Web Desk

Reverting Hagia Sophia back to Mosque

Reverting Hagia Sophia back to Mosque
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

The Hagia Sophia, an architecturally famous structure in Istanbul Turkey, is in news because of the judgment of Turkey's top administrative court which termed its conversion of 1930s into a museum as illegal. Since then the judgment has been a matter of debate among various circles.Waseem Makai reviews the opinions of various prominent personalities all across the world which came as endorsements or criticism of the Hagia Sophia Judgment.

Waseem Makai

When Osman Serdinciwas brought in front of the prosecution body, he was unmoved and unflinching in his monologue: “The prosecutor brought this case to the wrong place and it would have been better if he had sent the file to Greece…This comparison drives me crazy…it seems as if I see a representative of Athens and not a Muslim Turkey in the prosecution in this country that survived effort of religion and faith, the country of martyrs and veterans, why is the voice of our conscience, our faith and our history considered a crime?”. This trial was going on in the aftermath of his famous poem in which he had longed for the reopening of Hagia Sophia mosque “Hagia Sophia! O great temple, do not worry, the descendants of the conqueror will destroy all idols, turn you into a mosque, perform ablution with their tears, and make prostration between your walls, and the cheering and magnification will repeat among your domes. And this will be the second conquest, and the poets will write about the epics, and the call to prayer will again be heard and the sounds of enlargement from those silent orphan minarets, and the balconies of your minarets will glow in the lights in the sanctification of God and the honor of his Prophet, so that people will think that conqueror has resurrected again…” In early 1980s, Osman Serdinci was sentenced to death.

Apparently, it seems Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the man destined to live up to the call of Osman. On July 9, Turkey’s top administrative court ruled the 1934 conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum as illegal, paving way for the monument to be reopened for prayers after around 90 years. As anticipated, the move got sandwiched between the secular bloc, which vehemently denounced the move for undercutting the secular roots of the country, and the ones more assertive in their Muslim outlook. In an interview shortly after the verdict, the noble laureate Orhan Pamuk told the BBC: “There are millions of secular Turks like me who are crying against this but their voices are not heard…To convert it back to mosque is to say to the rest of the world, unfortunately, we are not secular anymore”. Towards the end of this midday sermon in Saint Peter’s square, Pope Francis said: “I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened”. Bishop Hilar ion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for external Church relations, described it as “a blow to global Christianity”. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also condemned the move, not just for the damage it would do to relations between Greece and Turkey, but Ankara’s relations with “the European Union, UNESCO and the world community”.

In India, the move predominantly reverberated across the Hindu society, the raison d’etre of which is to draw justification for its claim over the remnants of Babri Masjid. Journalist Seema Chisti in her Scroll piece “Hagia Sophia: Lacking ideas for the future, rulers in Turkey, India offer comfort in idealized pasts” found a “curious coincidence”, on the same day as the Turkish ruling, a three-judge bench in the Supreme Court in India was hearing a petition regarding the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura. The case filed by the Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangah and others claim that the two structures were built after raising down the Hindu Temples. Towards the end of her article, Seema lamented: “Is there no hope for the future that rulers can offer? Is the only comfortable abode for them to lead their people towards buried in the past?

Muslims have incessantly been accusing seculars and custodians of West for their doublespeak and turning a blind eye when it came to safeguarding the legal rights of Muslims.

However, all these allegations and apprehensions stood out rightly rejectedby the opposite bloc, which hailed the move in an unprecedented manner and people, gathered outside Hagia Sophia, were seen resonating to the Azaan made from inside. It isn’t any rocket science to fathom out the reason why the Muslim bloc was very assertive in its position of reverting the museum back to its original position of mosque. The secular lobby, or for that matter the West in general has to a large extent lost its moral position of lecturing the world in general, and Muslims in particular about principles of equality, justice and inclusiveness. Muslims have incessantly been accusing seculars and custodians of West for their doublespeak and turning a blind eye when it came to safeguarding the legal rights of Muslims. It’s for the same reason Erdogan launched a scathing attack over his critics while dismissing protests from Russia, USA, France and UNESCO: “Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries, attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights”, he said. Erdogan can’t be accused of being out of sync with reality while he launches such a response. The 2016 nominee for Democrats, Hillary Clinton, writes Khalid Beydoun in his American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear, would always be cautious while referring to Muslims as she would add qualifiers like terror hating or peace loving to Muslims. Addressing to Muslims without using qualifiers, she apprehended, would cost her political mileage.

Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries, attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights

Notable Pakistan based columnist, Riayatullah Farooqi called out the bluff of American representatives and liberal class in one of his Facebook posts: “Ever since there was a growing demand for Dr. Afiya Siddique’s release, America would manage to dodge the question by invoking the sanctity of its courts which have convicted Afiya Siddique in multiple charges. They can’t override,they would argue, their rulings of the court, whatever it may be. Then why don’t they come to terms with the fact that it is the Supreme Court of Turkey which has ruled in favor of mosque”.

