In Reclaiming Mosque, Turkey Troubles the Waters

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted July 21, 2020

For almost 1,500 years, the Hagia Sophia has stood as a symbol of faith in the heart of Istanbul, the Turkish city once known as Constantinople, after the Roman emperor Constantine. 

Originally constructed as a Christian cathedral—and for nearly 1,000 years, the world’s largest such structure—Hagia Sophia (known as “Santa Sophia” to Roman Catholics) then became an Islamic mosque. 

In 1935, following a refurbishment that showcased its Christian roots, it was next designated as a museum. Over the next 85 years, as many as 3.7 million tourists per year visited the vast building.

In 1985, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the Hagia Sophia a World Heritage Site, a historically and culturally significant landmark of international status.

But now it’s being reconverted to a functional mosque. The change began in July 2020, when a Turkish court ruled the site’s status, determined in 1931, to be illegal. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long advocated for the building to revert to a Muslim worship center, has slated its first prayer service for July 24.

Global reaction was swift. Pope Francis, spiritual leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, said, “My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia, and I am very pained.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was similarly condemning: “With this backward action, Turkey is opting to sever links with the Western world and its values.”

Josep Borrell, who heads foreign policy for the 27-member European Union (EU), was more emphatic: “This decision will inevitably fuel mistrust, provoke renewed division between religious communities and undermine our efforts at dialog and cooperation. There was a broad support [among EU members] to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently reconsider and reverse this decision.” 

Writing in the Washington Post, historian Judith Herrin, an emeritus professor at King’s College London, expanded on the ramifications of this loss: “To turn the unrivaled building back into a place of worship threatens open access to a magnificent structure and the building’s invaluable mosaic decorations. By restricting access to Istanbul’s greatest historical legacy, Erdogan assaults the cosmopolitan traditions that make the city and Turkey itself a crossroads for the world. It is an act of cultural cleansing.”

She added, “Hagia Sophia belongs to the world. Its fate is not just a matter, as Erdogan defensively insists, of Turkish sovereignty.”

Underlying Political, Religious Tensions

In his years in office, Erdogan has steadily marched the Eurasian nation away from being a secular Islamic state. His stridency comes in part from a need to reinforce his political standing, as well as a belief that Turkey is supposed to play a leading role in the Muslim world.

Erdogan is not shy about making known his far-reaching aspirations either. It appears that he has set his sights next on Israel. CBN News reported, “In a Facebook post, he said the ‘revival of the Hagia Sophia is a sign towards the return of freedom to the al-Aqsa mosque’ in Jerusalem.” “Even before his speech [addressing the reconversion of Hagia Sophia], crowds had gathered outside Hagia Sophia chanting ‘Onward to Jerusalem!’” corroborated the National Review.

CBN News continued, “He also said the resurrection of Hagia Sophia ‘is a greeting from our heart to all cities from Bukhara to Andalusia.’ Bukhara is in modern-day Uzbekistan and Andalusia is modern-day Spain. Both are references to the Islamic dream of reclaiming lands once under the rule of Islam.”

Bloomberg noted the recognition of “Turkish geopolitical muscle-flexing, including energy exploration off Cyprus, a military operation in northern Syria to carve out a buffer zone and a maritime-boundary accord with Libya.”

The National Review concluded “that the spirit of conquest among devout Muslim Turks has increased rather than decreased since the country’s secular founding in the 1930s.”

But the fact that Hagia Sophia was originally constructed as a Christian cathedral is not lost on Christendom. Some organizations are seeing its confiscation as not just a play for domination but as a purposeful move against Christianity.

Fox News reported, “The Genesis 123 Foundation, based in Israel, called it ‘a direct attack on Christians and Christian heritage in the Middle East.’” And the National Review deemed it an example of Erdogan’s “malevolent brand of neo-Ottoman Islamic nationalism,” an assault on “Christians’ access to one of their greatest holy sites.”

Islam, Christianity, and Prophecy

Make no mistake that the present-day conflict between two of the world’s great religions is continuing to grow. Did you know this is a battle that has its origins—and even more fascinating, its conclusions—in the pages of Scripture? To better understand this clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity, Pastor Doug Batchelor’s three-part series on Islam, Christianity, and Prophecy is a great place to start. You may be surprised at the outcome—and what Jesus “has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

Special Note: Some evangelical Christian commentators, believing errantly that Islam is the Antichrist, say Erdogan’s actions are a sign of an impending “secret rapture,” where Jesus will whisk believers to heaven before returning to Earth a second time. But the Bible is clear: There is no such thing. Jesus’ return is going to be visible: He “will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Revelation declares that “every eye will see Him” (1:7). That doesn’t sound too secret; does it? Pastor Doug wrote about this in Anything But Secret, noting, “The secret rapture theory was designed to lull God’s people into a false sense of security and to prepare them for this final master deception.” Read the rest here.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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