Turkey: Islamic Hagia Sophia campaign restarts

Sultan Ahmed imam calls for it 'to become a mosque once more'

18 October, 11:36

    A general view of Hagia Sophia during sunset, in Istanbul A general view of Hagia Sophia during sunset, in Istanbul

    (ANSAmed) - ANKARA - Conservative Muslims in Turkey have launched another campaign to transform the Hagia Sophia basilica, a jewel of Byzantine architecture that is a symbol of Greek Orthodox Christianity, into a mosque. Formerly a Greek Orthodox basilica from the date of its construction in 537 AD, it later became an imperial mosque, and is now a museum in Istanbul. After Islamic nationalist Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan put an apparent stop to the debate over whether to change Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, the imam of the Sultan Ahmed or Blue Mosque, Mustafa Akgul, has taken up the gauntlet once more.

    ''See, Sultan Ahmed mosque is packed, while Hagia Sophia is deprived of morning prayers'', the imam told a full house during a sermon for Eid al-Adha, or the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice.

    In May, Erdogan told MPs from his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to ''leave Hagia Sophia alone and focus on filling Sultan Ahmed, which is next door''.

    Hagia Sophia ''should be allowed to operate as a mosque. I call on the government to do so in the name of you all'', the imam told the crowd, echoing demands being made by Islamic conservatives from the Anadolu Genc organization, whose members are conducting sit-ins at the Byzantine basilica every Friday. A petition has been submitted to Parliament. The basilica has already been a mosque for half a century, beginning with the May 29, 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II.

    It was converted into a museum in 1935 under the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular Turkish republic in 1923.

    Erdogan during his decade in power has had thousands of new mosques built, and is having one with the world's highest minarets built in Istanbul, which already has 3,000 mosques.

    While the opposition accuses him of trying to re-Islamize the country, Erdogan's prolific building projects do not seem to appease his Islamic voters. The sole defender of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom in Greek) is the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. However the Orthodox pope has just lost a similar battle over the ancient and precious Trebizond basilica, which has been turned into a mosque. (ANSAmed).

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