The last Friday was a historic day in Turkey, where its major city Istanbul roared with the sound of Allah-u-Akbar from Hagia Sophia, originally built as a church around 1500 years ago.
The news that might be refreshing for over 1.8 billion Muslims, who may identify the development with the victory of Islam, maybe disturbing for around 2.4 billion Christians.
Deep down under the graveyard of memories, I began to dig the chapters from history. The annals that the scribes of the Byzantine Empire never ceased to write in the glories of the empire and the remnants of it.
The glory that was Hagia Sophia had long been trampled down under the Ottomans, is now but a trace of the dying glory.
Today, around 1000 Muslims, including President Erdogan inside and many more outside of the great Hagia Sophia, offered prayers here. The sense of pride among the Muslims at Hagia Sophia was none to rival, but for the guilt of Jesus and Marry, who, behind the veiled curtains of the edifice, might have caused all this spiritual crisis. Both for Muslims, and for the Christians.
For Muslims, because the transition of a church into a mosque, then mosque to the museum, and then subsequently into the mosque again now coincided with a neglectable blasphemy. The blasphemy that the Muslims committed by overlooking the mosaic and frescos of Jesus, who is also a revered prophet in Islamic traditions.
For Christians, because the church that predates both Islam and the Muslims could not be kept for the purpose for which it was built.
For the last 1500 years, the magnificent site stood the test of the time. During all these centuries of wars, destruction, and chaos, Hagia Sophia persevered. And even when it fell three times throughout this period since 537 AD, it was not due to any physical injury. Each time it was brought down by a contending ideology, whether in the name of religion, secularism, or (most recently) politics.
In 1453, when the Muslims finally besieged Constantinople, then the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia, had to bear the brunt for the first time.
The victorious Sultan Mehmet had dedicated the site to remain a mosque until the day of resurrection!
- Hagia Sophia and the new conqueror of Constantinople
- What’s the history of God and religion: Different phases of human tragedy!
- What is religion? Some abstract thoughts!
But those were medieval minds after all, and perhaps humanity since has been evolving itself. Probably, the victorious Sultan should be ignored as a product of his time. Bigotry was a norm back then!
However, intolerance does not necessarily have to be interpreted in a strictly religious sense. For his part, Mustafa Kamal was no less bigot, though in a secular sense of the word.
When he took over in the 1920s over the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, he changed the Mosque status of Hagia Sophia, disregarding the sentiments of millions of devout Muslims who would identify themselves with the religious monument.
Still, with secularism, at least, Hagia Sophia neutralized its identity from any faith. Maybe, you can even pardon Ataturk for his endeavor in finding a new identity for Turkey in the aftermath of the early twentieth century that had brought shame, defeat, and other worst aspects of WWI for the Ottomans.
But the year 2020 will be long remembered as the year for the personal achievement of one man, Erdogan, at the expense of many. Though it may give Turks a sense of achievement, it will always remain without a sense of belonging. At least, not until the entire Byzantine edifice is razed to the ground, with all the mosaics washed down from the yearning memories of around 2.5 billion Christians.