I got a little inspiration from a previous post on the History part:

"Why were Albanians the only nation in the Balkans who converted to Islam during the Ottoman occupation?"

Does anyone know roughly how many ethnic Greeks converted to Islam during the Ottoman Empire and where are they now, how many are left, and do they have an identity?

  • The biggest difference between the ottoman empire, and earlier Islamic powers, is that their spread/forced islamization was a lot less pronounced, and peninsula greeks were already hardcore Christians, and their wasn't much conversion happening. the majority of the conversion was happening in the areas immediately around Constantinople/Istanbul which would have also been ethnically greek, however, this is now present day turkey which is a Muslim country.
    – Himarm
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:05
  • Apparently, there are 1.4 million Greek Muslims today. Where are they? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Muslims
    – Ain Jalut
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 21:05
  • It would be good if I could meet a Greek Muslim performing the Haj in Mecca reading the doas in Greek just like the Russians in their native language. Its a shame to lose this people to the exchange. Some Iranians have Armenian sounding names are they Iranian who migrated form Armenia? Where is the origin of Turks with -"oglou" in the last part of their names.
    – user11645
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 3:29

8 Answers 8


After the war between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of WW I the two countries agreed on an exchange of minorities. But the question of who was “Greek” and who was “Turkish” was decided entirely on the basis of religion (and not language etc.). This means the ethnic Greek (Greek-speaking) converts to Islam were classified as Turks and deported to Turkey. The thus defined “Turks” were, however, allowed to remain in Thrace (North-Eastern Greece), this also in terms of the treaty.

  • So what happened generally to Thessaloniki, Ioannina and Crete Greek Muslims?
    – Ain Jalut
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 20:00
  • 1
    I should think their children and grandchildren speak only Turkish.
    – fdb
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 21:14
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    Shame. It would be nice if the islands of Crete, Rhodes, Kos and western Macedonia and the Ioannina region still had sizeable Turkish or Muslim majorities.
    – Ain Jalut
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 22:22
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    That would be nice.. Like Cyprus..?
    – Greg
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 4:57
  • 5
    6 years late but as a great grandson of Muslim Greeks from Neapoli (Ioannia?) I can confirm that I only know Turkish. My father and his sisters can easily communicate in Greek (Rumca) but it contains some words that is not used in Modern Greek. Traditions are still practiced. But my generation and I won't be practicing them in the future as much. My generation (3rd born here) is less exposed to the old traditions and more exposed to the local traditions(living in large cities,ease of transportation, internet etc.). Almost all members of our community are heavily Kemalist and Turkish Patriots.
    – KhanElmork
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 11:59

This or other similar questions are very much debated, and does not have a simple answer.

One shall start by asking who is a Greek, and who is a Turk. Throughout the history, in the geography where Turkey is situated today, hundreds of different civilizations had lived, and one replaced the other. Hellenization of Asia Minor and beyond reached its climax with Alexander the Great, and almost all ethnic groups of Asia Minor were assimilated with Greek culture and language, who made up the Greeks reaching the times of the Byzantine Empire.

A similar path was followed before and during the Ottoman period by the Turks. Within centuries, the Turkish population have been formed, which is a combination of all those other ethnicities (including of Greeks) who turned Turkish. This was a similar case in Anatolia, as well as in Europe or other parts of the Ottoman Empire.

As one can guess, these different "ethnic" groups have shared a common ethnic background, after centuries of common living.

One important difference was about the citizenship system in the Ottoman Empire. Officially in the empire, there was not an ethnic system (which was used in almost all Europe), and instead a religious system was used. (Ethnic separation is forbidden by Islam) So there was no use of the term "Turkish". All muslims of the empire, independent of their ethnicities or native language were classified officially under the "Muslim" identity. The term "Turk" was not commonly used, but even it was used, it was synonymous with Muslim.

The same was used for non Muslims. Anyone belonging to the Greek Orthodox fate, no matter if they were of Greek, Armenian, Arabic and even Turkish origin, were all classified as "Greek".

Only about the 19th century, the nationalist ideas have reached the Ottoman Empire, and identities beyond the religious definitions were discovered. Such nationalism did not unite different religions of same ethnic groups, but mainly divided religious identities into ethnic groups.

First at the Balkans, the nationalist movements have ended up with declarations of war to the Ottoman state and seek of independence. This has immediately turned into an action towards to Muslim citizens of the state, independent of their ethnic origin. After decades of wars, bulk numbers of Muslims (of Turkish, Greek, Bosnian, Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian origins) had to leave their homelands, and fled to Turkey today.

This has caused a counter nationalism in the Turkish side, and other civil wars.