Underpinning the Turkish move with legal testimonies, Dr. Muhammad Mushtaq, Director General, Shariah Academy, International Islamic University, Islamabad, wrote in one of his pieces that after conquering Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) in 1453, Sultan Mohamad Fateh-II, was extremely mesmerized by the beauty and grandeur of Hagia Sophia and decided to buy it. Since, unlike Islam, Christianity has this provision to sell off their places of worship (taking leverage of the very same provision, Muslims in many European countries bought churches and converted them into mosque). Sultan Mohamad Fateh-IIoffered a handsome deal to the caretakers of church and presented himself as just any other commoner, devoid of any royal extravagance, expressing a keen interest to buy the structure. In fact, the documents, ascertaining Sultan’s property rights were retrieved from the Turkey’s official archive database. These documents are twenty-seven thousand in number which include payment bonds also. Dr. Raziul Islam Nadvi, Secretary Tasneefi Academy, JIH, too, in one of his pieces in Nayasaweralive corroborated this stance that as per the rulings of Islamic jurisprudence, it was absolutely legitimate for the Sultan to convert the Church into mosque. The principle position remained that the conqueror, after conquering a piece of land, was vested with all the powers as how to deal with the places of worship of non-Muslims. He was free to retain the old position of such structures if he wished so, and was free to do the otherwise also. Pertinent to mention, the principle was not associated with Muslims only, it was norm of the day. No wonder if we still find a huge list of those Churches in Spain, which were converted from mosques. Muslims never claimed back their right over these structures.

Responding to the query about UNESCO’s declaration of Hagia Sophia as world heritage, Dr. Mushtaq argues that by any such declaration from UNESCO, the country does not lose property rights over its own structure. The Lahore Fort, which is a citadel in the city of Lahore, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “outstanding repertoire” in 1981. Despite that, the govt. of Pakistan, on numerous instances, have organized different musical concerts there and continues to do so. If organizing concerts doesn’t undermine the World Heritage status bestowed upon the Lahore Fort, asks Dr. Mushtaq, how come offering prayers will make any difference to the same status of Hagia Sophia?

People who are skeptic with the move for they believe it will weaken the moral position of Muslims over Masjid-e-Qurtuba and Bait-ul-Muqaddas, says Dr. Mushtaq, are unbeknownst of the legal intricacies involved in these cases. Masjid-e-Qurtuba came under the control and possession of Christians in fifteenth century and as per the established norms, the possession was complete. Now, Muslims who mourn the loss of this significant structure, are actually giving vent to their emotions which are hinged with the mosque till this day. There is no legal side to the story.However, Masjid-e-Aqsa was taken possession of in 1967, when in accordance to the international laws, there was no legal sanctity to such a move. Much before this, in 1928, based on a pact between two nations, the rule wherein a conquering nation had all the rights over the conquered land was struck down as void. Other countries joined later in. Therefore, having almost fifty-three years gone by, the status of Israel still remains of an occupying force, the official declaration of which was made in a 2003 verdict by International Court of Justice. The said verdict was pertaining to the legal right of Palestine to build a wall in its territory.

Likewise, people who draw a juxtaposition between the case of Hagia Sophia and Babri Masjid are too succumbing to a grave error. Babar had conquered the land when the nature of expansion was as such. He commissioned the construction of a mosque there, immaterial of whether it was the birth place of Lord Ram or not, he had all the rights to do whatever he pleased with the land. After India become a sovereign state in 1947, the status of all religious structures should have been frozen, barring any tampering with their religious and symbolic value. It is for this purpose the places of Worship Act 1991 was passed during the tenure of Narsima Rao, which would freeze the status of religious places to what they were on 15th of August, 1947. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the case filed by the Vishwa Bhadna Pujari Purohit Mahasangah and others, apart from restoration of Gyanvapi mosque and Shahi Idgah to the status of temples, challenge the constitutionality of this very act.

To conclude, people in West who feel insecure about the religious liberties of non-Muslims in Turkey, must bother to go through the statistics for once. Muslims constitute around 5.1% of UK’s population and there is one mosque for 1,707 Muslims. Netherlands has 5% of its population Muslim, it has one mosque for 1,728 Muslims, Russia has one mosque for 2,875 Muslims, US has one mosque for 1,600 Muslims, France has one mosque for 2,400 Muslims and Germany offers one mosque for 2,200 Muslims. Contrary to this, Turkey has a Christian population of 180,850 and about 20, 000 Jews. Non-Muslims constitute roughly 0.4% of the population, but Turkey proudly boasts of offering one place of worship for 461 non-Muslims which is almost five times more than what the Western countries offer to its Muslim citizens.

The author is a Ph.D student at Department of English, Aligarh Muslims University. He can be reached at waseemmakai@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *