By Mohamed-Amin Adam
On July 10, Turkish’s highest administrative court annulled a 1934 cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a place of worship after an 86- year hiatus.
The judges decided that as the Hagia Sophia was owned by the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han Foundation, the government did not have the right to change its designation regarding its use, which for centuries prior had been as a mosque.
The UK fresh out of the European Union was silent in this matter, due to the bilateral trade deal with Turkey and because of this Britain decided not to regard Hagia Sophia case as a main issue.
This decision has caused Western World outcry. They (the west) claimed this monument is global and United Nations Cultural Agency heritage and it is decision should have been a global one. On the other hand Turkey government says this is internal matter and since Turkey is a sovereign nation then their domestic issues should be respected.
Many western well known senior politicians as well as religious leaders criticised this move including Pope Francis, the World Council of Churches, The Russian deputy head of the foreign affairs upper house of parliament, EU foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borell, Cyprus state, EUNESCO. The harshest war of words came from Greece, Turkey and Greece clash on several matters from airspace to maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean and ethnically split Cyprus. The Greek Foreign Ministry says “the international community of the 21st century is stunned to observe the religious and nationalist fanatic ramblings of today’s Turkey.”
The Irony is Greece is one of the few places in the world where mosques and historical Muslim buildings were either destroyed or closed, this applies to many Greek cities including, Athens, Ioannia, Larisa, Giannitsa, Crete and Kavala.
In Athens, which has always been the state capital city is the only Western city where there is no an official mosque in the 21st Century. The oldest mosque, Fethiye Mosque that was built during the Ottoman rule in the city has been changed to military prison and later a warehouse, The Cizderiye Mosque, located a few minutes’ walk from the Fethiye Mosque is closed. There are no traces of buildings such as Yeni Mosque, Domed Mosque, Le Kale Mosque and many other Islamic sites all have vanished into tin air. Another remarkable example is Hamza Bey Mosque, the mosque became a cinema and used for showing adult movies until the 1980s.There is always a great contrast between a good and evil; Greece either destroyed or closed the mosques while Turkey says that changing the status of Hagia Sophia to a mosque means it will be open every day for visitors and everyone can enter the complex.
The reconversion of this 6th century iconic structure in Istanbul has gone through legal process and the outcome of the decision was mixture of happiness and sadness; happiness for the majority of Muslim world including majority Turkish people and sadness of the Western world mainly Christian Orthodox. Since, Turkey is free, sovereign country it doesn’t deserve to be contested internationally.
According to Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish Presidential spokesperson says that religious minorities including Christian and Jews have freedom, acceptance and co-existence. They are free to worship and practice in their religion. Their properties that have been confiscated in the past have now been returned to them, they can have their own churches and synagogues and they can appoint their own religious leaders without state’s interferences and they are equal-civilians of the country.
Global Muslim Reaction
Political parties and religious groups in two of the world’s largest Muslim nations, Pakistan and Indonesia, expressed appreciation of Turkey’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
Ali Erbas the head of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet in Turkish) says in letters and phone calls from were pouring post the court decision. From the head of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Islamic Religious Union of the Republic of Macedonia, Lithuanian, The Association of Moroccan Scholars, The grand mufti of the Sultanate of Oman to Palestian scholars and Hamas as well
Why Hagia Sophia is so significant and unique?
It is imperative to understand the historical context of this architectural gem. Byzantine Emperor Justinian, under whom the Hagia Sophia was built, he ascended to the throne in 527AD and ruled for 40 years. Historians consider him an adroit diplomat and facilitator who was profoundly religious figure which ensured that he spent a considerable time attempting to establish orthodox and guide the church into the future.
Justinian succeeded in setting up a nearly bribe-proof civil service his administration created well disciplined army and he also succeeded in giving the empire a uniform code of law.
That code of law, the corpus Juris Civilis, or body of civil law, remains the foundations of the legal system in many modern European countries.
So, why now and not before?
This is a powerful move for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both geopolitically as well as symbolically. President Erdogan was a mayor of Istanbul some quarter century and he became a prime minister in 2003, for 17 years he has been waiting for this occasion. He knew the value of patience, to do this in early years it was a risky mission and could easily rang the alarm bells domestically. Doing this manoeuvre at in this year he knew the outcome including minor global repercussions. It is internal issue which is judicial and executive authority matter. The Western condemnation shouldn’t have been at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as it is open for everyone but they (west) should look at closely Indian disgusted decision on Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India. The western nations were about to talk about the pandemic Covid-19 and its cure as well as racism, destruction of mosques in Europe and Islamophobia in the 21st Century but not a sovereign nation’s internal issue that was decided by the highest court.
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