Turkey’s Council of State is mulling whether or not to convert the historical Hagia Sophia museum back to a mosque, sparking religious controversy.
Rabat – Turkey’s Council of State is debating whether or not the Hagia Sophia, one of the country’s most significant religious and political symbols, should be converted back into a mosque.
After a 17-minute-long hearing on July 2 to determine the status of the 1,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site, Turkey’s highest administrative body said it would make a decision within 15 days.
Complete with marble columns, colorful mosaics, and calligraphy plates, tourists have flocked to the Hagia Sophia to marvel at its architectural beauty for centuries. Its historical and religious significance has captured the attention of people worldwide.
If the court approves, the now-museum may soon be reserved (once again) for Islamic worship and prayers.
Islamists and secular opposition members have long debated the historical site’s status and appropriate use.
First constructed in 532, the Hagia Sophia building was originally designed as a cathedral for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Other Catholics briefly occupied the space during the 13th century when Europeans invaded during the Fourth Crusade.
Following the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Fatih Sultan Mehmed rebuilt the religious structure as a mosque. Not long after, Ottoman architects took over and added their own unique features.
In 1934, the government passed a law to bar religious services at the Hagia Sophia and preserve the space as a relic of Turkey’s rich cultural, political, and religious past. Since this move, protesters have often taken to the streets to call for the resumption of Islamic religious services and prayers.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his support for the museum’s conversion last year during an election rally, sparking international criticism. Many express cautions that reverting the building could polarize Turkish society.
Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Eastern Orthodox Church based in Istanbul, said that converting the museum back into a mosque would “disappoint millions of Christians.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also warned that the change would sacrifice Hagia Sophia’s ability to “serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures.”
Turkish authorities in favor of the mosque have insisted that the future of the Hagia Sophia is a domestic concern and should not involve international opinions.
“What we do in our country and with our property is up to us,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to a Turkish television broadcaster.