By Gulsum Incekaya
Africans living in Turkey have described the freedoms they enjoy to practice their religion and live without discrimination.
Both Christian and Muslim Africans have found a welcome in Turkish cities, although the largest group have settled in Istanbul.
As well as mosques and some functioning churches, others prefer to practice their religion in private homes or workplaces.
Cameroonian footballer Carlos Kameni, who plays in goal for Istanbul’s Fenerbahce, said he felt free to practice his Christian faith in Turkey.
“I live in Turkey, I play football in Turkey, I have never been a victim of discrimination in my private life or my beliefs,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“I am very happy to live in Turkey.”
Most African Christians in Istanbul live in the Mecidiyekoy and Aksaray districts on the city’s European side. Many are able to meet in churches across the city, where they foster a sense of community.
Modou Nar Toire, a Senegalese living in Istanbul, belongs to the Mouride order founded by Sheikh Amadou Bamba, a Sufi Muslim, in the 19th century.
He said Bamba’s followers would come together every Aug. 10 to mark his arrest by French colonial authorities in 1895 with 12 hours of prayer.
Mourides were able to practice their rites and ceremonies without disruption, Toire said.
“People come from many parts of the world and they settle here,” Chris Gomes, a Gambian who lives in Istanbul, said. “Our only problem is not knowing Turkish.”
“I have many Muslim friends as well as Turkish friends. Turkey is a very comfortable and free country in this sense.”
Up to 1.5 million Africans live in Turkey, according to official figures, with around a quarter in Istanbul.