Hagia Sophia deserves to be church again

Dr Irfan Shahzad
ڈاکٹر عرفان شہزاد

Hagia Sophia deserves to be church again

by, Dr Irfan Shahzad

It is reported from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that despite his wish to renovate the Ka’aba back to its original design, which was constructed by its first builder, the Prophet Abraham, he refrained from this endeavour to avert panic in the ill-informed newly converts of Arabia, who were emotionally associated with Ka’aba and everything about it.

The Quraish had altered the original design of Ka’aba to serve their purpose. Since, it was not a religious obligation to have Ka’aba in one shape or another, so the Holy Prophet did not allow his personal desire and avoided an unnecessary mayhem among the people.

Hagia Sophia of Turkey, which had been an orthodox and then a catholic church for around 1500 years together was turned into a mosque in 1453 by Mehmet II after his conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul).

Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Istanbul © Istanbul Insider

Ethically, he had no right to do so. Islam forbids its followers to destroy or alter the holy places of non-Muslims. However, power has its own whims. Later, in 1934, it was turned into a museum during the regime of Mustafa Kemal Pasha. However, still a portion of it has been used to serve as the mosque.

The Turkish Islamists have been vociferously demanding and protesting to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque again. The President Erdogan answered their call and promised to turn it into a mosque.

A petition is under consideration under the Turkish courts to decide whether it will stay a museum or turn into a mosque.

This move has caused a wave of tension and contention across the Christian world. If it is turned into a mosque again, this will definitely estrange the Christians and send a negative message from the Islamists in the name of Islam.

The question is, is it a religious obligation to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque? If it is a religious obligation, the Muslims are bound to do so, no matter comes what. But if it is not, then it is not only unethical, but unwise to do so.

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We noticed that the Holy Prophet did not alter the design of Ka’aba to its original one, because it was no obligation, and it would cause unnecessary mayhem. Same is the case with Hagia Sophia. An unnecessary move is under way. It is nothing but a disservice to Islam.

In fact, Islam, instead of taking it as a message from God for humanity, has taken up as a source of sociopolitical identity to take pride in. Islam is made to serve the sentiments of nationalism. It is a demand of nationalism not of Islam to look superior to others. These sentiments have nothing to do with Islam.

Gentile Bellini
Source of the image, Wikipedia

In the first place, Sultan Mehmet II had no right to convert church into a mosque. As far as Hejaz or Arabian Peninsula is concerned, God gave it a special status in Islam. The Arabian Peninsula with the holy Ka’aba in its centre was made exclusive to Islam.

Polytheism was a later innovation here, which prevailed and occupied the holy Ka’aba, so on the command of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the Muslims turned the Ka’aba back to its original status and eradicated the temples from the face of Arabia.

This special status of Hejaz was never generalised to any other land, rather, it was made obligatory for the Muslims to protect temples and churches of other religions.

Converting Hagia Sophia into mosque has no legitimacy in Islam. Rather, it is reasonable to convert it into a church again.

We have precedent from the Muslim history in favour of our stance:

Abu Umar al-Kindi (355 H) writes that the Caliph Harun al-Rasheed appointed Musa bin Essa as the Governor of Egypt. He allowed Christians to reconstruct their churches, which were demolished by the ex-Governor Ali bin Sulaiman.

Ali bin Sulaiman only demolished the newly constructed churches, nor the ones which already existed there before. كتاب الولاة وكتاب القضاة للكندي  ص100

We can hope and on top of it pray that Erdogon instead of following the whims of some zealots the President may try to enlighten his people what is rightfully Islamic and ethical.