Turkish Opinions

How the Turkish population feels about religion and education?

by Diego Filiu




With more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews spanning over the last few years, the Pew Research Center has constituted a wide database, which will allow us to delve into the Turk’s opinions towards religion and education –and the link these two should maintain. 


  • Only 12% of the Muslim Turkish citizens favor making Sharia, the Islamic religious law based on a literal interpretation of Qur’an and of the Islamic tradition, the official law of their country. This is the lowest share for any country in the Middle East and North Africa. As a comparison, countries such as Jordan, Egypt, or Morocco all back making Sharia the official law in their country at more than 70%. Even Lebanon and Tunisia exhibit higher rates (respectively 29% and 56%). This hence shows the peculiarity, if not the uniqueness, of the Turkish population’s attitudes towards religion and its implications on other public spheres. The very rigid secular rule instituted by the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, may explain such an original feature. 




  • The views of Sharia among the Turkish respondents are also quite insightful. Indeed, only 36% of Turkish Muslims believe that Sharia has « a single interpretation ». While 36% of them answer than Sharia might have « multiple interpretations ». Again, there are very few countries which exhibit higher rates, showing a rather pronounced distaste of Turkish Muslims toward monolithic interpretation of the religious law (only Albanian, Moroccan, and Tunisian Muslims appear to be more advanced in such a modernization process). 


  • Nevertheless, the vision of Turkish Muslims of the extent to which the Sharia should apply might contrast such an analysis. Indeed, as much as 44% of the Turkish respondents believe that Sharia should be applied to « all citizens » irrespective of their religion. Only Lebanon (48%), Jordan (58%), and Egypt (74%) exhibit higher raters. 


We hence have a Turkish population which tends to believe that Sharia might be interpreted in different ways, and believing that it should not necessarily constitute the official law of the country; while at the same time a non-significant share of respondents consider that Sharia could be applied to all Turkish citizens –the overwhelming majority of Turkish citizens (97,8%) are indeed Muslims, which might account for such a position. 




  • As a matter of fact, the veil is another issue in which the tolerance of the Turkish public opinion is displayed. 90% of respondents state that « women should decide » with regards to wearing, or not wearing the Islamic Hijab. This is twice the proportion of countries like Iraq, Jordan or Egypt. As a matter of fact, Turkey is the most advanced predominantly Muslim country for that matter. Moreover, the opinion of Turkish men and women does not differ much on that matter –the difference amounts to three percentage points, with 92% of women and 89% of men backing the position. 




  • Nevertheless, despite such forward-looking opinions, Turkish Muslims appear as having a rather though position on the issue of the compatibility between religion and modernity. Indeed, 38% of the Turkish respondents stated that there is « a conflict between religion and modern society ». This is the highest share of the MENA region, Tunisia (50%) and Lebanon (45%) excluded. 


  • Similarly, 40% of Turkish respondents stated that there is « a conflict between religion and science », while most of the MENA countries, including Palestine (14%) and Egypt (16%), exhibited levels inferior to 20%. 


  • Despite the above-mentioned opinions, Turkish Muslims seem to consider modernity as rather alien to religious tradition. This might be insightful as to explain the very divisive and rigid secularist policies of the Turkish rulers, from Mustafa Kemal to the militaries. 




  • According to the data collected by the Pew Research Center, Turkish Muslims have grown increasingly doubtful of the role of religion in the public sphere. Indeed, in 2006, only 44% of Turks stated that democracy « could work » for their country, while 50% did only three years before –when the AKP came to power. 47% of the respondents have opinioned that religion is having an ever-more portentous role in politics, and 50% of them have stated that this development is negative. 


  • What is equally interesting in this survey, for our topic of Education and Religion, is the answer given by Turkish respondents to explain Islamic extremism in their country. 34% have pinpointed the role of education, making it the most insightful factor for such a development –before poverty (14%), immorality (14%) or US influence (12%). 




  • Politics and religion also interact in a very specific way in Turkey. 27% of Turkish Muslims state they prefer a « strong leader » above democracy –while 67% adopts the opposed stance. As a comparison, only Lebanon (81%) and Tunisia (75%) scored higher in their support for democracy. 


  • The support for religious freedom was also situated in such intermediary-high position (with 89% of respondents backing the idea, Turkey only scored lower than Iraq and Jordan). 


  • However, Turkish respondents clearly go against the idea that religious leaders should be influent in the political sphere. Only 11% of Turkish citizens responded that religious leaders should have a large leverage in politics, the lowest share of all the predominantly Muslim countries outside of Europe/Caucasus. 


  • Similarly, Turkish respondents have a comparatively low opinion of Islamic political parties. As a matter of fact, 26% of respondents stated that these are « worse » than other parties, while 30% of them answered that they fare « better ». Such disapproval was only attained in the Palestinian Territories, with a 29% disapproval rate. 




What is also very relevant to understand the religious mood in Turkey is the issue of intra-Muslim relations. The case of Turkey indeed seems particularly relevant, as the Alevi minority (a branch of Shi’a-Sufi Islam) is not currently recognized by the government –despite counting between 10 and 15 million members in Turkey itself. 


  • Tensions among Muslims appear to be a non-negligible issue in Turkey. Indeed, 14% of Turkish Muslims believe that tensions between Sunnis and Shi’as are a portentous issue in their country. Only Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan –all countries which exhibit, or have historically exhibited, high levels of sectarian conflicts; appear more preoccupied by the issue.