanised considered Qizilbash (Alevi) as enemies because of their Turkmen origins. Today, cemevi, places of worship of Alevi Bektashi have no official recognition.|
|Shia Islam - Ja'fari||4% (3 millions) ||No ||No |
|Shia Islam - Alawite||300 to 350 000 ||No ||No |
|Judaism||20,000||Yes ||Yes through the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)||No |
|Christianity - Protestant||5,000||No ||No |
|Christianity – Latin Catholics||No ||No |
|Christianity – Greek Catholics||Yes ||Yes through the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)||No |
|Christianity - Orthodox - Greek (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople)||Yes ||Yes through the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)||No |
|Christianity - Orthodox - Armenian (Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople)||57,000||Yes ||Yes through the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)||No |
|Christianity - Catholics Chaldean Christians (Armenian)||3,000||Yes ||Yes through the Treaty of Lausanne (1923)||No |
|Christianity - Syriac Orthodox and Catholics Churches||15,000||Yes ||No ||No |
|Yazidi||377||No ||No |
With more than 100,000 employees, the Diyanet is a kind of state within the state.
In 2013, with over 4.6 billion TL (Turkish Lira), Diyanet or Ministry of Religious Affairs, occupies the 16th position of central government expenditure.
The budget allocated to Diyanet is:
- 1.6 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of the Interior
- 1.8 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Health
- 1.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology
- 2.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning
- 2.5 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism
- 2.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- 3.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Economy
- 3.8 times larger than the budget of the Ministry of Development
- 4.6 times larger than the budget allocated to MIT – Secret Services 
- 5,0 times larger than the budget allocated to the Department of Emergency and Disaster Management
- 7.7 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources
- 9.1 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Customs and Trade
- 10.7 times greater than the budget allocated to Coast Guard
- 21.6 times greater than the budget allocated to the Ministry of the European Union
- 242 times larger than the budget for the National Security Council
- 268 times more important than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Public Employee
Diyanet's budget represents:
- 79% of the budget of the Police
- 67% of the budget of the Ministry of Justice
- 57% of the budget of the Public Hospitals
- 31% of the budget of the National Police
- 23% of the budget of the Turkish Army, that is 23% of the budget of NATO's second army.
The mainstream Hanafite school of Sunni Islam is largely organised by the state, through the Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi (Religious Affairs Directorate), which controls all mosques and Muslim clerics. The directorate is criticized by some Alevi Muslims for not supporting their beliefs and instead favoring the Sunni faith.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (Patrik) is the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey, and also serves as the spiritual leader of all Orthodox churches throughout the world. The Armenian Patriarch is the head of the Armenian Church in Turkey, while the Jewish community is led by the Hahambasi, Turkey's Chief Rabbi, based in Istanbul. All these groups share the same criticism of the directorate.
Historical Christian sites
Antioch (Antakya), the city where "the disciples were first called Christians" according to the biblical Book of Acts, is located in modern Turkey, as are most of the areas visited by St. Paul during his missions. The Epistle to the Galatians, Epistle to the Ephesians, Epistle to the Colossians, First Epistle of Peter, and Book of Revelation are addressed to recipients in the territory of modern Turkey. Additionally, all of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils that define Christianity for Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians took place in the territory that is now Turkey.
Freedom of religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the Government imposes some restrictions on Muslim and much more on other religious groups and on Muslim religious expression in government offices and state-run institutions, including universities.
Although proselytizing is legal in the country, non-Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Jews face a few restrictions and occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing or unauthorized meetings. The Government continues to oppose "Islamic fundamentalism."
Persons wishing to convert from Islam to another religion sometimes experience social harassment and violence from relatives and neighbors.
Turkey has a democratic government and strong tradition of secularism. Nevertheless, the Turkish state's interpretation of secularism has resulted in religious freedom violations for many of Turkey's citizens. The 2009 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report placed Turkey on its Watch List' with countries such as Afghanistan, Cuba, the Russian Federation, and Venezuela.
According to the report[which?], the situation for Jews in Turkey is better than in other majority Muslim countries. Jews report being able to worship freely and their places of worship generally government protection when it is required. Jews also operate their own schools, hospitals, two elderly homes, and welfare institutions, as well as a newspaper. Nevertheless, concerns have arisen in recent years because of attacks by extremists on synagogues in 2003 and 2004, as well as growing anti-Semitism in some sectors of the Turkish media and society.
Roman Catholics have sometimes also been subjected to violent societal attacks. In February 2006, an Italian Catholic priest was shot to death in his church in Trabzon, reportedly by a youth angered over the caricatures of the Muslim prophet in Danish newspapers. Prime Minister Erdoğan and other government officials strongly condemned the killing. A 16 year-old boy was subsequently charged with the murder and sentenced to 19 years in prison. In December 2007, a 19 year-old stabbed a Catholic priest outside a church in Izmir; the priest was treated and released the following day. According to newspaper reports, the assailant, who had been arrested, admitted that he had been influenced by a recent television program that depicted Christian missionaries as infiltrators who take advantage of poor people. Roman Catholics also have had their property confiscated by the government.
