How Strict is Islam in Turkey?

Turkey is the most Westernized Muslim country in the Middle East, and it has long been known for its secular government.

Religious extremists are more likely to have issues with their own government than they are to have issues with you, especially if you don't make a scene or treat their religion with disrespect. 
You are much more likely to be bitten by wild animals, have your wallet stolen, or get struck by lightning than you are to be kidnapped or caught within the midst of a religious, political upheaval.

Since the election of President Erdogan in 2014, Turkey has become less secular with government and religious affairs.

Respect

However, that is not to say that you shouldn't be careful. All smart travelers know the importance of paying respect to local customs and beliefs, if only because it opens more doors and ensures that your hosts are friendly, and it would behoove you to study up on Muslim practices before you go off to Turkey. Keep your head down, be polite and you won't have any problems as you travel through Turkey.

Muslim practices in Turkey

While people in cosmopolitan centers like Istanbul and Ankara will understand if you don't know the finer points of Muslim practice and belief, people further afield are less likely to cut you slack if you accidentally misstep out of ignorance.

Read on to learn certain practices that you should always keep in mind as you travel through the country. Not only is it respectful, but it is also one of the best ways to ensure your safety against religious extremists who want to do Westerners harm.

Call to prayer in Turkey

Five times per day, speakers installed in mosques all around every Turkish city will announce the central tenets of Islamic faith and remind Muslims that it is time to pray. Practicing Muslims will then stop what they're doing, take out a prayer rug and kneel toward Mecca. The Call to Prayer is very sacred, and travelers should avoid making disparaging comments, as that may increase your chance of being targeted by religious extremists. While as a Westerner and non-Muslim, you are not expected to partake, some pieces of Call to Prayer etiquette include:

Don't stand in front of anyone praying. The point is that they are not facing you, they are facing Mecca. Stay silent for the duration of the Call.

Eating habits in Turkey

Muslims believe in a certain level of decorum and cleanliness around meals, and there are certain customs that should be followed if you are eating a meal in a Muslim home or if you are just out by yourself and enter a restaurant. These include:

Never criticize the food. Muslims consider every meal to be a blessing, and it is not only offensive to your host, but to Allah, if you make disparaging comments about your meal. Don't eat too much. Gluttony is culturally frowned upon in Muslim countries. While you won't put yourself at risk, you will bring attention to yourself if you stuff your face every meal.

Fasting During Ramadan 2018

During the month of Ramadan, it will be difficult to food during the day. It is advised that you don't travel to outlying cities between May 15th and June 14th, as food will be hard to find. Even in the major cities, it is considered rude to eat in public during Ramadan. If you need to eat, do so inside a closed restaurant or in your hotel room.

Dress habits in Turkey

Be sure to dress conservatively, especially if you're traveling to outlying towns. Western culture is associated with a sense of indecency, and you will draw attention to yourself, especially as a woman, if you are wearing things like tank tops, short shorts or miniskirts. Stick to longer skirts, pants or dresses. Men should try to wear slacks if at all possible instead of shorts.

Visiting a mosque in Turkey

The mosque is the heart of cultural significance for Muslims, and if you feel the need to enter one, you should show proper respect for the traditions. Proper customs include:

Men should never wear shorts inside a mosque, and women should wear headscarves and follow the rules for clothing described above. You should always remove your shoes upon entering the mosque.
If you happen to be in the mosque during the Call to Prayer, it is advised to stand in the back of the building while the faithful line the rows to pray.
There is to be no eating, drinking, smoking, talking, laughing, sleeping, reclining or sitting inside Turkish mosques. Public displays of affection are also not allowed.

Demonstrations in Turkey

If you are traveling in the tumultuous Southeastern Anatolia province, you may run into a political demonstration either by local Kurdish peoples, religious fundamentalists or some other minority interest group. The area is one of fluid politics due to its proximity to Iraq, Iran and Syria.

The right thing to do in the event of a protest is simply to move along. Don't make a spectacle of yourself by taking lots of pictures and certainly don't join the action, even if the cause is one you believe in. If you end up being seen by a rival group, for instance, you are almost sure to be pointed out and targeted.Always listen to the Turkish military, and always have your passport on hand to show to any officials, as there are often checkpoints set up along roads and in towns to try and catch terrorists. Just use your head, remember that you're there to sightsee and not make a political point, and you will be fine.

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27 Comments

  • ADNAN TUNC said

    You can wear whatever you want in Turkey.. That's true, we are not in 1960's when mini skirt was a hot fashion in Turkey and rest of the world, but what a woman wears is her own decision.. In every country men just look after a woman who wears short things but that's not a big deal.. Secularism in Turkey is fundamental, it's world's one of two countries which secularism is the main law of the constitution (among with France) Especially Western and Southern Turkey both based on social democracy

  • Vishal said

    This religion looks like god has created humans just to worship him . Is the Islam god psycho?

