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Religion in Turkey, how diverse is it?

The land that is now the country of Turkey is one of the earliest known areas of human habitation and development. This makes Turkey an ancient land that has been lived in by a large variety of ethnicities and people of multiple religions. Unlike many other countries in the region that are mostly comprised of Muslims, the government of Turkey is secular. They believe in a separation of church and state. This began with the constitution that the Republic of Turkey signed in 1923. The separation of church and state, similar to this separation in the United States, makes Turkey a country where people are free to practise whichever religion they choose.


Hagia Sophia IstanbulIslam in Turkey
Close to 99% of the citizens of Turkey are Muslim. This is a very large percentage for a country that has a secular government. 72% of the Muslim citizens are Sunnis, while 25% are Alevis. Despite the fact that Turkey is a secular country, from elementary school to high school, students are required to attend classes on religion. The focus of these classes is entirely on the Sunni branch of Islam. 


Other Religions in Turkey
Despite only 1% of the country being non-Muslim, these other religions are large in diversity. Christianity and Judaism are the two most common religions of this 1%. This is partly due to the fact that Turkey is one of the earliest lands to be settled. Turkey is the birthplace of many biblical figures in both Christianity and Judaism. There are many sites throughout Turkey that are considered sacred by the Christian religion. 

The Pope in TurkeyBefore the forming of the Republic of Turkey, around 19.1% of the population was non-Muslim. By 1927, several years after the Turkey’s independence, this number dropped to 2.5%. This change is in direct conflict with the concept of a secular government. Currently, only 120,000 of Turkey’s 75 million populations are Christian. 


Turkey has a Secular Government
According to the Constitution of Turkey, religious groups are not allowed to be involved in the political process. They are also restricted from forming faith-based schools; even though Sunni Islam is taught to all students in school. The role of religion in Turkey’s government was decided early in the founding of the Republic of Turkey. After taking power, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk began taking steps to remove the influence of churches and religious groups in the government. This era of reform is known as Kemalism in Turkey. 


Blue Mosque IstanbulReligious Diversity in a Mostly Muslim Country
Over the years, many different cultures and religions have lived in Turkey. Despite the fact that the government of Turkey believes in freedom of religion, over 99% of the population of Turkey remains Muslim. Even though the land that is now Turkey is home to a number of religious sites in the Christian religion, less than 1% of Turkish citizens are Christian. For a country that follows many Western ideals, there is an overwhelming majority of practising Muslims. 

Despite this apparent disconnect between a secular government and a population that is mostly one religion, Turkey enjoys a religious tolerance not found in most of its neighbours and allows for the open practise of many religions.

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