News / Europe

Turkish Leaders Aim to Turn Hagia Sophia Back into a Mosque

King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway  pose in front of Hagia Sophia Mosque on November 7, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.
King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway pose in front of Hagia Sophia Mosque on November 7, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Dorian Jones
A senior Turkish minister’s call to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia - now  a museum -- back into a mosque has provoked a religious and diplomatic row. The Hagia Sofia, which was originally built as a church, remains an important symbol of Christianity for many Christians.

The status of the mosque has always remained contentious. For 1000 years it was Christendom’s most important church at the center of the Byzantium Empire. With the fall of then Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks it was turned into a mosque. Then in 1931 Turkey’s secular rulers turned it into a museum. Now deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, during a visit earlier this month to the Hagia Sofia, has indicated change again could be in the offing.

He said there was a time when former mosques could function as museums, but there is a different Turkey now. He said the Hagia Sophia is sad now but God willing it will soon smile again.

Professor Istar Gozaydin of Istanbul’s Dogus University is an expert on religion and the state. She says elections and politics are likely to be behind such a move.

"For the pro-Islamic government it’s important to have the monument be a mosque," she said. "So why now are they trying to convert it back to a mosque? It’s got to do with the current political climate in the country, the local elections approaching that would be a significant source for votes."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already in campaign mode touring the country rallying the faithful, often using a mix of religion and nationalist rhetoric. Analysts point out turning the Hagia Sophia  back into a mosque will also play well among many nationalist voters, who see it as a symbol of the once mighty Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Along with millions of tourists, many Turks also visit the Hagia Sofia annually. One young Turkish person says he has no doubt that it should be turned back into a mosque.

"We don't want to lose our culture; we want to come here for Friday prayers," he said. "I believe with our prime minister and deputy prime minster's support it will be a mosque again.

Istanbul is home to the Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate. Concern has already been growing with the government’s recent conversion from museums to mosques of two smaller historical churches that share the Hagia Sophia's name.

Eminence Metropolitan Genadios of Sassima warns that the turning of Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia into a mosque would be a step too far.

"They have to realize very concretely how seriously the consequences of the whole world and the international community and how it will react," Genadios said. "Because this historical monument is visited every year by millions of people, Christians and non-Christians who realize it’s the image and picture of a religion, which is Christianity."

Athens has already condemned even the suggestion of converting the Hagia Sofia to a mosque. But Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levant Gumrukcu says Ankara does not need lectures on religious freedom.

"Turkey’s record in terms of respecting the sanctity of religious places is very well known. It does not need to be proven at all."

Observers warn, the war of words could well be just a harbinger of things to come, with the Orthodox Church having powerful allies both in Washington and Brussels.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Amro from: Poland
December 08, 2013 12:31 PM
Cordoba mosque in spain is now a church, they left no respect for any muslims, same in sicilia italy, many mosques were converted to churches, aya sofia will be a mosque again, specially that the majority of istanbul population are muslims, and if the People of istanbul vote for converting aya sofia back to a mosque, WHY NOT., Istanbul pas constantinople


by: Keys
November 29, 2013 5:42 PM
Who are these people who want to convert Aghia Sophia back to a mosque? Why do these people want to go backwards in time making clear their views about the role they want Turkey to have in today's world? Is this how they want to show the sensitivity and respect Turks claim to have towards other people? Are these people serious about Turkey's aspirations to become part of Europe? Do these people think that having taken Aghia Sophia by force gives them the moral right to do anything they like with it?


by: Tarkan from: Turkey
November 29, 2013 2:55 PM
now you know... for all the skeptics out there who thought that Turkey is a "Modern Islamic State..." look how wrong you all were... Turkey is a degenerate repressive Muslim terrorist State. A NATO member who sends Al Qaeda into Syria to kill innocents. where is the USA??? what happened to the USA..??

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid