Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) notes with consternation the announcement on Friday 10 July by Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the Hagia Sophia will revert to a Mosque that will be open for Muslim prayers from 24 July 2020.
The Hagia Sofia is an architectural wonder built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian. From the date of its construction in 537 CE until 1453 CE, it served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It was one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity and the historic seat of Eastern Christianity.
The Ottomans under Sultan Mehmet II, upon conquering the ancient city of Constantinople in 1453, converted the Hagia Sofia Cathedral into a mosque – adding minarets alongside the flat domes. However, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey, the Hagia Sofia was turned into a museum in 1934.
In the subsequent 85 years, the story of Hagia Sofia has been fore grounded as a symbol of religious co-existence in modern Turkey. The history of violent conquest and conversion of the Hagia Sofia from church to mosque has never been forgotten but the greater spirit of a shared humanity and heritage in the form of this awe-inspiring architectural wonder has magnanimously been invoked across generations.
The announcement by the President of Turkey that the Hagia Sofia will once again function as a mosque, is a deliberate provocation to orthodox Christian communities in Turkey and elsewhere and a betrayal of the sublime Islamic teachings of benevolence and interreligious harmony. Such an inspirational teaching of interreligious peace-building and magnanimity is strikingly articulated in Surah al-Hajj, chapter 22 verse 40, where Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, exhorts Muslims to safeguard and protect all sacred places of worship, including Churches, Monasteries and Synagogues.
The great city of Istanbul is dotted with magnificent masajid both ancient and new, including the great Sultan Ahmad Masjid or “Blue Mosque,” situated less than 100m from the Hagia Sofia. There is certainly no space problem in accommodating the large numbers of Muslim worshippers in Istanbul’s masajid. The decision to now re-purpose the Hagia Sofia does not serve a religious purpose.
A masjid is a house of reverence, reflection and worship but this political move constitutes a hegemonic display of power and Muslim religious dominance by Turkey’s ruling party and its populist president. Further, it is injurious to an ethos of religious plurality and interfaith harmony that we as conscientious Muslims should seek to uphold.
We call on Turkish authorities to revoke this lamentable decision. The Hagia Sofia remains a holy site and place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians around the world. Acknowledging this will promote a healing narrative that eschews religious triumphalism and affirms the history of both Christians and Muslims in the region. The Hagia Sofia could continue to serve as a great monument to interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence.
CLAREMONT MAIN ROAD MASJID BOARD OF GOVERNORS.