Converting Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, again

The plan to reconvert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque is gaining momentum. I would like to see the monument and the surrounding grounds kept as a museum accessible to everyone regardless of their religious tradition. Re-converting this ancient Christian cathedral cum mosque cum museum back into a mosque would radically limit our access to the pre-1463 history of the building.

Aerial view of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Aerial view of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

This article from the Hurriyet Daily News from Nov 16, 2013 explains how the Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has voiced his support for the plan. The buildings at Nicaea (İznik) and Trebizond (Trabzon) have already been reopened as mosques. He cites real estate law (that places of worship must be used for that purpose alone) and the problem of selling tickets to visit these buildings.

Why should non-Turkish mon-Muslims have access to Hagia Sophia? Because it is a heritage monument that represents architectural experimentation and innovation from the earliest centuries of the Byzantine empire. It was the locus of power for that empire for almost a millennium before it was turned into a mosque. It inspired countless other religious buildings that imitate aspects of its ground plan, its assembly of domes and semi-domes, and its mosaic decoration.

What can be done to put pressure on the key decision makers?

In church-land, the threat of “museumification” motivates leaders to try to reject historical and traditional buildings and practices that weigh down current communities from fully realizing their potential. Of course, historical connections help validate current groups and their values.

I find this situation very troubling because our ideological impasse reveals how little we westerners understand secularism and its values. I suspect many of my friends and colleagues are both unaware and disinterested in this debate because it is happening too far away in geo-political-historical terms.

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