Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hagia Sofia Might Become a Mosque, So What?


By Yomna El-Saeed

Freelance Writer- Egypt

Sunday, 08 June 2014


In May 31, a large crowd of people, who demand Istanbul’s monumental Hagia Sophia to be turned into a mosque, gathered in front of it early before the Fajr Prayer. Anatolia Youth Association (AGD) called for this event and famous Saudi Sheikh Abdullah Basfar was the Imam. They all prayed outside the museum and after the prayer, they chanted slogans that said Hagia Sophia should turn into a mosque.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal advisory body that monitors the universal right to religious freedom globally, urged the Turkish Prime Minister to reject this demand and maintain Hagia Sofia's current status.

Also, According to a report by Deutsche Welle, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel during her meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, who was on an official trip to Germany, expressed her opposition over this plan.

Case against converting the museum to a mosque

Personally, I'm against this conversion. First of all, Istanbul is not short of mosques to need this museum. Any wanderer in Istanbul, will see a number of mosques in each and every neighborhood, and hear adhan coming from everywhere.

In addition, Turkey's main attraction/monument, the gigantic Blue Mosque, is only 3-minute walk from Hagia Sofia. So, no need for another mosque there! 

On the other hand, in the very city of controversial Hagia Sofia, liquors are available in the overwhelming majority of the restaurants and cafes. The city is affluent with bars and night clubs. Women in the streets (who I guess most of which are tourists) wear very revealing clothes. Moreover, banners of "Erotic shops" are openly hung in the streets. One cannot see such things in main touristic majority-Muslim countries, like Egypt or Malaysia for example.

Turkey is full of Islamists and Sufis, but these manifestations show that Ataturk and his followers did great job eroding the Islamic expression in the fabric of the Turkish culture. This means that converting Hagia Sofia into a mosque is not the best way to revive the Islamic spirit in Turkey in general, or Istanbul in specific. I don't see it a way to do it at all. It will not serve Islam, or strengthen the da'wa, or even beautify the image of Muslims.

I know that Hagia Sofia is not just a place, but a sign. However, to be practical, I believe fixing what Ataturk has ruined is by working slowly and steadily on fixing the culture itself, not but taking such a trouble-making step.

I'm also concerned that in case the museum is successfully turned into a mosque, the same people will call for ruining the ancient monumental Christian mosaic, as it will permanently be a Muslim's territory. And this will create a viscous circle of nuisance to Turkey both internally and externally.

Personally, I can't feel comfortable praying in a place filled with such drawings that reflect a religious belief I disapprove of. But also, I'm against any future trial to ruin them, as I know for sure that Muslims in this city have more than enough mosques, freely practice Islam, and live in piece with Christians.

Comparing Hagia Sofia to Cordoba's mosque/cathedral

Some of those who call to convert Hagia Sofia, which was originally a Church for 1000 years, then a mosque after the Islamic conquest for 500 years, compare it to Cordoba's mosque that was converted to a cathedral after the fall of Andalucia.

Well, I have to say that both cases are different. What happened in Turkey was that Sultan Mehmed II took Hagia Sofia Church as a sign of control on the city, without causing any harm to Christians. While in Cordoba, it was pure Christianization of the city; a very strict one, as well as clear oppression for Muslims; that 4 years ago, when two Muslims tried to pray in the cathedral, they were arrested.

A local bishop, Demetrio Fern├índez, insisted that a ban on Muslim prayers must remain. More importantly, I'm against any religious group taking any warship place of other religion just because at that moment they are stronger. This is against the prophet's teachings. 

Instead of imitating the Cordoba model, I prefer imitating Umar Ibn Al-Khattab's model; who after his victory in Jerusalem's conquest he didn't try to take the Church of Nativity. He even refused to pray there in order to prevent any future generation from doing so.

An out-of-the-box suggestion

Last month, Mustafa Akyol; a Turkish writer and journalist who describes himself as a classical liberal, has written in his column in Hurriyet Daily News about this controversy and suggested a unique suggestion to solve this issue.

He suggested converting Hagia Sofia into a worship place for both Muslims and Christians. He wrote " as a defender of religious freedom, and religious person myself, I am not a great fan of converting places of worship into museums.

Communist regimes used to do that, assuming that religion had to go into the trash bin of history. Admittedly, the Kemalist regime, which converted Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935, was driven not only by such ideological secularism, but also concerns of international politics.Yet still, I am willing to rethink this old decision."

He went on explaining his suggestion, saying that not only Muslims but also Orthodox Christians yearn for a free Hagia Sophia in which they can worship their Lord, And that both religions, have a long history here: Hagia Sophia served Christians from 360 A.D., when it was built by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine II, to 1453, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.

The latter converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and it served Muslims for the next five centuries. He then articulated his suggestion that the upper level of Hagia Sofia can be dedicated to Christians on Sunday, for example, and the lower level for Muslims on Friday.

This situation is nothing new in the Islamic history; as in the early seventh century, the Grand Umayyad Mosque of Damascus was shared by Muslims and Christians.

Doing this in Turkey in the 21st century, will be a spectacular gesture, not just for the followers of both religions, but for the rest of the world. I know that this suggestion sounds weird, but it is worth trying, or at least discussing. What I liked most about this suggestion is that it's different and out of the box; it went further than answering that yes-or-no question "Should Hagia Sofia be converted to a mosque?