Divisive plan to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Turning Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia back into a mosque would be divisive, says Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the Patriarch of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

At present the fate of the building, that has been a museum since 1934, rests on an upcoming Turkish court ruling.

President Tayyip Erdogan proposed restoring the mosque status of the Hagia Sophia, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sixth century building, which has served firstly the Christian Byzantine and then the Muslim Ottoman empires, is one of Turkey’s most visited monuments today. It is known in Turkish as Ayasofya.

The court is set to rule on a challenge to the Hagia Sophia’s current status. The legality of its conversion into a museum during the early years of the modern secular Turkish state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is under the legal spotlight.

Bartholomew, who is is based in Istanbul, says converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world.

For 900 years the Hagia Sophia was the foremost church in Christendom. For the next 500 years after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, it became one of Islam’s greatest mosques.

It is still a vital centre where East and West embrace, the Patriarce told a church congregation.

Changing its status will “fracture these two worlds” at a time when mankind needs unity more than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

However, groups have campaigned for years for the museums reconversion into a mosque. Erdogan, a pious Muslim, backed their call ahead of local elections last year.

Many Turks argue that mosque status would better reflect the identity of Turkey as an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Recent polls show most Turks support the proposal.

Representatives of the United States and neighbouring Greece say they are concerned about the bid to restore the mosque status of the building.

The U.S. religious freedom envoy, Ambassador Sam Brownback, says it holds enormous spiritual and cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world. He is calling on Ankara to retain its status.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is not happy with what he sees as international interference.

“This is a matter of national sovereignty,” he says.

“What is important is what the Turkish people want.”


Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: ,