Religious Beliefs In Turkey

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 led by President Recep Tayyip and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 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

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. It puts a lot of importance on the power of God and his determination of human life.Sharia law is interpreted in four different ways. There are hence four schools of law, or Madhabs. Namely, these are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali. Some Sunnis argue that one should choose one madhab and fully follow it while others think that it is okay for one to mix madhabs by following one madhhab ruling a particular issue and use another madhab’s ruling on a different issue. Within the Sunni Islam, there are other rifts made up of more liberal and secular Muslims who believe that Quran should be interpreted at personal levels. However, Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami have given rise to Islamic organizations such as Hamas who destroy secularized Muslims and Western cultural institutions via terrorism.

Alevi Shia

The word Alevi refers to Ali ibn Abi alib, who was a son-in-law to the Prophet Muhammad. Some people also assert that it comes from the word “flame.” According to proponents of the theory, Alevis came from the Luvis who were referred to as the “followers of light” and the name was an attempt to cover them with an Islamic veil to avoid persecution. The history of the Alevi’s is not clear and many theories have emerged with most scholars tracing their tradition to the primitive Islam and the twelve imams. Others assert that Alevi’ have their origin from the Armenian Orthodox Christianity while others have claimed that this is a pre-Islamic religion which acquired the Shia theology. Alevi beliefs are diverse as they are more liberal than that of the Sunni. They don’t go to mosques but rather in assembly houses known as cemevi. Women and men are allowed to worship in the same place, and also women are allowed to wear modern clothes which are uncharacteristic of the Islam culture. Their fundamental values include love and respect for others, religious tolerance, and respect for working people.

Ja’fari Shia

The name Jafari is derived from that of the sixth descendant of Muhammad, Ja’far As-Sadiq, who was the greatest Islamic teacher of his time. It is a school of Jurisprudence widely accepted by Shia Muslims, especially those of Twelver Shia, and to a lesser extent by certain Sunni. There are two schools of thought in Ja’fari namely Usuli and Akhbari. Akhbar is almost extinct with very few followers and takes a very restrictive approach to ijtihad. Usun advocates for a more flexible legal interpretation depending on circumstances and the changing time dynamics.

Alawi Shia

These are minorities in Turkey and are less than one million in number there, but are more prevalent in Syria where they are centered. Historically, the Alawites have hidden their beliefs and traditions from outsiders, and even their sacred books are kept a secret. The Oxford Cyclopedia states that they celebrate mass which includes consecration of wine and bread which is characteristic of Christian Roman Catholics. The mass is only open for males. The Sunnis have previously persecuted the Alawites due to these religious differences. Other notable traditions include celebrating Christmas, Epiphany (Baptism of Jesus), and Nowruz (New Year). They are also known to bury the dead in sarcophagi above the ground.

RankBelief SystemShare of Turkish Population
1Sunni Islam67.5%
2Alevi Shia Islam24.1%
3Ja'fari Shia Islam3.9%
4Alawi Shia Islam1.0%

Christianity and Other Beliefs2.5%

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