Tens of thousands demand Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia be turned into a mosque

1299668013-z9ura808IPT, by John Rossomando

Tens of thousands of Turkish Islamists held a triumphalist gathering outside Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday. Originally built as a cathedral in 537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans following the fall of Constantinople in 1453.The former religious site was re-opened as a museum in 1935. The Islamists who prayed at the site on Saturday did so with the hope that it would be converted back into a mosque by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The protest also coincided with the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, an event for which Erdogan has encouraged the celebration.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, converted the massive structure into a museum in 1935.

For Turkey’s Islamists, Hagia Sophia serves as a symbol of Islam’s triumph over Christianity.

“Ayasofya is a symbol for the Islamic world and the symbol of Istanbul’s conquest. Without it, the conquest is incomplete, we have failed to honor Sultan Mehmet’s trust,”Reuters quoted Salih Turan, head of the Anatolia Youth Association, as saying. The association claims it has collected 15 million signatures asking for Hagia Sophia to reopen as a mosque.

Details of the conquest and Hagia Sophia’s conversion from being a church into a mosque stand in stark contrast to the picture of Islam that Islamists want to portray – that of a tolerant and ethical faith. Islamic law might forbid the slaughter of innocent non-combatants during times of war, but that was not what happened in Hagia Sophia the day Constantinople fell.

The late Sir Steven Runicman, widely regarded as one of the greatest scholars of Byzantine history, noted that Ottoman soldiers under Sultan Mehmet’s command entered the cathedral and indiscriminately slaughtered men, women, children and the elderly. Mehmet’s personal imam then climbed into the pulpit to proclaim the shahada, transforming Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Sheik Abdullah Basfar, the imam of the Ka’aba in Mecca, who led Saturday’s prayer gathering outside Hagia Sophia, has a history of extremist rhetoric. In a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), he notably stated in September 2005 that funding the Palestinian jihad against Israel was a religious “duty” of all Muslims.

Erdogan’s government, however, says no plans currently exist to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

The world’s 350 million Eastern Orthodox Christians still look to Hagia Sophia as one of the most sacred places in their faith – a reminder of the Christian Byzantine Empire that stood for over 1,000 years.

Hagia Sophia’s place in the Orthodox consciousness was such that a group of American Greek Orthodox Christians similarly and unsuccessfully tried to hold services there in 2010. Talk about converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque has provoked strong condemnation from the Greek government, which issued a statement in November 2013, saying talk about “converting Byzantine Christian churches into mosques [is] offending the religious feeling of millions of Christians.”

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, the world’s most senior Orthodox bishop, similarly condemned the effort, saying it should remain a museum or be reopened as a church.

Transforming Hagia Sophia back into a mosque would necessitate the whitewashing of priceless treasures of Byzantine iconography.

Turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque reinforces the narrative that Muslims seek to subordinate other religions to Islam, and it reinforces the idea of a clash of civilizations.

“It would strengthen the mutual suspicion and polarization between the West and the Muslim world,” Sahin Alpay, professor of political science at Bahcesehir University,told Reuters. “All hell breaking loose is a high price to pay.”

7 of Top 10 ‘World’s Most Influential Muslims’ Are Islamists

Saudi King Abdullah, Turksih Prime Minister Erdogan and Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei (left to right)

Saudi King Abdullah, Turksih Prime Minister Erdogan and Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei (left to right)

by: Ryan Mauro

The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre has released this year’s list of the 500 “world’s most influential Muslims” and of the top 10, seven are Islamists. The unfortunate reality is that Islamism is indeed mainstream thought in the Muslim world and non-Muslims have a lot of ground to make up in the struggle over the direction of the Muslim world.

The most influential Muslim is Saudi King Abdullah. He is hailed as a reformer but that is by Saudi standards. Under his rule, Sharia is still the law of the land in an especially puritanical form. By setting this example and teaching that this is Allah’s vision for governance, Saudi King Abdullah is still promoting the Islamist ideology. He is in his late 80s and he just underwent major back surgery, prompting some to worry about what the future holds for his country.

In second place is Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. He has sharply moved the secular, pro-Western country of Turkey in an Islamist direction, expertly using the doctrine of “gradualism.” The rate of his implementation of the Islamist agenda has sped up as the strength of his political party has increased. The former ally of Israel is now an adversary, with Erdogan stating that Hamas isn’t a terrorist organization but a “resistance” group.

He has remained popular since becoming the Tukish prime minister in 2003, defying the pattern of Islamists losing popularity once they come to power. However, a new poll shows a dip in his support. Erdogan’s government occupies two spots in the top 50, with President Gul taking 24th place.

The Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, who essentially declared jihad on the U.S. and pro-Western Arab governments in 2010, is in fourth place. This makes the Muslim Brotherhood the strongest international movement in the Islamic world.

It’s interesting to see that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is in 11th place, even though his name recognition is so high. This is because Morsi is a product of the movement that Badie leads. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the senior Brotherhood cleric known for his vitriolic preaching, took 16th place. Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, a branch of the Brotherhood, is in 48th place.

Fifth place went to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. He does not preside over an Islamic state, but his government is subsidizing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood while enjoying the status of a U.S. ally.  His country is home to Sheikh Qaradawi and Al-Jazeera. A 2009 State Department memo said that Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation is “considered the worst in the region.”

Following Qatar is Iran, specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Not much needs to be said about the threat posed by his influence. Notably, Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s name does not appear in the top ten. That’s because Khamenei holds the real power. The Iran-backed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is in 28th place.

In eight place is Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, president of Al-Azhar University in Egypt. This is the most powerful Sunni religious institution, which endorsed Umdat al-Salik’s Reliance of the Traveler that teaches Muslims the ins and outs of Sharia Law. Al-Tayyeb calls for international laws against “defamation” of religion, a nicer sounding way of outlawing criticism of Islam. The draft constitution of Egypt approved by the Islamists requires that the government consult with Al-Azhar scholars on “matters related to Sharia.”

Finishing off the top ten is Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamist who lives in Pennsylvania. His charter school network in America, the largest in the country, is under FBI investigation. His influence has been instrumental in spreading Islamism in Turkey. Although his preaching is on the less extreme end of Islamism, he has made multiple worrisome statements.

For example, in 1999, he preached in favor of “gradualism” in Turkey. He said, “You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey.” He told the audience to “discard the thoughts and feelings I expressed here,” because he is “trusting your loyalty and secrecy.”

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