Religion in Turkey

Religion in Turkey, Islam, Tengrism, Judaism, Yazidism, Christianity, Agnosticism and atheism & what this means to you as a traveler

Islam is the largest religion in Turkey according to the state, with 99.8% of the population being automatically registered by the state as Muslim, for anyone whose parents are not of any other officially recognised religion. Due to the nature of this method, the official number of Muslims include people with no religion; converted Christians/Jews; people who are of a different religion than Islam, Christianity or Judaism; and anyone who is of a different religion than their parents, but has not applied for a change of their individual records. The state currently does not allow the individual records to be changed to anything other than Islam, Christianity or Judaism, and the latter two are only accepted with a document of recognition released by an officially recognised church or synagogue. In 2016 Islam was the major religion in Turkey comprising only 98.3% of the total population, and Christianity with 0.2%.

According to the latest sources by Ipsos, and recent independent polls show that the percentage of those who are irreligious in the country is at 3.4% The same studies show that roughly 90% of irreligious people are younger than the age of 35.

In a poll conducted by Sabancı University, 98.3% of Turks revealed they were Muslim. Most Muslims in Turkey are Sunnis forming about 80.5%, and Shia-Aleviler (Alevis, Ja’faris, Alawites) denominations in total form about 16.5% of the Muslim population. Among Shia Muslim presence in Turkey there is a small but considerable minority of Muslims with Ismaili heritage and affiliation. Christians (Oriental Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic) and Jews (Sephardi), who comprise the non-Muslim religious population, make up more than 2% of the total.

Turkey is officially a secular country with no official religion since the constitutional amendment in 1928 and later strengthened by Atatürk’s Reforms and the appliance of laicism by the country’s founder and first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk at the end of 1937. However, currently all public schools from elementary to high school hold mandatory religion classes which mostly focus on the Sunni sect of Islam. In these classes, children are required to learn prayers and other religious practices which belong specifically to Sunnism. Thus, although Turkey is officially a secular state, the teaching of religious practices in public grade schools has been controversial. Its application to join the European Union divided existing members, some of which questioned whether a Muslim country could fit in. Turkish politicians have accused the country’s 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 religious 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 a secular state with increasing vigor after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power in 2002.

Although the Turkish government states that more than 99% of the population is Muslim, academic research and polls give different results of the percentage of Muslims which are usually lower, most of which are above the 90% range, but also lower. A poll conducted by Eurobarometer, KONDA and some other research institutes in 2013 showed that around 4.5 million of the 15+ population had no religion. According to Ipsos, which interviewed 17,180 adults across 22 countries poll’s showed that 13% of those who were interviewed from Turkey were not religious

Major Religions In Turkey

While Sunni Islam is the overwhelming majority religion in Turkey, there are other religions practiced in the country such as Christianity and Sunni Islam. A portion of the population is irreligious.

Turkey is a country covering parts of both Europe and Asia, with 97% of the country in Asia and the remaining 3% situated in Europe. The Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits and the Sea of Marmara separate these two parts of Turkey. The country is a unitary state. It is the only Muslim country without the state religion. The other religions in the country are Christianity, Judaism, and Ashkenazi. The Islam religion can be divided into Sunni Islam, Alevi Shia Islam, Ja’fari Shia Islam and Alawi Shia Islam.

Sunni Islam – 65%
The word Sunni comes from Arabic word sunnah, which refers to the actions and sayings of Muhammad as depicted in his hadiths (reports). Islam is the largest religion in the world with 80% of Muslims being Sunnis. They believe that Muhammad died without appointing a successor and therefore elders decided to appoint Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (successor). Abu Bakr was the father in law of Muhammad. The Sunni tradition places great emphasis on Muslim religious law (Sharia) as the standard for almost all societal issues, such as marriage, divorce, family matters, and even commerce. Sunni Islam is considered to be the religion of the majority in Turkey, which an estimated 65% of the population adhering. However, it is important to note that the Turkish government records Islam as the religion of those who are born to parents whose religion is not recorded. Therefore, there are many children of the irreligious and whose parents belong to religious minorities.

Other Islam – 13%
Those who are classified as “other Islam” do not identify with any of the established branches of Islam. They make up around 13% of Turkey’s population. In some countries such as Albania and Kyrgyzstan, unclassified Muslims make up the majority of the population.

Irreligion – 7%
Agnostic or atheist Turks compose around 7% of the population. Compared to other countries around the world, the irreligious population in Turkey is relatively small. Quantifying the exact number of irreligious people in Turkey is difficult, as it falls outside of cultural norms. However, there has been an increase in the irreligious amongst Turkey’s population, especially among young people.

Spiritual but Not Religious – 6%
Similar to the aforementioned religious category, those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” make-up an estimated 6% of the Turkish population.

Shia Islam – 4%
Of the Shia Islam practiced in Turkey, there are estimated to be around 12 branches. Those who are called “Shia Islam” in Turkey would usually be referred to as “Aleviler Islam” elsewhere. The types of Shia Islam in Turkey besides Alevism include Ja’fari and Alawism.

Other Religions – 2%
Other minority religions in Turkey and their estimated populations include Judaism (20,000), Tengrism (1,000), and Yazidism (500).

Other Christianity – 1%
Christian minorities in Turkey and their estimated populations include the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople (65,000), Latin Catholicism (20,000), the Syriac Orthodox Church (15,000), the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch (10,000), Chaldean Catholicism (8,000), Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (5,000), the Syriac Catholic Church (2,000), and the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (1,500).


Religious Beliefs In Turkey

Rank Religion Population (Percentage)
1 Sunni Islam 65.0
2 Unaffiliated Islam 13.0
3 Irreligious 7.0
4 Spiritual 6.0
5 Shia Islam 4.0
6 Other religion 2.0
7 Other Christian 1.0
8 Protestant Christian 1.0