Atheism grows in Turkey as Recep Tayyip Erdogan urges Islam

According to a recent survey by the pollster Konda, a growing number of Turks identify as atheists. Konda reports that the number of nonbelievers tripled in the past 10 years. It also found that the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent.

“There is religious coercion in Turkey,” said 36-year-old computer scientist Ahmet Balyemez, who has been an atheist for over 10 years. “People ask themselves: Is this the true Islam?” he added. “When we look at the politics of our decision-makers, we can see they are trying to emulate the first era of Islam. So, what we are seeing right now is primordial Islam.”

Balyemez said he grew up in a very religious family. “Fasting and praying were the most normal things for me,” he said. But then, at some point, he decided to become an atheist.

Diyanet, Turkey’s official directorate of religious affairs, declared in 2014 that more than 99 percent of the population identifies as Muslim. When Konda’s recent survey with evidence to the contrary was published, heated public debate ensued.

The theologian Cemil Kilic believes that both figures are correct. Though 99 percent of Turks are Muslim, he said, many only practice the faith in a cultural and sociological sense. They are cultural, rather than spiritual, Muslims.

Kilic said Muslims who regularly pray, go on pilgrimages or wear veils could generally be considered pious, though, he added, being true to the faith means much more than just performing rituals or opting for certain outerwear. In his view, “judging whether a person is religious should also be based on whether he or she subscribes to certain ethical and humanitarian values.” When only taking into account people who practice Islam, he said, “no more than 60 percent of people in Turkey can be considered Muslim.” [Deutsche Welle] Read more