“Without it, the conquest is incomplete, we have failed to honour Sultan Mehmet’s trust,”
The Imam of the Ka’bah, Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, Abdullah Basfar, led thousands in a dawn prayer congregation outside of the Hagia Sofia on Saturday morning, before the congregation raised their hands in supplication asking for it to be reverted into a mosque.
It has served as the exalted seat of two faiths since its vast dome and lustrous gold mosaics first levitated above Istanbul in the 6th Century: Christendom’s greatest cathedral for 900 years and one of Islam’s greatest mosques for another 560.
Today, the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish, is officially a museum: Turkey’s most-visited monument, whose formally neutral status symbolises the secular nature of the modern Turkish state. (Continued below the fold)
“[We have today] a Europe that weeps only for the Muslims, never for the Christians or Jews or the Buddhists or the Hindus; it would not be Politically Correct to know the details of the Fall of Constantinople. Its inhabitants who, at daybreak, while Mohammed II is shelling Theodosius’s walls, take refuge in the cathedral of St. Sophia and here start to sing psalms, to invoke divine mercy. The patriarch who by candlelight celebrates his last Mass and in order to lessen the panic, thunders: ‘Fear not, my brothers and sisters! Tomorrow you’ll be in the Kingdom of Heaven and your names will survive till the end of time.’ The children who cry in terror, their mothers who give them heart repeating, ‘Hush,baby, hush! We die for our faith in Jesus Christ! We die for our Emperor Constantine XI, for our homeland!’ The Ottoman troops who beating their drums step over the breaches in the fallen walls, overwhelm the Genoese and Venetian and Spanish defenders, hack them to death with scimitars, thus burst into the Cathedral and behead even new born babies.
They amuse themselves by snuffing out the candles with their little severed heads… It lasted from the dawn to the afternoon, that massacre. It abated only when the Grand Vizier mounted the pulpit of St. Sophia and said to the slaughterers, “Rest. Now this temple belongs to Allah”. Meanwhile the City burns, the soldiery crucify and hang and impale, the Janissaries rape and butcher the nuns (four thousand in a few hours) or put the survivors in chains to sell them at the market of Ankara. And the servants prepare the Victory Feast, the Feast during which (in defiance of the Prophet) Mohammed II got drunk on the wines of Cyprus and, having a soft spot for young boys, sends for the firstborn of the Greek Orthodox Grand-Duke Notaras: a fourteen year old adolescent known for his beauty. In front of everyone he raped him, and after the rape, he sent for his family – his parents, his grandparents, his uncles, his aunts and cousins. In front of the Grand-Duke, he beheaded them, one by one. He also had all the bells melted down, all the churches turned into mosques or bazaars. Oh, yes, that is how Constantinople became Istanbul. But Mr. Doudou of the UN and the teachers in our schools don’t want to hear about it.”(The Force of Reason, pp. 43-44)
An imam of the Ka’bah, Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, Abdullah Basfar, led thousands in a dawn prayer congregation outside of the Hagia Sofia on Saturday morning, before the congregation raised their hands in supplication asking for it to be reverted into a mosque.
“This is a serious push to break Ayasofya’s chains,” said Salih Turhan, head of the Anatolia Youth Association, which has collected 15 million signatures to petition for it to be turned back into a mosque.
“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 honour Sultan Mehmet’s trust,” he said, citing a 15th Century deed signed by the conquering Caliph and decrying as sin other uses of Hagia Sophia.
Built in 537 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian whose rule stretched from Spain to the Middle East, Hagia Sophia – meaning “Divine Wisdom” in Greek – was unrivalled in the Christian world until Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 and turned it into a mosque. Modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decreed it a museum in 1934.
Now, renewed interest in praying at Hagia Sophia taps into a burgeoning sense of Islamic identity that Erdogan has encouraged during a decade as Turkey’s dominant politician.
For most of the 20th Century, Western-oriented Turks scorned the imperial past. But Erdogan has promoted celebration of the Turkish conquest that turned Constantinople into Istanbul.
“Conquest is the removal of shackles on doors and in hearts,” he said on Thursday to mark the 561st anniversary of the Byzantine defeat. “Civilisation comes with conquest.”
A 2012 film depicting the Muslim takeover of the Byzantine capital, “Conquest 1453”, attracted an audience of millions. So has the museum’s “Panorama 1453” exhibition, which recreates the event in vivid detail.
Ibrahim Kalin, a senior Erdogan adviser, said there were no plans to alter the monument’s current status.
“Speculation on changing it into a church or a mosque remains speculation. Hagia Sophia has been open to all visitors from Turkey and around the world and will remain so,” he said.
Last year, Erdogan said he would not consider changing Hagia Sophia’s status as long as another great Istanbul house of worship, the 17th Century Sultan Ahmed Mosque, remains mostly empty of worshippers. Istanbul boasts more than 3,000 mosques.
But many pious Turks believe turning Hagia Sophia into a museum denigrated the memory of Sultan Mehmet, who strode into the cathedral to pray at its altar.