Turkey's Decision about Reconvertion of Hagia Sophia: A Step BackwardsJuly 11, 2020
On July 10, 2020, President Erdogan signed a decree allowing the Hagia Sophia to be reconverted into a mosque. The move came after an administrative court annulled the Cabinet’s 1934 decision, signed by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, himself. The Hagia Sophia, or Great Mosque of Ayasofya as it is officially named, is now all set to begin daily Muslim prayers from July 24.
As I sit here, reading about Turkey’s decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, I can’t help but feel deeply disappointed. This historic and iconic structure has been a symbol of both Christianity and Islam, a testament to the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Turkey, and a source of pride for people of different faiths all over the world. And now, it has been stripped of its secular status and turned into yet another battleground in the ideological wars of our time.
The Hagia Sophia is a marvel of architectural design and engineering, a masterpiece that has survived wars, earthquakes, and political upheavals for over a millennium. Built as a Christian cathedral in 537 AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, it remained the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. In 1453, when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, the cathedral was turned into a mosque and remained so for almost 500 years. In 1935, the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, turned the Hagia Sophia into a museum, recognizing its historical and cultural significance for both Christians and Muslims.
But now, all of that has been undone. President Erdogan’s decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is not only a regressive step, but also an unnecessary provocation against Christianity. It sends a message that Turkey is more interested in asserting its Islamic identity than in preserving its multicultural heritage. It’s true that there has been a long-standing demand among nationalist and conservative Turkish Muslims to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, but that doesn’t mean that it was the right thing to do.
As an admirer of Turkey’s rich and diverse history, I can’t help but feel sad and disappointed by this decision. It’s not just about the Hagia Sophia; it’s about what it represents – a shared history, a common cultural legacy, and a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves. By turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Turkey is sending a message that it values its Islamic identity more than its secular and pluralistic traditions. This is a dangerous path to take, one that will only lead to more divisions and conflicts.
In conclusion, I hope that Turkey’s leaders will reconsider their decision and restore the Hagia Sophia to its former status as a museum. Let’s not let our narrow sectarian interests override our common humanity and our shared cultural heritage.