Worship for Expatriates Living in Turkey and Istanbul

Turkey is a country that is 99.8% Muslim. That should be a consideration for anyone planning to relocate to Istanbul. The Islam religion has many traditions and practices that must be respected by the ex-pat.

One example is the Kurban Bayrami, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice. Kurban Bayrami is a significant four-day festival in Turkey. During this festival, sheep and goats are sacrificed in the streets. The poor citizens receive meat from these sacrifices. In most villages, there are fenced areas for the sheep and goats to be held until the time of sacrifice. There may be an excess of blood on the roads and the smell of blood. It is not for the fainthearted. Whilst we may not agree with this custom, we must respect it.

The call to prayer is another daily aspect of Islam. Every mosque has loudspeakers attached to the minarets. The sounds of the ezan or call to prayer echo from the minarets five times a day. This call reminds the faithful to attend prayer at their local mosque. At prayer time, foreigners are not allowed to visit the mosques.

Hagia Sophia

This mosque is the most important in Istanbul for its history and architecture. It was first built as a church by the Roman Empire but was later converted into a mosque in 1453 by Fatih Sultan Mehmet. In 1935 it became a museum. In 2020 it returned to being a mosque.

The Blue Mosque

Not far from Hagia Sophia is the magnificent Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii. Its spectacular interior of blue tiles is a prime example of Turkish Islamic architecture. It is also famous for its six minarets.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Built in 1550 by the famed architect Sinan, this mosque is another example of Turkish Islamic architecture and has four minarets. Located in Fatih, it has gardens and views over the Golden Horn.

Whilst Islam is the dominant religion, Turkey is a secular country that practices freedom of religion. There is a Christian community as well as Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Jews.


In Istanbul, there are a few Catholic churches.

  • The largest parish is the Minor Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua. This church in Taksim is run by Italian priests. You can attend mass here in English as well as Turkish. You can check the mass schedule here.

  • Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is in Harbiye district and has a mass in English every Sunday. For more information on this cathedral, click here.

  • Saint George’s Cathedral has a mass in German. For more information and mass times, click here.

Jewish Religion

There are currently 26 active synagogues in Istanbul. It is estimated that around 26,000 Jew lives in Istanbul though this number used to be much larger. These Jews are descendants of the influx of Jew to Turkey in 1492 due to the Spanish Inquisition. At the time, Sephardi or Spanish Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or flee. The Ottoman Empire welcomed them to their great city of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul.

In 1917 there was also an influx of Russian Jews fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1933, the Turkish leader Atatürk invited Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany. This included top scientists and educated professionals that would benefit Turkey.

Click here for a list of synagogues in Istanbul.

Armenian Orthodox

In 2008 it was estimated that there were between 50,000 and 70,000 Armenian Orthodox in Istanbul. Their descendants had originally migrated there after the Ottoman Conquest in 1463. There are 35 Armenian Orthodox churches in Istanbul but only 28 are still active.

Kartal Surp Nişan Armenian Church in the Kartal neighbourhood was built around the 16th century and has been in service since 1857.

Greek Orthodox

Greek Orthodox Christians in Istanbul account for only about 2000 followers these days, however, there used to be many more. Hence, the beautiful churches in Istanbul, Hagia Triada in Taksim being the largest. It was built in 1880 in a Neo-baroque style with a distinctive dome and twin bell towers.

Top Seven Must-see Churches of Istanbul

For those interested in churches and their splendid architecture, The Guide Istanbul has a list here.