Updated: Oct 20, 2020
On the 10th of July 2020, a Turkish court ruling revoked the status of the Hagia Sophia
(Aya Sofia) as a museum and the President of Turkey ordered the reclassification of
the cathedral as a mosque!
This decision sparked international outcry, especially in the Orthodox countries
(Greece, Russia, Bulgaria etc.). Many people asked me for my opinion and I have
decided to issue this written statement:
The Hagia Sophia was built between 532 and 537 as the Cathedral of Constantinople
on orders of the Roman emperor Justinian I. Its name is a reference to the trinity
and means the Holy Wisdom of God!
By Petar Milošević - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40035957
After the fourth Crusade in 1204, it became a Roman Catholic Cathedral under the
Latin Empire of the Crusaders until 1261, but turned back to an Orthodox Cathedral
under the Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed Fatih opened
Constantinople in the year 1453 and made it into a mosque.
By Fausto Zonaro - http://www.worldvisitguide.com/oeuvre/O0025022.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2727680
The founder of the secular Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned the
cathedral into a museum in 1935.
As a Muslim, I am looking forward to praying in this mosque and to worshiping Allah
in such an important Muslim city! As the mosque in Cordoba was changed by the
Catholic conquerors of Al Andalus, so also this cathedral can become a mosque!
Furthermore, many mosques in Greece were either destroyed or have become
churches and serve the Greek Christians nowadays!
As a historian, I am excited to revisit the building whose function was changed
several times during history. However, the status of a museum would stress the
importance of this building from the historical perspective and would rather show
the different faces and phases of such an important monument. Furthermore, its
entrance fee would support the country’s tourism industry.
As a Greek, I know and appreciate the worries that Greece and its population have.
After the traumatic experience of losing the Byzantine Empire with its capital
Constantinople and becoming part of the Ottoman Empire, now the Greeks feel that
they are totally losing the cathedral because it has become a mosque. As a museum,
it was a more neutral place to learn about the history of the city and the different
empires it served as a capital!
It is important to mention here that as Turkey is an independent and sovereign state,
it can decide itself what it wants to do with its own monuments, but we should not
forget that as Greece and Turkey have to accept the simple fact that they are,
neighbours, they should try to find a middle way to live with each other.
As Islam teaches us, we have to respect our neighbours and give them their rights.
By Marmelad, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4138564
The decision to change the status of a museum to a mosque has annoyed and
irritated especially the Greeks. I think, it is important to keep the peace and find a
diplomatic solution because due to the location, Greece and Turkey will always be
The complicated history between Greece and Turkey will most probably stay
complicated! Let’s pray and make Dua that Greece and Turkey will be able to solve
their differences and put their complicated past to rest!
To find out more about the reason for the friction between these two neighbours and their common history, don't forget to subscribe here: https://mailchi.mp/ed2eeeea7672/stefkeriskeepintouch
With many Islamic greetings,
Dr. Stef Keris