HAGIA SOPHIA - Turning it to Mosque is not victory of Islam
In 537 the Byzantine emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The biggest building in the world at that time, it was used as worship place by Orthodox and Catholic Christians at various times. The Ottoman Sultan Muhammad Fateh captured Constantinople in 1453 and converted it into a mosque. Some Muslims claim that he bought it from its authorities and the Turkish government still has the deed of sale. In 1924, Kemal Atatürk abolished the Caliphate, established a secular state, and converted it into a museum in 1934. Then on 10 July 2020, Turkish President Erdoğan converted it to a mosque when the Supreme Court ruled that it was wrong to turn it into a museum.
Many countries and Islamic organizations supported it. Many Muslims hailed it as a 'victory for Islam', some saw a 'Muslim New Sultan of the World' in Erdogan, some even saw it as 'successful revenge on India over the Indian government’s decision of demolishing the great historical Babri mosque to build a temple there. Turkey’s Supporters argue that:-
• Dr. Yasir Qadhi claimed that the victorious sultan had the right to do whatever he pleased with the church. He could get it free, but still he bought it.
• Dr. Zakir Naik claimed that Jerusalem had a peace treaty with Muslims which Constantinople did not have. So, it is not right to compare the two.
• Recently many churches in the West have been sold to mosque committees.
• Why would it be unfair to restore the old mosque used as a museum?
• In many countries, including Spain, non-Muslims defeated Muslims and turned many mosques into churches.
• Where was the world-conscience when Israel turned the 700-year-old Al Ahmar mosque into a night club?
• What was UNESCO doing when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992?
However, the latter examples are also crimes, and one crime cannot justify another. Moreover, Israel converted Al Ahmar Mosque into a night club, why did Muslim leaders not do anything against this despicable act? Why the powerful OIC (organizations of Muslim Cooperation) of Fifty-six Muslim countries did not do anything? They could have shaken the world on this issue.
"What the Ottoman Emperor did was shameful, humiliating and a clear sin….. Now Turkey has done it again, a shameful, humiliating, and clear sin" – said former diplomat now a Senior Imam Sheikh Imran Hussain, who has millions of followers.
This non-urgent controversy made the global Corona-situation pandemic worse. All societies have sectarian rogues, as noted Turkish political expert and journalist Yaldirai Ogur said "Turkey's decision may be used against Western Muslims in the future". Noura bint Muhammad Al Kaabi, minister of Youth and Culture of the UAE and Chairperson of the National Committee for Education and Science said the world's religious and cultural traditions were the treasure of the world's people, they should be preserved.
Some of the Anti-Turkey columns of Saudi Gazette, Al Arabiya, Arab News, etc., called Erdoğan 'hypocrite' and 'extremist'. According to many Muslims, including Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, Turkey should have followed the example of Omar (R) in current rising global sectarian conflict. He went there when the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638 AD. When Sophronius, the city priest, invited him to pray inside the church, he said that if he prayed there, the Muslims in the future might turn the church into a mosque under this pretext. He offered prayers outside the church where later the 'Masjid Omar' was built.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church was with Turkey, the Pope of the Vatican was 'hurt', various countries including UNESCO, the European Union, the United States, and Greece strongly condemned Turkey. UNESCO asked Turkish government to comply with the international laws of the "World Heritage List" that includes Hagia Sophia. In response, Turkey's foreign minister stubbornly said, "We must protect the traditions of our ancestors, and we will strongly reject any opinion that violates Turkey's sovereignty."
1. Hagia Sophia was not a neighborhood church; it was the central church of the world's biggest religious community. It was just like the Kaaba of Muslims, the Vatican of Christians, the Golden Temple of Sikh in Amritsar India, etc. None has the right to buy or sell these.
2. The claim that the victorious Sultan ‘bought' his own property is baseless. In the past the victorious kings were the sole owner of every inch of the land, houses, and even the defeated people.
3. Even if the theory of “buying’ Hagia Sophia is correct, it is impossible that the defeated disgraced priest would sell it happily. As Dr. Yaris Qadhi said, he must have been under serious pressure, which is highly immoral. In Islam it is forbidden to build mosque on a place acquired immorally or illegally.
4. Churches that have now been bought and converted into mosques in the West are mainly trust properties, not private. These trades are regulated by state law unlike those of past conquering kings.
5. “Internal matter” is a pretext touted by criminal governments to cover their crimes. In 1971 when the then Pakistani army committed one of the worst genocides and mass-rapes in human history on the common people of the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and world’s leaders and civil societies stood against it, the criminal government claimed the genocide and mass-rape as its “Internal Matter”.
6. No violation of Human Rights can be anyone’s 'internal matter'. The whole world has the right and responsibility to stand against all injustice. As Martin Luther King (Junior) rightly said - "Injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere".
7. Turkish example can cause serious damage to world-peace. It gives Israel the right to turn Al Aqsa Mosque to synagogue because before Islam it was their place of worship. The Indian Hindu radicals are ready with a list of 39,000 mosques that they claim were built on temples by Mughal emperors. There are other examples. Turkish example empowers and encourages them to turn those mosques to temples.
Civilization has advanced on the strength of alliance and agreement, not conflict. The victory of Islam is in establishing Islamic values in life and society, not in conquering buildings or lands by court-marching or army. In the past, many victorious kings might have destroyed or converted worship-places of the defeated into their own. We must not carry the burden of that ghost. Let all worship places of the world remain as is, let people build new ones if they need or want.