Turkey is a primarily Muslim country with a very small number of Jews and Christians. Although its people are mostly Muslim, Turkey has had a secular constitution since 1924 and has no official state religion. The Islamic Caliphate was abolished with the Turkish Constitution of 1924 and replaced with a more secular government not based on religious laws. In Turkey, individuals are allowed to practice elements of Islamic law according to their own personal preferences without being forced to follow it in a particular way.
Sunni Islam is the largest sect of Islam around the world and within Turkey. According to the CIA World Factbook, 99.8 percent of the 80 million people in Turkey are Muslim, and within the Turkish Muslim community, it says they are mostly Sunni. Sunni Muslims believe themselves to be the true followers of the sunnah, or tradition, or the Prophet Muhammad.
The Alevi is a Shia sect that is very different from the mainstream of Islam. Alevi Muslims do not fast during the month of Ramadan as is the common practice throughout the Muslim world. They also do not worship in mosques out of respect for Ali, who was murdered inside a mosque. Ali was the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and holds a very high place in Shia Islam. Alevies congregate in a meeting-house called a “cemevi” in a religious ceremony called the “cem.” During the Alevi cem, men and women pray together and incorporate singing and dancing as well.
The Alawites are similar to the Alevi Muslims in that they share with it Shia origins and are both greatly devoted to Ali. While all Shia Muslims hold Ali in high esteem, the Alawites and Alevi sects go much further and view him as an embodiment of the divine. But unlike the Alevi, who perform the cem religious ceremonies, the Alawites do not maintain places of worship at all. They simply have shrines dedicated to their sheikhs, or leaders. They also have some cultural differences, as the Alawites speak Arabic and the Alevi speak Turkish.
Sufism is a highly mystical Muslim belief system in Turkey. Their beliefs are characterized by a veneration of Islamic saints, Sufi followers paying special attention to going on pilgrimages to their shrines and grave sites. The Sufis organize themselves into brotherhoods, or tarikat, that follow the lead of a Sufi spiritual leader.
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