The Hagia Sofia | Pakistan Today

The Hagia Sofia

  • The return of the museum to mosque has created a storm

The ruling by the Turkish Constitutional Court reversing the decision of the Republican regime, which converted the Hagia Sophia Mosque into a museum, has been received with great warmth by the Erdogan government, for which it was an important step in its agenda, which has been to reverse the legacy of the post-ottoman dispensation. As the name discloses, Hagia Sophia was a church at the time of the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. In fact it was the main cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church, and it was as a symbol that a new era had begun that Muhmammad the Conqueror converted the cathedral into the main mosque of what was to be the new capital of the Ottoman: Istanbul. Now the Aya Sofia mosque, that was the role it played as long as there was an Ottoman sultan, and when the sultanate was abolished in 1924, presumably as a symbol of the change to a republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the mosque was converted into a museum.

The conversion of places of religious worship is not new: the cathedral itself was built on a temple of Diana which fell into disuse with the advent of Christianity. However, while there are no votaries of Diana to make any complaint, there are Christians aplenty to complain about this reversal. This should perhaps not be seen merely as a change in the status of a historical monument, as a further step in Recep Tayip Erdogan’s consolidation of power. While he and his supporters may claim that this was a court decision, that would sound as disingenuous as the claim that the Pakistani government makes about NAB’s independence.

Turkey has a different history than Pakistan’s, but religion is a factor. It should not be forgotten that one Christian body making a noise about the Hagia Sofia has been the Greek Orthodox Church, which has allowed Greece to become involved. Similarly, Pakistan faces the issue of the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. That matter should be settled before any unfriendly neighbor uses the opportunity to get involved in what is one of Pakistan’s internal affairs. Just as the Hagia Sofia is an internal affair of Turkey, not a hot-button issue for all Muslims.

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