Hagia Sophia decision worrisome for Christians

By July 14, 2020
hagia sophia

Turkey (MNN) — Turkey faces international backlash today following a court decision to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The USCIRF issued its condemnation on Friday, while the World Council of Churches called on Turkey’s president to reverse the decision.

Middle East Concern’s Daniel Hoffman says some leaders call it an ‘unnecessary’ move – one that carried a message.

“Muslims were already praying in a section, and the call to prayer was already going out from the Hagia Sophia, so [it was] done as a statement against the Christian communities and the Christian presence in Turkey,” Hoffman explains.

“[Authorities were] saying, ‘You’re not important to us; what we want to do is reestablish Turkey as a strongly conservative Muslim country’ – which makes Christian communities nervous.”

Originally built as a church, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque under the Ottoman Empire. It was converted into a museum in 1935 and stood as an icon of religious freedom for decades.

Hagia Sophia: from museum to mosque

The Hagia Sophia represents centuries-old tension between Christian and Muslim populations. As described here, Turkey’s first president converted it into a museum to “neutralize” conflict and secularize the country. Seeking to rally support from conservative Muslims, President Erdogan pushed to reverse that historic decision and turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. More about that here.

Turkey’s highest court was supposed to issue its verdict on President Erdogan’s request earlier this month. Instead, it delayed to July 17, and then unexpectedly released a decision last week.

Ceiling decoration in the Hagia Sophia. The Christian cross can be seen through later decorations. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“[Erdogan] issued a presidential decree that it (the Hagia Sophia) would be open for Muslim prayers again [and] become a mosque as of the 24th of July,” Hoffman says.

Although this change doesn’t impact daily life for Turkey’s believers, it sets a worrisome precedent.

“Any negative statements verbally or, in this case, by action from the Turkish Government – especially one as strong as this – is making Christian nervous about the future,” Hoffman explains.

“The government feels the [political] pressure; they are looking for people to scapegoat. In the media, Christians are regularly mentioned as some of the forces behind the difficulties Turkey is facing.”

How to help

Physical boundaries may separate us from our Christian brothers and sisters in Turkey, but nothing can stop prayer. Use the prompts listed alongside this article to guide your intercession.

“Pray for wisdom for Christian leaders to know how to respond to this. Pray as well that the attitude toward Christians will change, both from the government and wider society,” Hoffman requests.

“[Pray] that they will see Christians not as [being] opposed to the well-being of Turkey, but those who are good citizens and valuable members of society.”



Header image courtesy of Rumman Amin via Unsplash.

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