  • Noura said

    About the last comment written by Vishal, I would undoubtly respect what you say, but I am kindly asking you to never judge before you know the truth. If I were you i would read first about Islam and write whatever i desire after that when I have a clear image about the whole scene.

  • DOUG said

    HAHAHHA The most stupid things I've ever read! what a misleading article! which idiot wrote this? Have they ever visited Turkey? What does it mean never comment on food in Muslim countries? If something is shitty you have righ to anounce it freely! Especially in Turkey Islam has no effect on public rules but only in morality of people and this is many times mixed with Islam however it's traditions and respect! Besides that go to Mosques if you are not Muslim you don't need to cover or wear anything special! Guys wear shorts this is very stupid to say stay away from shorts bla bla... Seriously talking here that's a bullshit! If anyone wants better and clear information with pros-cons I would be happy to help!

    Cheers and peace!

  • Riz said

    Can a woman enter a Turkish mosque in bikini?

  • I.H. said

    Thats very disrespectful Riz
    Tell your mom not to do that

  • Ceil said

    Turkey may be a liberal County but it's always a good idea for foreign travelers to be respectful to the culture, cusine and religion. Women wearing skimpy outfits only draw unwanted attention to themselves.

  • melanie said

    do ALL Muslims in Turkey go to Mosque?

  • om haroon said

    i am so glad that i have left "the civilized world" and moved to a muslim country. reading these comments remind me that i have made the right choice. this article IS appropriate except its inaccuracy about not exposing your western-ness so as to avoid being harmed, not in any muslim country i have ever lived in or traveled to have i seen westerners do anything except proudly display themselves and no-one gave them a second glance (except for myself).

    Doug, are you OK? this article isn't misleading, i think you just want attention. yes, guys do wear shorts but maybe the author is suggesting that it would be more polite not to do so as arabs are very accomodating and way less likely than westerners to intimidate or embarass someone even though they are uncomfortable with the attire they would much rather extend hospitality to the guest, even if they are dressed rudely.

  • om haroon said

    vishal's comment just shows lack of understanding. i feel offended by your comment as i am muslim, but as such as i should welcome you by way of reasoning. choosing what's good is key in islam as the coerced will ultimately retreat to their own desires. and Allah says in the Quran "Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason." so we should understand that we have a mind to reflect, and come to logical conclusions. we are never forced into belief. we can be forced to behavior, but not belief. so to answer your question "is the islam god...?" let's assume you understand the concept of God, is it possible that the One who created everything that exists is like His creation, and therefore feels powerful by being worshiped? that's a human characteristic. it doesn't make sense that He is powerful enough to create all that exists and still need to feel powerful. if the God you speak of (from misunderstanding) liked to be worshiped then could He not have created "mindless" beings that would worship Him without argument. But He created humans with free will. imagine, is there a triumph in having an ant-like creature DECIDE to worship willfully, he's just an ant, his worship isn't valuable. let's suppose you could make all the earthworms prostrate to you every morning would you feel almighty? we created beings tend to over-value ourselves, the Creator doesn't need our worship, He already created the galaxies and what is beyond, could such a One have the frail attribute of needing to be worshiped? we weren' t in existence, we didn't even know that we weren't here. did you know that you weren't here before you were born? and this universe that we live in was also created so that we could come to the conclusion of belief by using reasoning, by looking at the intricacies of the creation, and the wisdom, order, etc. animals don't reason, they are here to help us and make our lives more joyful, and to be observed, their behavior is also a part of creation. we never hold animals accountable for their behavior the way we do humans, there is no animal justice system. we were created with reasoning abilities. Allah didn't need to create us, we should feel honored that we even exist and have a chance to live happily in the next life. by the way doesn't a reward become more valuable when it has been earned? i am sure you have never cheated on a test but if you have you are familiar with that empty lowly feeling you get when you see your perfect score, why does it feel different when you studied instead of cheated? the reward becomes a reward when we see hard work come to fruition. so maybe the reward of the next life will become an elation for us because of all the suffering we have done in this life. and isn't it hard to be patient (worship), pray 5 times a day (worship), fast for 30 days in a row (worship), pay some of our money to the poor (worship), are you starting to see why worship is for us? it is mercy upon us because without it we will be deluded and empty, our souls yearn for the spiritual connection to our Creator, and that comes through worship in the form or obedience, that is our instant cashback for this life-spiritual connection, and the ultimate reward, the final score is in the next, and the sense of satisfaction and bliss we will feel will be in direct proportion to the hard effort (worship) we have paid in this life. Not, by the way, because our work deserves such a huge reward but because of our intention to be thankful in this life. He is The Thankful, The Grateful. And He actualizes our tiniest efforts.

