Hagia Sophia – Church, Museum or Mosque

Hagia Sophia has been the talk and rightly so. There’s been talk about it should be kept as a church, museum or mosque.

Here’s some responses from a few Muslims, keeping in mind historical, political and Islamic perspectives.

Rafiq Abu Safiyyah

“I am absolutely aghast, dumbfounded, perplexed and astonished at seeing statuses by fellow Muslims calling for the Hagia Sophia to be turned into a museum or a church.

Those saying this should be ashamed of themselves and do some deep thinking of why they are calling for a house of Allah to be used for anything else.

To me it seems like it’s coming from a false understanding of interfaith dialogue or even an inferiority complex.

Argue all you like about the original decison by Sultan Mehmed II to make it into a mosque but the fact of the matter is he did it through his own ijtihad and presumably with the consultation of the ulama of his time. He will have to answer for what He did and Allah will be the judge of that.

He did what he did and it has been a mosque for hundreds of years. A mosque cannot be converted into anything else once established. It is impermissible.

Whether Erdogan is doing it for political gains or not is really not the point here. It has been illegally used as a museum since 1935 and now it is going back to being a masjid alhamdulillah.”

Hagia Sophia during Ottoman times

Waleed Hakeem

“The Jerusalem church was preserved because the Muslims entered the town peacefully when the people of Jerusalem surrendered, therefore all their belongings and properties are protected.

The byzantine empire broke several peace treaties with the Ottoman Empire, allied with several East European kingdoms, and attacked the Ottomans. Because the Ottomans defeated them and they didn’t surrender, all property becomes in control of Ottoman hands according to Islamic law and international conventions of that time.

There are many other churches under ottoman rule that were preserved, and they still exist in Bosnia, Kosova, Turkey, and other places, because either a peace treaty existed or the people surrendered.”

Salah in Hagia Sophia in 1870 under Ottoman rule

Sharif Abu Laith

“So I am seeing a lot of back and forth about whether Hagia Sofia should be turned back into a mosque or not. Whether it was correct or incorrect for Sultan Muhammad al Fatih to have turned it into a mosque?

I think the key problem is how we in the 21st century superimpose our ideas about what the Hagia Sofia was and thus trying to retrospectively fit our rulings upon it and how Muhammad al Fatih should have acted.

For many today we see it as simply a church that was converted into a mosque thus the question is whether a “church” could be taken over by Muslims in such a manner.

Firstly the Hagia Sofia wasn’t simply a church. As we know the ottomans didn’t simply go about forcibly converting all churches into mosques. So Hagia Sofia was seen by them as a unique case. That’s because it represented the cultural and political centre of the Byzantium empire.

Just like Constantinople was seen as the capital of this empire. Hence this highly politically symbolic structure that was the dominant architecture of the city was not just a simple church but represented the political and cultural centre of the Byzantine empire in the capital city of this empire.

Remember also religions and their institutions were not secular institutions as we see them today. Rather they formed the political justification of the state. Hence why there was a break from the papacy in the U.K. in the 16th century as the pope held political sway over the monarchs of these states.

Hence Hagia Sofia is more analogous to the White House in America or the Houses of Parliament in the U.K. or the reichstag in Germany. The point being that after the defeat of the Nazis there was a race between USSR and the west to occupy and thus take control over the building due to its symbolic power. Would they have taken over Nazi Germany and then allowed the Nazis to maintain control over their symbolic structures and buildings?

Thus would it make any sense that after taking a city and defeating an empire you’d allow the main political and cultural symbol of that empire to be maintained by its original adherence? It would make no political sense.

In fact it would have been dangerous as this symbol would still hold sway over the people who may have aspirations to return the land back to Byzantine control.

In this sense there’s only one possibility that is to take control and possession of such a building and make it a symbol for Islam. In this context that would have meant for Muhammad al Fatih to make it into a mosque from which the adhan would be called and people gather for jummah.

Thus doing this firmly established the Islamic dominance over the Byzantine empire and in essence finished it off as a political force.

