Turns out it’s not just a rumor that powerful Islamists within Turkey’s government are agitating to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. One of the greatest Christian churches in the world was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century. It was made a museum under Kemal Ataturk’s secularist government in the 1930s. But now, those days may be coming to an end. Last month, a nationalist party introduced a bill to officially return the Hagia Sophia to mosque status. And:
“We currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, remarked last month during a dedication of a museum of Caucasus carpets and rugs in the Hagia Sophia complex. “We are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon.”
Arinc, also a senior Cabinet minister from the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, mentioned two recent conversions of smaller Byzantine-era museums — in Trabzon in the northeast and Iznik near Istanbul — that have become working mosques.
The speech was just the latest call for the building to be converted into a mosque after a sermon in October by the imam of the neighboring Sultan Ahmet mosque. He told worshippers a conversion must take place, and his comments were soon followed by a campaign launched by the far-right National Turkish Student Association.
There is no need to do this. None. It is an act of cultural imperialism, nothing more. The Islamists simply want to rub the noses of secularists and Christians in their powerlessness under the new Islamist order. It is true that in ages past, triumphant religions made their own temples out of the temples of the defeated. The Church did this to many pagan temples, and, notably, seized the grand Cordoba mosque in the Reconquista, and turned it into a church. Neither Christians nor Muslims have clean hands in these matters.
That said, nearly a century ago, the secular rulers of Turkey made the generous decision to make the Hagia Sophia, which stood as one of the world’s great Christian churches for 1,000 years, into neutral ground between the religions. That part of Istanbul is home to glorious mosques, most notably the famed Blue Mosque. There are plenty of beautiful and historic places for Muslims to pray in that part of Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia stands today as a monument, not a house of worship. I have been there. Were it still a mosque, that would be one thing. But again, for most of the last century it has been a museum. What is wrong with that? We live in a different era now, an era in which among advanced countries, this kind of thing is not supposed to happen.
And yes, if the Cordoba cathedral had been taken by the Spanish government a hundred years ago and made into a museum, I may not have liked it, but I would see an attempt by the current government to return it to Christian status, however much it might please me as a Christian, as an unwise, unnecessary, and aggressive act.
This proposal by members of the Islamist government is a stunning act of cultural aggression against secularist Turks, Christians, and academics, who have been protesting the idea, to no avail. If it succeeds, I hope there is a widespread movement in the West to boycott tourism to Turkey in protest.
At GetReligion, TMatt says this is a big deal, and it’s time for our media to cover it. Yes. The official Islamification of life in this NATO country that still wants to be part of the European Union is a big story. If the Turks retake the Hagia Sophia for Islam, that should forever slam the door to the possibility of Turkey’s joining the EU. It would be helpful if European governments would make that clear to Ankara.