Eventually, when Modern Turkey and Modern Greece were founded, following wars in between, the Greek and Turkish populations who have lived in the common geography for centuries together as neighbors were not able sit side by side, due to hatred because of ugly consequences of war from both sides. They have signed a peace treaty, which also included the Forced Exchange of Turkish and Greek populations in between.

The Ottoman definition of Turkish and Greek were used. All "Greeks" residing in Turkey were forced to leave their homes and migrate to Greece, and all "Turks" residing in Greece were forced to leave their homes and migrate to Turkey as state agreements. (Due to the religious importance of Istanbul as the head of the Orthodox Church, an exception was given for the Greeks of Istanbul, which was balanced with the exception of the Turkish population of Western Thrace in Greece.)

On the population exchange, religion was used for the definition of nationalities. Many Orthodox Christians in Turkey, who were solely speaking Turkish, were exported to Greece. (Karamanlides are of such group). Many Muslims in Greece, who were solely speaking Greek, were exported to Turkey. (Cretan Muslims are of such group). Bernard Lewis, in his book "Middle East" states that these groups exchanged are Muslim Greeks and Orthodox Turks.

On the establishment of Modern Turkey, a nationalist system was used in contrary to the religious system of Ottoman Empire. In reality, simply the "Muslim" definition was replaced by "Turkish", and no matter what ethnic origin he/she is, all citizens were called Turkish.

Greece has followed a similar route. Such new national definitions have established roots in time, and turned into similar national meaning in Europe.

After all, when it comes to the question of what happened to Muslim Greeks? They were all exported to Turkey, and are the citizens of Turkey today. With one exception: The Greeks who turned Muslim before, and were already part of Muslim population of Turkey. Although most are totally assimilated, there are still small numbers of Turkish citizens who speak Greek dialects as native languages in villages even today. One example is Pontus Greeks of Black Sea, still remaining in the villages like those of the Çaykara town in Trabzon.


They melted in with the local population. In Turkey there's no such notion of pure race. I'm from a village located within the Black Sea region of Turkey. We have bazaar which are in ruins today left over from Greek villagers. However there are some Greek origin Muslims living in Trabzon area which still speak the language.


Although many of the Muslims in Greece were deported to Turkey, some ended up in other places.

In Crete, most of the Muslims were Greeks who had converted. There was a massacre by Greek nationalists at the end of the 19th century and many fled to other parts of what was still the Ottoman empire. Although many ended up in what is now Turkey (especially around Izmir), others ended up in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and Libya.

Similarly in the early 19th century after the creation of the Greek state, many people from the early Kingdom of Greece (Peloponnese) moved to Egypt. Amongst them were Greek-speaking Christians, Albanian-speaking Christians, and Albanian-speaking Muslims-- all coming from Greece.

It's also worth noting that the Muslims from Greece and the Christians from Turkey had many different backgrounds. In Greece, there were Greek-speaking, Turkish-speaking, Albanian-speaking, Vlach-speaking Muslims. (And I'm sure there are many more that I don't know about.) In Turkey there were again, Greek-speaking, Turkish-speaking, Arabic-speaking, Kurdish-speaking, Slavic-speaking etc Christians.

There were also other regions exempted from the population exchange. While the Lausanne treaty explicitly exempted the Muslims of Western Thrace and the Christians of Istanbul from the exchange, the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos were Italian colonies at the time of the exchange, and only annexed to Greece after WW2. There are still Muslims there, although they do not have the same legal recognition that the Muslims of Western Thrace have. Similarly in Turkey, the region of Hatay province was part of the French mandate of Syria during the population exchange. I believe there are still Christians there too.

There are also many stories of people who secretly converted during the population exchange in order to be able to stay. Some Muslims in Greece converted to Christianity and some Christians in Turkey converted to Islam.

Meanwhile, while the Greek-speaking Muslims from Crete who ended up in Turkey (again, there was no "Turkey" yet; it was all still the Ottoman empire) were pressured to assimilate and speak only Turkish, the ones who ended up in the parts of the empire that became the different Arab countries were more able to maintain their Greek language, especially those who ended up in Syria. In the Hamidiye region of Syria, along the coast just north of the Lebanese border, there are many Greek-speaking Muslims from Crete. Now, with the war in Syria some are actually returning to Crete-- over a century after their ancestors had been forced out. On the other hand I believe the Greek-speaking Cretan Muslims who went to Egypt became Arabized and intermarried with Arab Muslims.

Hope that helps


Hi Islam is not banned in Greece. Muslim Greeks are however discriminated against. Evidence of Islamic rule is very evident in Northern Greece. There are dozens of operating mosques on use in Thrace. These citizens are unfortunately exploited by the secular Kemalist State of modern Turkey. The majority of Greek Muslims were expelled to Turkey after the tragic exchange of populations. I believe that Greece agreed to exchange populations in order to stop the genocide of the Ottoman Christians which kemalist turkey had already began.