Furthermore we know that sultan Muhammad al Fatih actually negotiated with the patriarchs to provide compensation or in essence the purchasing this building.

And this symbolism wasn’t missed by Mustafa Kemal who after destroying the khilafah took possession of the hagia sofia and turned it into a museum. In essence making religion and Islam in particular a matter of the past. A museum and cultural artefact that no longer had an political nor societal significance.

As for the condemnation by some non Muslims over the returning it as a mosque. This again has nothing to do with their concern about Christians being affected.

There was no concern when it was turned nor maintained as a museum. As this fit within the symbolism and narrative of the secularisation of Turkey. No one was saying it should be returned as a church.

Hence their concern is how Islam is now increasing it’s role in public life even in this symbolic fashion.

So Muslims really need to understand and appreciate the wider political and ideological issue at hand rather than getting bogged down into some sort of mosque v church v museum debate.

This isn’t the issue, the real issue is about returning Islam to its role as the dominant belief system for society and basis of law of governance.

This is what is concerning them. They have little to no concern over its use as a church. For evangelical Christians they don’t even consider orthodox Christianity as true Christianity anyways.

Similarly in western countries many churches are now abandoned anyways. No one is really that concerned about xtrianity except for some pockets in the Bible Belt in America.

So irrespective of Erdogan’s agenda the issue at the heart of this is the concern the west has over the trajectory of the Muslim world. One that is further putting Islam at its centre and a rejection of the secularisation of the Muslim world.”

Hagia Sophia title deeds

Ghulam Haydar

“Hagia Sophia

Whilst I feel that converting it back to a masjid isn’t neccessary because the Blue Masjid is right opposite it, just like the 63,000 capacity “Erdogan mosque” on Camliça Hill in the middle of a remote area wasn’t necessary, what has happened is not religiously wrong.

1 – Hagia Sophia hasn’t been converted from a church into a mosque. It’s been turned from a church into a mosque into a museum and now back into a mosque.

2 – When Sultan Mehmet conquered Constantinople in 1453, the church was in a derelict / bad condition and in a non functioning state for over 50 years; some say up to a 100 years.

3 – When Sultan Mehmet conquered Constantinople, he paid for the property of Hagia Sophia with wealth, purchasing it from the Christians before converting it into a mosque.

The owners were compensated.

It served as a mosque for 481 years until 1934 when Kemal Attaturk converted it into a museum as part of his new ultra uber secular agenda. The details of the renumeration are still saved in Turkish museums.

4- According to Islamic law, when Muslims take control of a land, they are not allowed to destroy buildings belonging to other religions but some scholars have said they are allowed to repurpose them providing certain conditions are adhered to. It’s up to the discretion of the military commander / governor/ Sultan / Caliph and it depends on the circumstances of the situation (hostile vs non hostile), the significance of the building etc.

5 – The people who hold the mandate for the Sultan’s inheritance and his waqf wanted it turned back into a masjid. It isn’t the state who own it. Who are we to oppose this?

6 – There are plenty of churches in the UK that have been bought by Muslims and turned into mosques. There are so many in my city of Manchester.

7 – Though they are not our teachers, plenty of major landmark mosques have been repurposed by Christians and non Muslims by force and without any compensation whatsoever.

The most famous ones are Al-Hambra complex just outside of Granada and the landmark Cordoba mosque which was turned into a Cathedral and now a museum.

Nearly all if not all of the mosques in Greece and other Eastern European nations that were under Ottoman rule were destroyed when the Ottomans lost administration over those lands.

Anyone using this change as case to demonstrate religious intolerance or antagonism against Muslims are either ignorant at best or deliberately trying to cause discord between other faiths towards Muslims.”

Written by Adeel Malik

Born in Hong Kong, grew up in Scotland and ethnically Pakistani, Adeel primes himself to be a multicultural individual who is an advent social media user for the purpose of learning and propagating Islam while is also a sports fan. Being an English teacher himself, he envisions a bright future for Muslims which he strongly believes can only be done with education.

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