As Turkey has already begun to re-appropriate a historic Christian church into a mosque, multiple world and religious leaders – including Islamic groups – are raising their voices, decrying the conversion of the holy site.
We recently told you how Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan had announced that the historic Hagia Sophia, a 1,500-year-old former Christian church at the center of Orthodox Christianity filled with incredible mosaics depicting the Gospel of Christ, will again be reconverted to a Muslim mosque.
Erdoğan claims the doors will be open to all just as when it was a museum, but the Christian frescos that adorn its walls will be covered and obstructed by curtains during prayer because Islamic law forbids images of people.
What remains clearly visible is Erdoğan’s contempt for Christianity, and this latest move is an attack on the Christian faith. And other world voices are being raised in agreement.
Voicing disapproval of the change, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece tweeted:
The unprecedented decision regarding the character of Hagia Sophia hurts us as Greek Orthodox Christians, but it also hurts us as citizens of the world. This issue is not a Greek-Turkish issue, it is not even a Euro-Turkish issue, it is global. It is a universal issue.
Hagia Sophia is currently a designated United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It is perhaps one of the most significant Christian landmarks since the time of Christ. In fact, it was originally built about 500 years after He walked among us. Its historical significance cannot be overstated.
Archbishop Chrysostomos of the Church of Cyprus offered critical perspective:
[F]or 10 centuries it was at the centre of all Christianity and from the 5th to the 15th century it was at the centre of Orthodoxy and Christianity in general, while Ecumenical and local Synods were held in this area, and Byzantium saw all its glory.
In regards to this offensive move by Turkey, the Archbishop added:
Turkey has learned to destroy, it has learned to appropriate the cultures of others and sometimes, when it does not benefit it, it destroys them and falsely presents cultures as its own . . . . [W]e have seen the destruction of our own monuments and we have been begging through the United Nations for half a century to allow us to preserve our religious monuments.
It isn’t just Christian countries and religious leaders denouncing the offensive reconversion of Hagia Sophia. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a Muslim organization, denounced Erdoğan’s mandate to covert the church:
We need to work together to convince President Erdoğan not to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia was built as a Church and a pride of the Greek Orthodox Church which commands the loyalty of Greek Orthodox Christians counting some 300 million in Greece, Turkey and around the world. Russian Orthodox Church which is a splinter of Greek Orthodox continues to jointly have a sacred sentiment for Hagia Sophia.
The Minister of Culture and Youth for the primarily Muslim United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Chairperson of the National Committee for Education, Culture, and Science, released a statement likening Hagia Sophia to “a bridge connecting different peoples” and cautioned against its conversion.
World heritage sites have become the platforms for knowledge exchange between diverse cultures and civilisations that evolved in history across time. Hagia Sophia is an important example of interaction and dialogue between Asia and Europe and should remain a witness to harmonious human history.
The Minister is absolutely correct. Despite Erdoğan’s assurances that the doors will remain open to the public, the moment Hagia Sophia becomes an active Muslim mosque, it ceases to be a “bridge” between different peoples and different faiths. Hagia Sophia will instead become another symbol of Turkey’s blatant disdain for Christianity. This is an attack on Christianity, and the first phase is covering up the Christian mosaics and icons.
Do not be surprised if this sacred site soon becomes another Dome of the Rock, originally the Jewish Temple Mount turned into a mosque in Jerusalem. At one time non-Muslim visitors were permitted but since 2000 are forbidden to enter the historic temple. Even more offensive, “sacred Jewish objects such as prayer books or tallit” are barred from the grounds.
Thankfully, more are joining the international multi-faith chorus against Erdoğan’s actions. The Mufti of Komotini has called the decision “provocative and wrong,” and the imam of Milan and president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community has voiced his opposition, noting that Muslims should “respect the identity of these places.”
But even as the world speaks, the transformation to strip Hagia Sophia of its Christian significance and turn it into a mosque is already under way. Turkish authorities were reportedly on site as workers removed the museum’s signs just days after President Erdoğan’s announcement. If there was any question that Erdoğan’s decision was anything less than a demonstration of his political power, not only will Hagia Sophia be open for Muslim prayer on July 24th, but it is now being reported Erdoğan himself will be speaking at the mosque, and tickets for the event have sold out.
This withering attack on our faith must be stopped.
The ACLJ is fighting back. As we told you, we are preparing to go to the U.N. to urge international pressure on Turkey to stop this move and leave Hagia Sophia as a museum and a testament to the glory of Jesus Christ for all the world to experience. You can read our legal memo here.
Turkey must be given notice from the international community that the world will not tolerate the eradication of a religious faith, here Christianity, at the whim of a hostile government. The world will not tolerate the destruction of a Christian church based on a decree that is not enforceable under international law.
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