Caliph Erdogan To Turn Hagia Sophia Into A Mosque
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the Istanbul’s—traditionally know as Constantinople—sixth-century basilica church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) that was built by the Emperor Justinian, which became a symbol of secularism in modern Turkey when it was converted into a museum in the 1930s, would reopen to Muslim prayer as a full-fledged mosque later this month, a shift opposed by the U.S. and others.
The church, which was turned into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 when they conquered Constantinople, was converted into a museum in 1934 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, as part of his efforts to modernize the country and encourage it to compete with European powers—Atatürk had abolished the thirteen-hundred-year caliphate in 1924 that effectively left the political lineage of the Prophet of Islam unclaimed and consequently ended a centralized and universal Islamic body politic.
By restoring Hagia Sophia’s status as a mosque, Erdogan has propelled his project to provide more authority for Islam inside the secular republic. He is expected to pray inside Hagia Sophia on July 24, the day marking the fourth anniversary the pseudo-coup attempt in 2016, which many hold he staged in order to crack down on pro-democracy activists.
Many, including the Patriarchate of Moscow stated that “the concern of millions of Christians were not heard,” according to Russian news agency Interfax. While this may be true, Erdogan’s prerogative is not necessarily to suppress Christianity but to restore the power of Ottoman Turkey, simultaneously putting himself as the “self-proclaimed caliph.”
In a previous article, Erdoğan’s Ottoman Fantasies, since he came to power, Erdogan has reportedly built 17,000 mosques: one-fifth of Turkey’s total. From Mali to Moscow, by way of Cambridge and Amsterdam, Erdogan is ceaselessly active in “diplomatizing” his religion. The biggest mosque in the Balkans is Turkish and is located in Tirana, Albania; the largest one in West Africa was built by Erdogan in Accra, Ghana; and the largest mosque in Europe will be his new Turkish mosque in Strasbourg.
As I explained in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up, while Erdogan publicly was seen to fight ISIS, he played a duplicitous role in permitting foreign jihadists to cross into Syria from Turkey in 2011 with the goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It was also reported in 2015 that his daughter, Sumeyye, ran a hospital located in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa to help injured ISIS militants. He has also seized churches, including, in April 2016, the 1,700-year-old Virgin Mary Syrian Orthodox Church in Diyarbakirch. Just five months later, the pro-government newspaper Akşam published a front-page article accusing the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of conspiring with the CIA and the Fethullah Güllen in the “attempted coup d’état” to oust Erdogan from power.
In June 2017, under the surveillance of President Erdogan, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (i.e., the Diyanet) seized control of at least fifty Syrian churches, monasteries, and cemeteries in the Mardin province. This liquidation committee, established in 2012 with the task to confiscate and redistribute the property of institutions whose legal entity had expired, denied that it had carried out the aforementioned raid as a result of religious discrimination.
Since last year the Turkish “caliph” has also employed al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants along with his troops in the 2018 takeover of Afrin, where 300,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds were displaced. According to a high-ranking member of the Syriac Democratic Federation, Abdulrahman Hassan: “Our heritage was attacked, the city was destroyed. Villages were plundered, women and girls were taken hostage, men are missing. Also several churches were destroyed and church members arrested.” And just days after the U.S. pullout from northern Syria, Turkey began to assail Kurdish and Christian civilians—many of them children—with chemical weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said early this month that the White House would view a change in Hagia Sophia’s status as “diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability…to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures.”
Author Soner Cagaptay explains that many pious Muslims individually choose to abide by some or all tenets of sharia law, which guides their religiosity. But, as a political force, the sharia draws its power from governmental and societal pressure mechanisms. Together, they coerce citizens to adhere to the conservative spectrum of Islam.
Erdogan will stop at nothing to dismantle the secularization and religious freedom established in by Atatürk. Notwithstanding his ruling party suffering a stinging defeat in last year’s local elections, the Turkish want-to-be caliph has sought to reignite Islamic-Turkish nationalism, as observance of the sharia has subtly resumed in the country. President Erdogan has limited individual freedoms, as well as penalizing individuals who “insult Islam” or neglect Islamic practices. Since November 2017, the national police—controlled by the central government—has been monitoring online commentary on religion and suppressing freedom of expression when they find such commentary “offensive to Islam.”
In doing turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan has taken one more step in restoring to socio-political body politic that the Prophet Muhammad forged when he founded Islam in 622 A.D.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.