The decision of Turkey’s President Erdogan to turn the iconic Hagia Sophia into a museum has sparked outrage on social media. While the decision was praised by many, some others moved to condemn and took a negative stance against the decision. This article will discuss Hagia Sophia’s past and current status as well as provide you with views from both sides.
Hagia Sophia was initially built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Empire and has been regarded as the Greek Orthodox Church. When Sultan Mehmed Fatih managed to conquest Constantinople, he converted the church into an imperial mosque. Later on, with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the secularists led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk moved forward to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum.
What does it mean to the Christians?
Since Hagia Sophia was initially built as a church and continued to be for 900 years until Sultan Mehmed Fatih’s conquest of Constantinople, Christians feel that a part of their identity is threatened. They feel entitled to keep the heritage of the Byzantine Empire and the identity that the Greek Orthodox Church contains.
Every year millions of Christians around the world travel to Turkey to see the museum. In 2019, it was the most visited place by tourists in Turkey. Most of the tourists who visit the church feel like some part of their identity belongs to them. That is why Christian leaders moved to condemn the act.
Why did Ataturk convert Hagia Sophia into a museum?
The Turkish Republic was built on secularistic views and ideas, which significantly emphasized the separation from the Ottoman Empire. Their political endeavors were heavily focused on building a national identity that would be separated from religious values. The leaders of Turkey at that time were constantly anxious about Islamic threats to the modern national state they were attempting to construct. Thus, they tried to undermine the values of religion and religious figures in the public sphere.
The move to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum speaks to the endeavors of Ataturks to construct a modern Turkey in which religious values make up the past. Hagia Sophia had strong Ottoman and religious connotations. A museum is where the past is stored. Thus the museum status of Hagia Sophia would have had the implication that went hand in hand with the nationalistic agenda.
What it comes down to is that the move to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum is seen as a move to bring unity under the nation-state. That is to say that there are not only Muslims but Muslims and Christians and everybody else under the Turkish identity.
What does it mean for Muslims?
Sultan Mehmed Fatih is believed to have prayed his first Friday Prayer in Hagia Sophia when Constantinople had been conquested. Hagia Sophia loudly speaks to the identity of Muslims who are proud of their Ottoman Heritage. Hagia Sophia was considered to have been one of the great successes of the Ottoman Empire. That is why for Turks in specific and Muslims, in general, it serves as an expression of their identity and proud heritage.
Upon the first call to prayer in Hagia Sophia, hundreds of thousands of Muslims moved to celebrate the reopening of the mosque. Several videos of Muslims gathering around Hagia Sophia were posted on social media platforms where the excitement was overwhelming. The conservatives, in particular, celebrated the act of the President as a part of their Ottoman Heritage came to light again.
How did the world react to Hagia Sophia’s reopening as a Mosque?
While many were praised for the decision, several others condemn it. Church leaders expressed concern over the decision to revoke the museum’s status. They moved on further to say that the concerns of millions of Christians have not been heard. Hagia Sophia is viewed as a very contentious issue, and thus, the outrage was sparking even prior to the official decision.
The European Union considers the ruling of 1934 that made Hagia Sophia a museum as a historical landmark. The European Union went on to say that the decision to overturn the 1934 ruling is “regrettable.” The United States of America has also raised concerns by expressing its disappointment with regard to the decision. Russia viewed the decision as likely to cause divisions amongst nations and undermine unity.
The top officials of Turkey have considered the issue to be a matter of national sovereignty. They have argued that it is a matter for the Turkish people and the Turkish courts to decide on the status of Hagia Sophia. They moved on to call on the international community to respect the decisions derivated from the national sovereignty of Turkey.
When will it be reopened as a Mosque?
According to the state officials and several newspapers in Turkey, the reopening is planned to take place on the 15th of July. This is a public holiday as it commemorates the failed coup d’etat that took place four years ago.
In regards to whether it will be opened for tourists, many believe that it will maintain to be opened for tourists. It is believed that Hagia Sophia’s status will be the same as the Blue Mosque, functioning simultaneously as a place of worship and tourist spot.
To sum up, many Muslims are profoundly excited to have their first prayer in Hagia Sophia. On the other hand, many Christians and the international community are disappointed with the decision and concerned about it.