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"Erdogan Is Legally Correct To Restore Hagia Sophia Into A Mosque": Turkish University Professor Dr. Omair Anas

12 Jul 2020 06:07 PM, IST

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Photo: Courtesy- Getty Images)

Syed Khalique Ahmed | India Tomorrow


NEW DELHI,JULY 12—A decree by the Council of State, the highest administrative court of Turkey, on July 10, restoring the status of Hagia Sophia (pronounced as Ayasophia) museum into a mosque after 85 years, has come under strong criticism by most of the countries, particularly the Christian world, in the so-called ‘civilised world’.


The court gave its order on a petition by an Istanbul-based NGO, the Permanent Foundations Service to Historical Artifacts and Environment Association.


The NGO had demanded that 1934 decree converting Hagia Sophia into a museum under the reign of Kemal Ataturk be overturned and the museum be restored to its pre-1934 glory when it was used as a mosque. The building was used as a mosque for about 500 years. (Hagia Sophia was built as a church in the year 537 by Byzantine emperor Justinian. However, it went into the hands of Catholic crusaders in 1204. Byzantines, who were Orthodox Christians, however, regained it after 60 years of persecution by Catholic Crusaders).


In its ruling, the Council of State stated that Hagia Sophia as per available records was owned by a foundation that was set up by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II and was presented to the Muslim community as a mosque in 1453. It also said that the title deed of the property defined the building as a “mosque” and its legal status cannot be changed. The court said that the building cannot be used in any other form excepting mosque.


The ruling also said that the community that was handed over the property as mosque cannot be prevented from exercising its right over it as a mosque.


The council ruled that the decision of the Cabinet under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk converting the Hagia Sophia into a museum was “illegal”.


Kemalist Party Welcomes Decree On Hagia Sophia


Kemalist Party called the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP), or Republican Peoples’ Party, was the first political group to hail the verdict of the Council of State. It was an hour after the verdict that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced to accept the verdict and use Hagia Sophia as a mosque.


Erdogan Is Legally & Technically Correct: Ankara University Professor

Dr. Omair Anas, Assistant Professor in International Relations in Ankara Yildirim Beyzit University, says that "Erdogan is technically and legally correct to revert back to 1453 decision in connection with the status of Hagia Sophia". But Dr. Omair is of the view that Erdogan should have taken into consideration the sentiments of the global Christian community associated with Hagia Sophia and should have at least taken into confidence the local Christian community while approving the decision of the top administrative court of the country.


Referring to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence which says that  ‘once a mosque, always a mosque’, Dr. Omair says it does not hold true in case of Hagia Sophia which was originally built as a cathedral by Orthodox Christians, not as a mosque. After Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) fell to the Turkish Sultan in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque with some modifications. So, its status is different from other mosques that were built as mosques only from day one.


Was the decision of the Ottoman Sultan to convert Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque was valid as per law? Dr. Omair says “yes”. He says that though it was a cathedral, it was more used as a seat of power by Orthodox Christians to prepare and execute plans to attack and subjugate other communities in different countries. “It was not a wholly religious place as a cathedral must be. It was a building used to preside over meetings/conferences to attack and annex other countries”, he says. From the Islamic perspective, Ottoman Sultan was not legally and technically wrong to convert Hagia Sophia, combined into a religio-political-administrative building, into a mosque. 


Dr. Omair, however, does not agree with those who say that Ottoman Sultan had purchased Hagia Sophia from the then management of the building. “I have looked into all the available literature in Turkish language but failed to find any evidence in this regard”, he says. A document in this regard has gone viral on social media in India which says that Hagia Sophia was sold by the Orthodox Christians to Ottoman Sultan and hence, it is very much legal to convert it into a mosque. They also cite the examples of several cathedrals and churches having been sold by its owners and converted into mosques, Hindu temples, malls and theatres in the United Kingdom, other European countries and in US also.