  • Hakan said

    One guy asked are Turkish all Muslims? lol only on paper. Turkey is not %99 Muslim, it is the biggest bs ever. None of my friends pray or got to a mosque and most of the Turks that claim they are Muslims are not Muslims at all. In rural areas there are more conservatives but in Cities, not many really care. You don't need to go to a Mosque to worship god. Turkey is not an Arabic country and it insults many Turks that Turkey is Middle Eastern country. There is no bs like Middle East in Geography, it is called Asia!!! Middle East was put in place to give a bad name to Muslim countries. Turkey is secular thanks to ATATURK and Ataturk is the reason why Turkey is different that all other Muslim nations. We all know where most Muslim countries in global scale. They are usually down the bottom. Turkey will always be secular and modern Turks have nothing in common with mostly over religious Arabs. Religion is personal and it cracks me up when people choose a country bc it is Muslim, Christian, Jewish whatever. Most Muslim nations are in deep chaos. Don't come to Turkey if you are uneducated or extremely religious. We have too many of these idiots that are ruining Turkey. Developed countries rely on Science not Religion!

  • jennifer said

    I have been to Turkey before. A person is not forced to do anything, and if you are not muslim, there is no need to wear head cover. Men can wear shorts under the knee, but again, it is not a must. If you enter a place of prayer, you still don't need a head cover, but wear appropriate, be respectful.

  • Romany said

    My sister lived in turkey but not in a holiday town and we were very careful to cover up, as we were the only white people around, the locals were wonderful leaving food at the gate often, the village food was to die for simple but delicious, and so cheap and they all laughed in the bus when we asked for our stop in Turkish, I got told one day to cover my feet but I made sure I had leggings in under my dress and a cardigan on, holidaying in Turkey was totally different and a Weston people wore very little and no one seemed to mind. The culture is different in different parts of Turkey, and simply ask a local what’s acceptable but one day shopping we saw a woman shopping in a bikini and she caused a bit of a stir as she would here but I love tukey and only had one odd experience on a bus going over the mountains when a man stared at me for half the journey until the bus driver shouted at him to stop. But apart from that each visit has been amazing. We were at a cafe near tlos and it was my birthday they sent someone to buy a cake and found happy birthday in the pc to play, and then asked us to choose English music to put on this was in the winter and it was full of Turkish men, women and men don’t dance or sing together so they really put us first, and they taught my husband a local dance but allowed us to watch. Lots of English live in turkey but in ex pat areas I loved the fact we got to see the real Turkey.

  • Dev said

    One of main stories in Islam is that Mohammed went to heaven (!) and Allah told Mohammed that muslims must pray 50 times a day !! even crack addict would not come up with the 50 times prayer !

  • Hasina said

    You definetly did not read any further on Islam and you deceided to comment about the Islam and Allah. This shows how you are quick to comment after reading half the story. Mohammad requested to Allah that the people will not be able to pray 50 prayers so Allah reduced the prayers to 5 prayers. And Allah was also testing Mohammad. Allah already knew they will not pray 50 prayers and leave the prayers altogether, thats why Allah made 5 prayers for us.

  • Kalfan said

    Hi my dear all friends , I am not good at English so my Muslim brothers and sisters may Allah help you to increase your knowledge to spread Islam all over the world and my dear non Muslim brothers I am very happy that you all are researching our religion deeply like this mashah allah it’s also Allah's gift okay guys I wanna tell only one thing for now , if you want to study Islam don’t look at Muslim people and what others are saying about Islam because no one is perfect in this wold we are human beings so better you read the QURAN till the end not in half 😂😂okay guys if my some word hurt you I am sorry because I am not good at English salam

  • Yanni said

    Turkey is technically not "Middle East"

  • Sara said

    I laugh when Turks mock arabs and think they are "better" and that they get offended when they are called "middle easters" - well i have just come back from Istanbul and to be honest its almost the same as Jordan - only difference is that there are more tall buildings (probably because the size of istanbul is almost the size of the whole of Jordan) - so stop the hate please, because we are all the same. Muslims and non-muslims we are all humans. And please stop the outdated thinking of "oh my country is secular and therefore it's not stupid like religious countries" because by fact Turkey is far from developed when you look at developing religious countries like the USA and the UK (christian), Saudi and many more. Please just stop. People in istanbul are far from "rich" in restaurants they beg for you to come in and give some tips. We are all humans, no one is superior to the other. instead of differentiating each other based on religion, race and status, we should seek to protect human interests of equality and respect.

  • Allan said

    I’m a Lebanese/Australian moslem & have visited Turkey/ Istanbul . I think & see Islam is present in turkey & is the foundation of this strong beautiful country. God bless Islam & turkey.

