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AYA SOFYA (THE SAINT SOPHIA) CHURCH IN ISTANBUL

SİZE SON GÜNLERDEKİ POLİTİC GELİŞMELERLE İLGİLİ ECUMENİSM YAZIMI GÖNDERMİŞTİM. BU GÜN DE AYA SOFYA İLE İLGİLİ YAZIMI GÖNDERİYORUM.  

AYA SOFYA (THE SAINT SOPHIA)  CHURCH IN  ISTANBUL

By: Ayhan Ozer

In 2008, The American Airlines have set up an exhibit at the JFK Airport in New York City displaying the unique and characteristic buildings around the world. The famous Saint Sophia church in İstanbul, Turkey too was deemed worthy of this honor.

There is a story behind this church. When Istanbul was taken by the Turks in 1453 they converted this historical church into a mosque without altering its spiritual significance. It used to be a worship place, and was to be used as a worship place as well. Therefore, nothing sacrilegious or disrespectful act towards Christianity had been committed.

This lasted until 1936. The Great Ataturk was not comfortable with this conversion, even though the idea was benign, an unnecessary negative image for Turkey had been created. He put an end to it by converting the Aya Sophia church into a museum. The reasons behind this dignified gesture were the following:

The Church of Saint Sophia, or Holly Wisdom was conceived as a church, it was designed and constructed in a Christian country by the Christians as a church. In concept and in spirit it is a church. It served for a thousand years for the Christian worship. It has nothing to do with Islam.

According to the Islamic historiography, in early Islam, in Mecca and Medina Prophet Muhammed never converted any worship places of other faiths into a mosque. He is said to have enjoined the devout to refrain from such arrogance. Converting Aya Sophia into a mosque in 1453 may have been condoned when the world was in the Dark Age and the raw power was the sole currency. Nevertheless, for the last 500 years this conversion has been considered by the Christian world as a gross usurpation upon their faith. Today, the world is more enlightened, and the contemporary civilized norms do not justify such appropriations based on religious zeal. In fact, in principle Ataturk did not approve it, and his action was a courageous civilized  move.

Today, to haunt this issue with petty political motives will not bring any benefit to any party; it is a waste of time. On these matters everything has been firmly established through international Treaties. And Turkey will not yield to any duress, nor any political shenanigans will play any role to change the status quo.

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