11.20.2011

Hagia Sophia - a Mosque?

There have been a few stories circulating that Haghia Sophia in Istanbul might be turned into a mosque, for example: Is it Santa Sofia in Istanbul's turn now? - La Stampa
The news, or rather the hypothesis, comes from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where a few days ago, the newspaper "Sabah" dedicated an article to the situation, stating that Santa Sofia could be used again as a place for Islamic worship, overturning the decision made by Turkey under Kemal Ataturk. The newspaper reported that there are building works underway to bring it about.  Amongst the restoration work there are plans to construct a "mimbar", the pulpit or raised platform from which the Imam guides the prayer and gives the Friday sermon, the most important moment of prayer in the Muslim week. What could a mimbar be used for if not for the "active" Islamic use of the ex-cathedral?
I have not been to Haghia Sophia in Istanbul since May, so these comments may be out of date, but ... Yes, there was some work going on, but it looked like normal restoration work. There is no need to construct a minbar, because there is already an Ottoman one in the building, from the centuries it was used as a mosque.

Haghia Sophia in Istanbul is a very popular tourist destination, whose tickets sales raise a huge amount in revenue - I find it as unlikely that it will be turned back into a mosque. Similarly, I'd bet money that the various Greek campaigns to turn it back into an Orthodox church will fail.

This nonsense of a story seems to have begun again because the church of Haghia Sophia in Iznik, ancient Nicea, is being used as a mosque following restoration (my 2007 photos here). Although the church is important in the history of Christianity, as this is where the first Ecumenical Council was held, I'm not sure what the big fuss is about - there are not enough Christians to justify using it as a church, nor enough tourists to keep it full-time as a museum. To continue to use it as a mosque, its use since the Ottoman conquest, makes sense and does not stop people from visiting it.

5 comments:

  1. "im not sure what the big fuss is about,there are not enough christians to justify using it as a church"
    sadly your right and with the exodus of the christians from their ancestral lands reaching biblical proportions in a few decades there wont be any christians left in the middle east,than all the great churches can be turnd into mosques.
    jerusalem,antioch,cairo,alexandria,nicea,
    constantinopole to name but a few,all had large christian populations.in most cases nearly %80 of the populations of these ancient citys was christian.just 25 years ago antioch had over 25000 christians,now down to just a few hundred.in 1950 %15 of palestinians living in or around jerusalem were christian,now just %2,lebanon is going the same way.up to the 1950s there were over 100,000 greeks living in istanbul,now down to a few thousand.as a christian myself,it sadens me and when minoritys are being persecuted to the extent that they have to leave their ancestral homes i feel we have to make a "fuss about it".
    kyri.

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  2. I agree with you - we should make a fuss about presecution of minorities, whether Christian or another religion. A great deal is written about the persecution of Jews, but Christians have just as many problems in the Middle East and Central Asia.

    But I do think it's unreasonable complaining that a former church, which has been used as a mosque for centuries, is once again being used as a mosque. At least it is being used - and not about to collapse, as it was a few years ago! If it were not a mosque it would be a museum, and sadly there are very few visitors to Iznik, probably not enough to justify a museum.

    To draw an analogy - would you want the Pantheon returned to being a pagan temple? It too was transfered to use by the religion which became dominant, ie Christianity.

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  3. dorothy,of course,populations change and develop,as do religious beliefs over time.
    many churches are now mosques and indeed some synagogues[the one in brick lane comes to mind]but these changes take many decades and sometimes centuries to occur,the flight of christians from the middle east over the last 10-15 years is unprecedented and is similar to the exodus of jews from central and eastern europe in scale, only no one is talking about it or doing anything to put preasure on the governments of these countrys to help stem the tied.my parents originally come from cyprus and i know for a fact that hundreds of byzantine churches have been deliberately left to decay and crumble.some have been turnd into stables and many priceless artifacts stolen.the greek orthodox church would love to be able top provide funds to rebuild and maintain the churches but are not allowed.i just wish everyone would get on.i personally could never hate anyone for being a different religion to me.as i said,its all rather sad.
    kyri

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  4. I agree - Cyprus is bad, and that's politics more than lack of Christians who want to go to church. As with Afghanistan under the Taliban, North Cyprus falls into a strange place as there is no recognised' government, and they don't really seem to care that much about looted material.

    Turkey and Greece had the big population exchange, as you know. I guess I fing it shocking that nbefore the war, Salonica had a huge Jewish population (more than 50%), then after ...

    The worst atrocities against Christian churches were in Kosovo - they got little press, because sympathy was against the Serbians, and with the Kosovans ... but there were some beautiful Byzantine churches that vanished. A Greek colleague was on a mission to assess the damage for the EU, and showed me the photos of churches that had been destroyed by the Kosovans as a political act against the Serbians - most of that didn't come out fully in the press coverage, but Kosova makes the northern Cyprus situation look 'good'

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  5. dont get me started on kosovo,all i would say is that your comments on kosovo are %100 correct and what has happend to the kosovo serbs is a disgrace.
    kyri.

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