  • Zeynep said

    Seriously, there are some parts in Istanbul that are rather extreme about this but overall it's not that much of an issue. For example, wearing shorts that are above the knees (or mini-skirts and clothing that reveals more skin than your average wear) in areas like Basaksehir or Kayasehir wouldn't be wise. But that doesn't mean there aren't places you can't wear them! In fact, the cities at south are much lax at these matters since the climate is too hot to cover every inch of your skin.

    And eating - okay guys I don't know about you but I've never heard about those rules? And I live in Istanbul. I mean, YEAH, if you don't like your meal tough luck and you don't bitch about it but that doesn't mean you gotta eat it if you don't want to, or maybe they got your order wrong (that happens ALL the time especially if you tell them to not put some ingredient in your meal) and nothing is wrong with telling them that they got it wrong. People are usually relaxed around here.

    Not all Turkish people go to the mosque to pray, not all Turkish people even PRAY, and lastly not all Muslims pray (me being a prime example.) Of course, not ordering food from outside around the prayer hours is considered polite and considerate. And on another note, DON'T GO OUT IN A CAR DURING FRIDAY NOONS. The traffic is immense (ESPECIALLY IN ISTANBUL) because it's the "sacred day" and almost everyone goes to the mosques to pray. Weekends are absolutely dreadful cause you can't go anywhere without getting stuck in the traffic. Monday after 10-ish before 16-ish is good if you want to go sight-see.

    Welp, I guess that's all. I'm just trying to get out of the country before I'm stuck here with nowhere else to go.

  • Wyd said

    I've been in Istanbul. I have some points abt visiting it.
    First, not all hotels will accept a male and his female friend (except as husband and wife) to stay in a same room. I stayed in a 3 star-hotel.
    Don't go around the city at around Friday prayer because most men will go to mosque. I think men who don't perform daily prayers will visit a mosque on Friday. We can hear a prayer call (adzan) around the city center 5 times a day.
    Non Muslim women who wearing a sleeveless blouse will be asked to wear a robe or a long dress provided by the mosque before entering the mosque.
    Sellers will offer us a cup of hot tea when we are looking for goods in their store. They will say an Islamic greeting (assalamualaikum) when they re seeing foreign customers come over.
    The best thing that I remember is Turkish people will greet me politely and kindly with a smile when I'm walking around the city.

  • Traveller said

    I am confused reading the post and reading the comments. None doesnt seem to be consistent. I am planning to visit Turkey and have watched many Turkish Tv Series and Movies. They seem to be very open about what they wear and drink and all that. So can someone who actaully live in Turkey shed some light on this ? We see so many open dresses in shows, even many actors and actresses in real life are very free in their outfits ( as far as posted photos are concerned) they openly show drinking alchohol and smoking ; so it is really big deal or are the people commenting exgarrating something that is not already there.

  • Miss Anonymous said

    yes I've noticed the same things in the tv series coz they tend to be much more liberal n free.

  • Bert said

    First of all, conservative clothing means no excessive cleavage. Turkey is one step back in terms of sexuality compared to western countries. It would be awkward like walking around having one breast out in Germany. You'll get stares. Other than that you don't need to cover your hair. You will have no problem walking around wearing t-shirts and pants.

  • Shahid said

    The comments on dress when visiting mosques are common sense. No you cannot wear a bikini to a mosque. And it is the same when visiting the Vatican in Rome. Men must wear pants and ladies cannot be sleeveless and must have pants also. House of God is exactly that.

  • ender said

    of course at the street and in the mosque are different concepts. in turkey men can wear short and it is very popular among turkish guys. and as a woman yes, but if short is too short at some place you may face some disturbing looks.

    if you want to enter the mosque mans short must cover their knees. actually mostly if your short is close to your knees is ok. and as woman they have to cover their hair with scarf (at least some part.) and cover at least to their elbows and under their knees.

  • gözde said

    I'm a 30-year-old woman from Turkey. I understand the Turkish people who read this and gets offended but these are very accurate, friendly and non-judgemental suggestions for the tourist who does not know the area. There is no reason to be offended by what is written. There are certain social rules to any other Western European city, which is not the center of the universe for ideal living, which are if written down, can sound scary. I can write the things I've seen in Los Angeles and man, it can be very scary!

    I, myself, as a person living in Turkey, respect to ones who feast during Ramadan and don't eat in public. I don't want to take attention to myself especially in public, so I take care of how much I show off, unless If I really want to show off. I respect the ones who pray, like my grandfather, so I don't pass in front of him during his prayers. Yes, I think criticizing food, publicly, is inappropriate, one should appreciate being able to eat, everywhere. If the food is not tasty or unhealthy, which can happen, one can notify that in personal attitude or stay away. Yes, extreme politic views occur so you have to know what you talk about before you talk. Turkey, in general, has a political tension environment so for a tourist it is not worth to be involved in these tensions. It won't be dangerous but unnecessary.

    So, I agree with these short but efficient suggestions and wanted to say that it is very accurate, well done!

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