Crowd gathers outside the 1,500-year-old Byzantine-era cathedral, cries “Allahu akbar.”
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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the conversion of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The 1,500-year-old cathedral would open to Muslim worship later this month. The announcement was met with the cries of ‘Allahu akbar’ by a crowd gathered outside Hagia Sophia, media reports said on Friday.
The sixth century cathedral came into Islamic possession in 1453 when Ottoman Turks defeated the Christian Byzantine empire, also known as the Eastern Roman empire. It was finally turned into a museum in 1934 by Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as part of his efforts to secularize the Muslim-majority country.
The Friday’s presidential decree is seen as a major symbolic act in the overturning of Turkey’s secularist legacy. Turkey underwent a process of secularization in the early part of the twentieth century under Ataturk’s rule. Erdogan has embarked on a mission to Islamize to country since he took power seventeen years ago.
Associated Press reported Erdogan’s move:
The president of Turkey on Friday formally converted Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had made the religious landmark a museum.
The decision sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians. Originally a cathedral, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque after Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire but had been a museum for the last 86 years, drawing millions of tourists annually.
There was jubilation outside the terracotta-hued structure with its cascading domes and four minarets. Dozens of people awaiting the court’s ruling chanted “Allah is great!” when the news broke. A large crowd later prayed outside it.
In the capital of Ankara, legislators stood and applauded as the decision was read in Parliament.
Turkey’s high administrative court threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled the 1934 Cabinet decision that turned the site into a museum. Within hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency.
Hagia Sophia, the Roman Empire’s first cathedral, is particularly sacred to Christian Orthodox believers, represented largely by the Greek, Russian, and Ukrainian Churches. The decision came as a great shock to the Orthodox world.
Head of the Orthodox church in Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, called Turkey’s move an attack on civilization. “Hagia Sophia is not only a Christian monument built by Justinian but a world monument with a supreme place in the history of civilization. Where civilization comes under attack, the downfall of human dignity follows,” the Greek patriarch warned.
“Today’s decision, which came as a result of the political will of President Erdogan, is an open provocation to the civilized world which recognizes the unique value and ecumenical nature of the monument,” Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.
The Russian Orthodox Church “regretted” the decision. “We have to admit that the concern of millions of Christians was not heard,” a spokesman for the Church said.
The United States has been opposed to any change in status of the historic cathedral. “We urge the Government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month.
Mosques are not merely places of worship in Erdogan’s Islamic ideology. They play a crucial role in jihad warfare. As he told his followers in 1998: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
While European leaders have largely forgotten their Christian past, Erdogan and his followers see themselves as heirs of Islamic conquerors. On May 29, Turkish president held a mass ceremony to mark the 563rd anniversary of the fall of Constantinople. Mass-migration and the resultant demographic shift in the Christian world are seen by them as the latest tactics in this war of Islamic conquest. Erdogan has repeatedly told Turkish Muslim immigrants in Europe to increase their birth rates and become the “future of Europe.”
(Cover image via YouTube)
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