Hagia Sophia should not be converted to a Mosque in Turkey

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Appeal to Turkey’s President Erdogan about Hagia Sophia  

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is considering converting the Hagia Sophia to a Mosque, which has been a museum since its conquest. As Muslims, we appeal to President Erdogan to keep it as a Museum, and not convert it to a Mosque.  I speak for many Muslims in appealing to Erdogan to let it remain a museum. 

 The Hagia Sophia, built as a cathedral in the sixth century by the Byzantines before serving as a mosque for 500 years, has been a museum since the 1920s, when the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Attaturk, converted it to secular use. For the past few months, Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been making signs that he wants to turn the majestic building on the Bosporus back into a mosque.

Changing the status of Hagia Sophia, “one of the most contested buildings” in the world, according to a recent report in Al-Jazeera, would create needless animosity between Islam and Christianity, while offering only a short-term political gain for Erdogan’s pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party. 

 The idea of converting Hagia Sofia to a mosque offers a short-term political gain, but at the cost of long-term harmony between Muslims and Christians. 

The role of Muslims is to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill – a formula embedded in Prophet’s actions; he was a blessed peacemaker. Islam means peace, and it behooves us to achieve peace and harmony through our actions and words. 

The Greek Orthodox Church mourns the loss of their Church to Muslim conquest; however, they have accepted it. If this is converted to a mosque, it amounts to rubbing salt on the wounds. It will rekindle hostilities that none of us want. Today, the societies are moving towards respecting the otherness of the others. 

Hazrat Umar set a great example – after conquering Jerusalem, he was offered to pray in the Holy Sepulcher. He chose not to pray inside the church for the concern that the future generation of Muslims will convert it into a Mosque. 

Quran 22:40 essentially says God’s name is extolled abundantly in Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques. We have to protect such places of worship. God will most certainly assist him who succors His cause: verily, God is all-knowing and almighty.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) has paved the way for building bridges among different communities in the United States. It is the largest Muslim civic body in America. It maintains good relationships with all populations, including the Greek Orthodox hierarchy. ISNA has played Amin’s role in building a cohesive America and has earned the goodwill of Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others. Out of a sense of righteousness, they have stood up for Muslims against Islamophobic rhetoric during 9/11, and it continues today. We, the Muslims, appreciate them. 

 Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, President of ISNA, said, “The conversion of the Hagia Sophia was against the historical examples set by the righteous Caliphs, beginning with Abu Bakr when he advised his general heading to conquer foreign lands. The Umayyad Caliphs apologized and paid for the church land used to build the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. 

As American Muslims, we celebrate this Islamic provision in US law that enabled us to build 3 thousand mosques in the last half a century. Hagia Sophia is not just a Church; it is the main symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is a slap on the entire system of the Greek Orthodox Church and Greece. It fostered permanent hate against Muslims and Islam in those quarters.”

Dr. Syeed further adds, “The destruction of the Babri Mosque in India is a historical example of religious bigotry. We cannot do the same thing to Hagia Sophia.”  

Indeed, we have to be consistent in our policies – if we apply it in one place, we must be able to use it in every situation. As an Indian American Muslim, it hurts me to see the destruction of the Babri Mosque, and it equally hurts me to see the Hagia Sophia converted to a Mosque. We have to set an excellent example for the world. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, let Hagia Sophia be one as well.

 We urge President Erdogan to consider the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, who was and is a mercy to mankind. He granted permanent protection to places of Worship in the covenant he issued in 628 AD. A majority of Muslims believe in the sanctity of the location of Worship. We hope President Erdogan can be a catalyst in correcting false perceptions about Muslims and not convert Hagia Sophia into a Mosque. The majority of Muslims will applaud him for walking on the right path. May God bless him. 

Thanks to the following news media for publishing the article:

  1. Religion News Service
  2. EIN News
  3. Albilad Daily
  4. Muslim Times
  5. Muslim Mirror
  6. Counter-Currents
  7. Muslim Observer

Additional comments

Demir Yener writes
I would like to make an important correction to the statement attached herewith:

The 1500 year old Hagia Sophia church was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Conquest of Constantinopolis in May 29, 1453. Ottoman Empire was a polyglot empire and under its suzerainty people of all faiths enjoyed freedom to worship in their own temples and faiths.

The Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia Camii) served as a mosque with its Christian ornamentation until 1931. It was converted into a museum in 1931.

This marvelous structure served as a Roman Christian church after it was built under USA time Emperor Constantine in 537 until 1054. It was then converted into a Byzantine Greek church and served as such during 1054-1204. Then It served as a Roman Catholic churach and back to Greek Orthodox Church from 1204 till the Ottoman Conquest in 1453.

It is a magnificent edifice and was used as a model for architectural designs for so many years.

Erdogan happens to be a populist and in his almost 20 years in government his political stance is eroding.

So he is playing with the idea of gaining favor among his constituents. It is unlikely to pass the muster in Turkey.

Turkey is a secular country by its constitution and it is unlikely to make much difference for his appeal to the public.

There are so many mosques in Turkey at this time and they are having a hard time to congregate adequate numbers of faithful to fill those mosques.

This just happens to be my opinion and does not represent any party nor affiliation. I just happen to be a friend of Ben Boothe who has put us all together.

Dr. Mike Ghouse is the founder and president of the Center for Pluralism. He is a speaker, thinker, author, community consultant, pluralist, activist, news-maker, and an interfaith wedding officiant. Mike is deeply committed to Free speech, Human Rights, and Pluralism in Religion, Politics, Societies, and the workplace. He has dedicated his life to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions to the media and the policymakers. More about him at www.TheGhousediary.com

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