Crowds in Instabul gathered last Friday by the thousands as the historical moment where Hagia Sophia became a mosque again and Muslims performed the Friday prayer after 86 years, with social distancing.
After over eight decades of being a museum, Hagia Sophia has regained the status of a mosque again following Turkey’s highest administrative court, the Council of State. The court ruling essentially annulled the 1934 Turkish cabinet order to convert the mosque into a museum. The Turkish government of that time was led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern-day, secular Republic of Turkey.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Hagia Sophia was built as a church under Byzantine rule, in 537. When Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. At the conquest of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia was found to be in a neglected state, after the previous conquest by Latin Christians in 1204-1261.
Sultan Mehmet Fatih (Fatih means the Conqueror) spent much of his own money to restore and renovate Hagia Sophia. The building is considered as his own private property following the conquest. The four minarets were added to the building as part of the conversion of it into a mosque.
In 1985, Hagia Sophia was chosen as a world heritage site as a museum, by UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural body, and was chosen for its architectural masterpiece, and that portrays a unique intersection between Europe and Asia.
UNESCO has raised their objections to Hagia Sophia’s status s a mosque, citing concerns for visitor access to the heritage site, as well as concerns over the Christian symbols and artifacts at the site being removed.
Sultan Mehmet II’s Private Property And His Curse
After the conquest of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia became the conqueror’s, Sultan Mehmet II, private property. He spent his own funds to restore and renovate the building after he converted it into a mosque, and put it under his foundation.
Sultan Mehmet II left a will to his foundation where he stated that originals cannot be transformed into anything other than their purpose. This is especially so for Hagia Sophia. He also went as far as putting a curse for those who violated the trust that he has left especially Hagia Sophia.
It reads as follows“Let the curse of Allah and the angels and all mankind be upon them. Let them dwell in hell forever and their punishment shall not be eased. No mercy for them forever. Whoever changes it after hearing it and seeing it, his sin shall be upon those who change it. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”
Was Hagia Sophia bought by Sultan?
According to some popular social media posts that have been circulating since Hagia Sophia’s change of status was announced, reports were that Hagia Sophia was a private property of the Sultan after he bought it from the previous owners.
However, this was not the case. According to historical accounts by a Turkish newspaper, Daily Sabah, Hagia Sophia became the private property of Sultan Mehmet II, following the conquest of Istanbul.
Based on Shari’a law, war booty from conquered lands are divided into one fifth belonging to the state and one fifth to the leader of the state. The leader had the right to choose which asset to become his private property. Sultan Mehmed II chose Hagia Sophia to be his private property, then converted into a mosque, and used his own funds to restore and renovate the building.
We have also reached out to Dr. Stef Keris, a historian specializing in Islamic and Ottoman history, to confirm that Sultan Mehmet II did not buy Hagia Sophia from its previous owners.
Assurances For All
Western political leaders as well as Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have expressed their dismay of Hagia Sophia’s reversion to a mosque.
This has not impacted Turkey’s decision, as Turkey maintains its sovereign right to do so.
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his speech on the change of status of Hagia Sophia, has reassured all will continue to have access to Hagia Sophia, whether local or foreign visitors. The Christian icons at the site will not be disturbed as they will be covered during Muslim prayers with drapes.
“I would like to stress, once again, that we will open Hagia Sophia to worship as a mosque while preserving its qualities as part of humanity’s shared cultural heritage.”
Farah Ishak is a Content Writer at Halalop. She grew up in the United Kingdom where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Management. Later, she completed her MBA and held senior-level positions in Malaysian based MNC. She left the corporate world to be with her young kids. She is passionate about issues concerning Muslim women, Startups and Muslim businesses in general.