  • 4
    This answer would be improved by citations.
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 12:05

There is, to my knowledge, no single statistical answer to your question, given the fact that the Ottoman Empire lasted 400 plus years and that Greek conversions to Islam were not limited to a single year, decade, generation or even century. The Greek conversions to Islam-(mostly within Asia Minor/present-day Turkey), happened over many, many years. The best example-(and one that has some statistical validity), were the Janissares.

Arguably, the Fall of Constantinople in May, 1453, MAY have been significantly delayed had it not been for the Ottoman creation and facilitation of The Janissare Corps. A recent History Channel documentary described the numbers of both the Byzantine and Ottoman militaries. The Ottoman military, on the eve of Constantinople's "Fall", outnumbered the Byzantine military by 10:1. The Byzantine military, comparatively speaking, was outdated, miniscule and was largely relying on Genoese Mercenaries and Pirates, as well as Venetian fleets-(which, for mysterious reasons, never arrived). Yet, the Ottoman military, was increasingly comprised of the Janissare Corps. And while the Janissares did not comprise the entire 10:1 ratio, they did comprise a significant presence and representation within the growing Ottoman military.

The Janissares, were Greek converts to Islam-(as well as other Christian converts, including, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, including, Vlad Dracul/"Dracula's" brother and others). But the Janissare converts were not civilian converts, these were warrior converts who either had a previous military background or were preparing to hone their military skills. This particular band of Greek Christians, both symbolically and literally, "jumped ship" to the other side and became The Ottoman Empire's most ruthless and combative Corps. The Janissares were not just religiously Islamic, they were fully assimilated Turkish Muslims who also served as the militarized wing of the growing Ottoman imperial Government. But, the Janissares were not just confined to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Janissare Corps existed until the early 1800's. In other words, Greek converts-(as well as other Christian converts) to Islam, who also had a military background or the potential for becoming a warrior, either voluntarily joined or were forcibly recruited into the Janissare Corps-(the famous Ottoman Architect, Sinan, who may have been of Greek or partial Greek Christian descent, was a member of the Janissare Corps).

It is important to discuss the Janissares when discussing Christian, in particular Greek Christian conversions to Islam, since we have documentable historical evidence of their existence (and effectiveness for the Ottomans). While their numbers are probably much smaller than the more numerous civilian Greek Christian conversions to Islam-(again, mostly within Asia Minor/present-day Turkey), the civilian conversions are subject to speculation and conjecture with little statistical availability; (except if one were permitted to consult the Greek and Turkish state Archives, as well as permitted to consult religious records either within Greece or Turkey. This would perhaps serve as the best primary evidence that would help answer your question). However, there is encyclopedic, textual and yes even, mass media documentary historical evidence which better details the numerical presence and influence of the Janissare Corps during Ottoman times.

  • Please use the sites supplied edit and format tools to properly cite any relevant sources. Answers which do not properly provide or cite sources for non-trivial assertions tend to accumulate downvotes see meta. Consistently providing low quality answers can result in user suspension.
    – justCal
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 14:44

Your assertion is incorrect. Many populations converted to Islam in the Balkans including Greeks, Albanians, Bosnians, Cypriots, basically all over the Ottoman Empire. The island of Crete was a majority Muslim-Greek population. Greece however, did not recognize it's citizens as "Greek" if they were not Greek Orthodox Christians and would label them as either Latin (Greek catholic) or Turkish (Muslim). Bosnia also converted in large numbers as well as other Slavic groups.

Greeks calling Muslims "Turks" an entirely incorrect attribution. Greek nationalists identify religion with race. Greece to this day does not recognize Albanian as an ethnicity and refer to them as either "Greek" (orthodox) or Turkish (Muslim) ignoring that Albanian is an ethnicity with a super-state language shared by both religions that is neither Greek nor Turkish.

Greece expelled ethnically Greek Muslims to Turkey as part of the racial-nationalism that was common in the early 20th century. Turkey did not do the same. It did not classify Christians as "Greek" recognizing that religion does not supersede language and culture. In the population exchange Greek speaking Christians were sent to Greece from Turkey, however, Greeks sent any non-Christian. Greece's intent was not just to create and ethnically homogenous state based on language but also a religiously homogenous state. This was not practiced in the Ottoman Empire that was a Multi-ethnic state led largely by non-Turks.

There are large numbers of converts to Islam in the ottoman

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    The final paragraph appears to be incomplete.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 20:35

not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination. I found your post googling Muslim Greeks. My family's name is Hajecate. The story we were told was that cate was of Greek origin, and a great-great-great-grandfather went to the river Jordan and received the sure name Haj. I am wondering if they were not Muslim Greeks first before converting to orthodox generations later.

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