The Armenian Patriarch, head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, also lacks the status of legal personality and there is no seminary in Turkey to educate its clerics since the closure of the last remaining seminar by the state. As with the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarchate experiences direct Turkish government interference in the selection of its religious leadership, and the Turkish state also prevents the Armenian Orthodox community, which the State Department estimates at 65,000, from operating an independent seminary. In 2006, the Armenian Patriarch submitted a proposal to the Minister of Education to enable his community to establish a faculty in Armenian at a state university with instruction by the Patriarch. Under current restrictions, only the Sunni Muslim community can legally operate institutions to train new clergy in Turkey for future leadership.
Patriarch Bartholomew I, most senior bishop among equals in the traditional hierarchy of Orthodox Christianity, said that he felt "crucified" living in Turkey under a government that did not recognize the ecumenical status of Patriarch and would like to see his Patriarchate die out. The AK Party government criticized Bartholomew I, deputy prime minister Arınç said that the Orthodox Church enjoyed their religious rights during the AK Party government and foreign minister, Davutoğlu said that he wished those remarks were a "slip of the tongue". In response to the government's criticism, Bartholomew's lawyer said when the patriarchate was criticizing government he was referring to the state, not this government in particular. Erdoğan, Turkish Prime Minister said that “When it comes to the question, ‘Are you recognizing [him] as ecumenical?’ I wouldn’t be annoyed by it [this title]. Since it didn’t annoy my ancestors, it will not annoy me, either. But it may annoy some [people] in my country”. A number of the Church's properties and schools, such as the Halki Theological School and the Greek Orthodox orphanage in Büyükada have been expropriated or closed. However, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, the deed to the orphanage was returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 29, 2010.
According to the KONDA Research and Consultancy survey on religiosity carried out throughout Turkey on 2007:
- 0.9% defined themselves as "someone with no religious conviction" (Atheist).
- 2.3% defined themselves as "someone who does not believe in religious obligations" (Non-believer).
- 34.3 % defined themselves as "a believer who does not fulfill religious obligations" (Believer).
- 52.8% defined themselves as "a religious person who strives to fulfill religious obligations" (Religious)
- 9.7% defined themselves as "a fully devout person fulfilling all religious obligations" (Fully devout).
And for specific religious practices:
The worship practices by the people in Turkey:
According to a 2003 study by Çarkoglu, Ergüder, and Kalaycıoğlu:
|Belief in ...||Believes||No belief||No response|
|Heaven and hell||96.2%||3.4%||0.4%|
|Existence of spirit||95.5%||3.9%||0.6%|
|Existence of the devil||92.1%||7.5%||0.4%|
- 94% of Turkish citizens responded: "I believe there is a God".
- 1% responded: "I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
- 1% responded: "I don't believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".
Increased Islamic religiosity
The rise of Islamic religiosity in Turkey has been discussed for the past several years. Many see Turkish society moving towards a more hardline Islamic identity and country. The New York Times published a report about Turkey in 2012, noting an increased separation between secular and religious sectors of Turkish society and politics. Critics argue that Turkish public institutions, once staunchly secular, are shifting in favor of Islamists.
Current Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose political party AKP traces its roots to a banned Islamic party, campaigned in his victorious 2007 campaign with a promise of lifting the longstanding ban on headscarves in public institutions.
On February 7, 2008, the Turkish Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution, allowing women to wear the headscarf in Turkish universities, arguing that many women would not seek an education if they could not wear the head scarf. The main political party, the Justice and Development Party and a key opposition party, the Nationalist Movement Party claimed that it was an issue of human rights and freedoms.
Restriction of alcohol sales and advertising
In 2013, Turkey’s parliament passed legislation that bans all forms of advertising for alcoholic beverages (including the blurring of images on television) and tightened restriction of alcohol sales. The consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the Islamic faith.
Books in school
The Turkish Ministry of Education was outraged that several books that were previously recommend for classroom use, were rewritten without the Ministry's consent to include more Islamic themes. Traditional stories of Pinocchio, Heidi and Tom Sawyer, were rewritten to include characters that wished each other "blessed morning;" statements that included "in Allah's name"; and one of the Three Musketeers converted to Islam."
- Islam in Turkey
- Christianity in Turkey
- Judaism in Turkey
- Hinduism in Turkey
- Cultural Muslim
- List of mosques in Turkey
- List of synagogues in Turkey
- Headscarf controversy in Turkey
- Religion by country
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