But why did Kemalist party welcome the verdict restoring Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque which was against the values of the party’s founder Kemal Ataturk?


Dr. Omair says that the religious group of Turkish society have a strong hatred for everything ‘Kemalist’ and every decision taken by Kemal Ataturk. “They want to overturn everything done by Kemal Ataturk. They don’t want to see any sign of Kemalism in their country”, he says.


It was, therefore, no wonder that the people of Turkey immediately welcomed the decision of the top administrative court to convert Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque again.  And even Kemalist party or CHP could not muster courage to go against the larger public sentiments that was in favour of the museum to be again used as a mosque. It was Kemal Ataturk who had banned Islamic ‘hijab’ or ‘niqab’, banned Arabic language and a conical cap worn by men. In fact, he put ban on every Islamic and Muslim symbol in Turkey and forcibly imposed European culture on the local population. According to Dr. Omair, this is all strongly abhorred by Turkish people now.


Dr. Omair says it is wrong to say that the demand for restoring Hagia Sophia to a mosque was made after the Islamist party came to power in Turkey. The demand for it had come much before Erdogan and his party came to power. It is a different thing that their demand became a reality during Erdogan’s rule.


Many people like Navaid Hamid of All India Muslim Majlis Mushawarat (AIMMM) have responded to the critics of the Hagia Sophia’s restoration into a mosque by citing the examples of conversions of hundreds of mosques into Europe, particularly Spain and Greece into churches, cathedrals, museums, theatres and stores. One of the biggest examples is that of the Cordaba Mosque converted into a church in Spain. He gives examples of several mosques in Greece to have been demolished and converted into theatres and malls etc.


But the world never reacted to it the way it is now reacting in case of Hagia Sophia. In fact, the world remained silent when the 15th century historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was illegally razed to ground by Hindu zealots on December 6, 1992. And it was through a decree by the Supreme Court of India, country’s highest court, the site of the mosque was handed over to the Hindu party to the litigation and the Muslims silently accepted the court’s verdict. None of the Muslim countries objected to the court verdict because it was an internal affair of India where the court verdict is final in a litigation. But the same world is threatening and warning that the decree of Turkey’s highest court would harm the relations between communities the world over. This indicates that there are two different standards in the so-called ‘civilised world’: one for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. But the justice demands that there should only be one standard for all-Muslim or non-Muslim everywhere in the world. What is true for Turkey, should also be true for Spain (Cordoba mosque) and India (Babri Mosque at Ayodhya).


Moreover, the religious places like cathedrals, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are not built as monument. They are built for worship and prayer. However, there are more than 130 mosques in India, 30 of them in Delhi alone, that have been locked by the Archaeological survey of India (ASI) on the pretext of them being monuments and Muslims are not allowed to pray in it. A number of memoranda had been given to all previous governments as also the present BJP government, seeking that these mosques be reopened for prayer by Muslims but there has been no positive action from the government and the administration. Every Muslim feels hurts when he passes through these mosques and witnesses them to be locked for worshippers. In fact, most of these mosques have almost been reduced to ruins because these buildings are not maintained properly by the ASI. Had they been in use like Jama Masjid of Delhi and Fatehpuri, these would have been maintained and in good shape.


Keywords : Hagia Sophia ,   Istanbul ,   Turkey ,   Erdogan ,   Dr. Omair Anas  

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Kattic Ram Joorawon

17 July 2020 10:36 AM
I find that this article is totally biased. In this world, it\\\'s not always about Muslims. You wrote about Babri mosque which was illegally razed. But when it comes to hi story all facts about The kashi vishwanath temple, and many facts pointing towards its original site being the place where this so-called \\\"Gyanvapi mosque\\\"lies nowadays, you don\\\'t even mention it. In Delhi itself there are many such places where mosques are built on temples, which were razed. That hurst the sentiments of more than 800 Mio Hindus in India. The appeasement politics done over decades reflect most parts of your article.

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