History speaks volumes about Hagia Sophia and makes us remember that Hagia Sophia was not only a church but the center of crusaders also
Hagia Sophia (Turkish Aaya Sofia), located in Istanbul's heart, meaning divine wisdom, was initially established as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. It was later converted into mosque when Istanbul was conquered by Sultan Mehmed II (Muhammad al-Fatih) in 1453 CE. It remained a mosque until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned it into a Museum in 1935. It was turned back into a Mosque in July 2020.
Hagia Sophia was considered an engineering wonder and one of the world's largest enclosed spaces for about a thousand years. It was designated to make an impression of the Byzantine Empire's power and wealth upon its subjects and foreign visiting dignitaries alike. The glorious building of Hagia Sophia seen today is the third construction of this name to stand on this site. The first, destroyed in a riot, was a wooden basilica established in 360 CE. A grand marble structure was the second built during the reign of Theodosius II in 415 CE. It, too, was flattened to the floor in Nika Revolt of 532 CE.
The current structure as seen today, was commissioned in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian II. Its work was launched in 532 CE, and the building was opened in 537 CE. The architecture of Hagia Sophia was therefore present during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as he was born in 570 CE. It faced the worst desecration in 1402 CE when catholic soldiers ransacked it during the fourth crusade, and a prostitute was seated on the throne of the patriarch.
The Cathedral agreed to union with Catholics to save Constantinople from Turks in 1452 CE. However, Constantinople was conquered by Sultan MehmedII and fell into the hands of Turks in 1453 CE. He went to Aaya Sofia and offered his prayers there. He remunerated the property with his own money, and ownership was given to Muslims as a permanent endowment. In this way, Aaya Sofia got converted to a mosque. In 1935, Kamel Ataturk converted it into a museum, and the use of the complex as a place of worship was prohibited.
In July 2020, Erdogan, following the court ruling, made a decree to change Hagia Sophia back into the mosque. The court ruling found that the conversion of the mosque into the museum was unlawful as it violated its endower's will, Sultan Mehmet II.
Hagia Sophia was thrown open to the Friday prayers after a period of 86 years on the 24th of July 2020.
It has become a significant debate among the scholars, political thinkers, politicians, and religious leaders of all denominations whether reverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a right or wrong decision?
Christians of all denominations who fought for regaining this historical religious monument condemned the decision to throw Hagia Sophia open as a mosque. The secularists are also sailing in the same boat.
The citizens of Turkey are also divided for converting it from a museum into a mosque. The majority of the population wants to reinstate it as a mosque while a minority favors it to be a museum.
Among the Muslims across the globe, there are also two opinions about converting Aaya Sofia into a mosque. One group supports its conversion into a mosque, providing the fact of conversion of Kabaa from the house of idolatry worship during the period of jahiliya (ignorance) into a place of practicing monotheistic beliefs of Islam, professed by Prophet Muhammad(SAW), after conquering Mecca in 08 AH or 630 CE.
Contrary to them, another group refutes the decision of its conversion into a mosque, arguing that in the Holy Quran, Allah (SWT) has commanded to protect the houses of worship of other faiths.
History speaks volumes about Hagia Sophia and makes us remember that Hagia Sophia was not only a church but the center of crusaders also. It fell to Ottomans when they conquered Constantinople in 1453 CE. They neither destroyed it nor converted it into a palace; instead, they renumerated it with cash and endowed it as permanent Muslim property. They transformed it into the place of worship, as they believed it was the place of worship of the same Allah as that of Jews and Christians.
In Secularizing Hagia Sophia by converting it into a museum in 1934 CE by Kemal Ataturk, it is not true that it was an act of religious pluralism. The secularization of Hagia Sophia was an anti-religious act of state power. He was an astute statesman and strewed strategist. He did not express to the public how he would develop Turkey until he got the power to execute his vision. With great care, he employed his master plan known as Kemalist ideology and started questioning religious values publicly. He asserted that religion is not compatible with science, and secularism was imperative for modernity. Therefore, his act was an intentional act designed to suppress religion and channel money to the exchequer.
The most fundamental significance of reverting Hagia Sophia to a mosque is that the enforcement of secularism by muscle power is vanishing. It is more about rejecting the Kemalist ideology of 1934 CE than celebrating the subjugation of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 CE.
Another importance that lies within the reconversion of Hagia Sophia is the geopolitical expression of Islam. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a question was discussed about how Islam will be expressed geopolitically. Secularism based on the Western liberal idea was projected as the victory over religion in a similar fashion to what Fukuyama after the collapse of communism declared as the endpoint of humankind's ideological evolution and the triumph of western liberal democracy.
Conversion of Hagia Sophia is a distinct recognition that Islamic geopolitical leadership has to be purely Islamic. Reorienting the Muslim World Order, Turkey under Erdogan wants to play a significant role in leading the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East, by limiting the dividing Shia Sunni influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively. These changes have taken place under the leadership of Erdogan for many years. Converting of Hagia Sophia and Erdogan's statement that it is a path to free the Mosque of Al Aqsa is a confirmation of such shifts that had taken place geopolitically.
Another important significance of converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque is the revival of Islamic identity. The Hagia Sophia has been the significant cultural heritage of the Islamic world for five centuries. The severe blows of British colonialists to the Muslims during these five centuries to dominate their fate have turned the place of worship into a museum. Thus, it was an important step taken by the Turkish government under Erdogan's leadership in reviving Islamic identity and giving back Islamic heritage to the Islamic world. It is also a sign of rejection of the neo-colonialism of the West.
Lastly but equally important, In the words of Turkish columnist, Yusuf Kaplan, the opening of Hagia Sofia mosque "is Turkey's recovery, reclaim of its identity, history, and spirit, its mental liberation… The re-opening of the Hagia Sophia Mosque is the spark that will trigger the great journey we have been called upon so that we can escape the web spun by the West – and which we had entered voluntarily – to build the new age…”
"Hagia Sophia is a potent expression of the guarantee for non-Muslims' religious freedom and for them to build their lives around their faith under Muslims' sovereignty… The conversion of Hagia Sophia burdens us with a great obligation"
(Author is a Research Scholar, Department of Politics & Governance,
Central University of Kashmir)