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Hagia Sophia decision scratches the antagonistic conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the past

Some accused me of being emotional about Hagia Sophia. Their compliments are apparent in this remark. Because what we need most today is our emotions. Emotions make us human. Pure intelligence takes us to wrong ways without emotion. I am a much more rational person in my life than emotional as they accuse me of. Sometimes this life has taught me that things that cannot be grasped with rational reason can only be grasped with emotions. Hagia Sophia is exactly an exam that must be used with mind and emotions at the same time. It whispers the wisdom of 1500 years ago to our ear. Wisdoms do not shout around with megaphone in their hands. We have to stop shouting around, defying others and showdowns in order to listen them and  to take advantage of their whispers. How would it be if we would be a little be modest, stop praising of ourselves, quitting the imagionary spell of the pride of our own history? How would it be if would we leave our self-perception like ‘how great we are’?

I know that these are not our standard behaviors. As Turks and Muslims, you believe that you were born automatically in an honored way, I know! Shall I give you a secret? Honor is something that can be obtained as an individual, not as a group. This is my opinion. Of course there will be those who disagree. But whoever thinks he will be honored without personal effort thanks to a group belonging is wrong. Neither Turkishness nor Muslims make people more honored or less honored. While learning the history, our aim is not to see what wonderful and extraordinary achievements our group belongs to, and thus to produce more pride in ourselves. There are things that need to be upset and embarrassed as much as the things to be boasted in history. Do not make decisions immediately! You are never alone in this, we are never alone! As there are good people and bad people in all human communities, all human communities are embracing very positive and sometimes embarrassing behaviors. Are the Germans a nation of poets and philosophers? Or monsters that mass murder Jews? Which one? We have to look at history not only in black and white, but in gray areas.

Islam and Muslims are not the same, but they are related, since one will not be exist without the other. So is Turkishness and Turks. A group belonging does not make you special. You can only make yourself special with your individual effort. The main war is not the struggle between groups, but your struggle to make yourself better.

Look, all these are the results to be reached with reason and emotions. We are human. People first!

Our being human should always remind us that only we are not there, there are other people too! They have the right to live as much as we do. Apart from the right to live, they also have the right to love, shelter, believe, not believe, be happy, protect their children, and live free in their cities and homes. No society is superior to another. How happy we are when we eat with our loved ones, with our family, when a new child is born, laughing and having fun, how we feel sorry when we lose someone or when we feel hurt, other people feel the same!

Hagia Sophia was a church. It later became a mosque, then a museum. This is very simple, simple truth! But all these phases are full of sadness and sarrows, as well as happiness and joys! Sometimes the joy of one people is the sadness of another. History is filled with tens of thousands of cases like this. The power struggles in the conditions of the period caused great victories and every great victory caused great pain. I believe that even though we do not feel the suffering of the defeated people and get excused at the moments when victories are experienced, the human being, who we think should have been wisdom centuries later, should act by considering the sadness and pain of the other side. Yes, it is that hard to be human!

How did Hagia Sophia become a mosque? The simple answer, after Constantinople was conquered by the Muslim Turks in 1453, it was mosqueized by the decision of Sultan Mehmet II. But how did this happen? After making the Roman Empire made Christianity its state religion, Christianity, previously persecuted by Romans everywhere, bloomed in all Roman lands. The process by which they came out of the caves and carried the primitive and modest churches to the cathedrals began. Christianity is based on three basic principles. 1) Jesus is divine, 2) Jesus was killed by crucifixion, 3) Jesus was resurrected three days after his death on the cross. These three important beliefs are the basis of the Christian teaching. Muslims reject all three of these three beliefs. Accordingly, Jesus was only a human. Jesus was not crucified, but someone else was crucified instead. So Jesus never resurrected. These two Abrahamic religions can never compromise with each other in a theological sense. Because the basis of the beliefs of Christians is rejected by Muslims. Interfaith dialogue cannot compromise this theological conflict.


The second important thing is the theological and political antagonism that Islam poses to other monoteist Abrahamic religions. Islam aims to subordinate Christians and Jews to their rule. The entire history of Islam is a project of spreading the religion initiated in this direction. Since Christians and Jews, did not believe in Islam and because they did not accept Muhammad as a prophet, they did not give their lands to Muslims, and they did not become Muslims by leaving their beliefs. There may be some exceptions to this. But the general trend is in this direction. While Muslims were spreading, Christians tried to stop this. When Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Christians and Jews tried to repulse this “outside power”. Historically, it is not right to ask who is right of who is wrong. The issue is that the indigenous people’s resistance to the power coming from the outside and trying to spread themselves with another sword is a universal human behavior. It would be pointless to consider this as the struggle of ‘this book said this, the other one said that.’

So there is a potential conflict between Islam and Christianity. This is a theological and political conflict! And there is a trunk loaded with this conflict! In this baggage, there are incidents such as the Crusader Wars, the invasion of Andalusia, the Islamization of Anatolia, the invasion of the Balkans by the Ottoman, from different perspectives. Even it is a very constructive narrative to say that “Look, we are both Abrahamic religions. Let’s be brothers!” its realization depends on some conditions. The first of these is that both sides accept the other as it is!

Will Muslims be able to say “your religion is yours and ours is ours ,” by accepting Christian’s beliefs that Jesus is the son of God and the divine character, the word of God, God’d  reincarnation in the human body? Can Christians accept a religion whose prophet is not referred in their sacred texts and brings serious cultural and maternal practices like poligamy to daily life?

Now the pain is this. The first one is not happening! But the second has already happened. Let me give an example. Muslims living abroad can teach their religion as they wish, establish their own mosque communities and fulfill their worship, as well as spreading their religion in peace. Nobody can say that this can happen in Islamic countries. Although Turkey was most tolerant and secular country, it was where Christian missionaries were killed, and churches were banned. There is no need to even count other examples. However, when the construction of a mosque in Europe is prevented (sometimes this can happen in conservative municipalities), a very large proportion of that region, generally more than 50 percent, supports Muslims. Moreover, comparative Islamic theology is taught at universities in the West without prejudice. In many Western countries, the religion of Islam (along with Judaism and other important religions) is taught to students in religion courses. But forget Christianity or Judaism theology, even the beliefes of Alevis, who constitute a significant proportion of society,who pay the same tax with Sunnis, are not taught in religion courses. Let’s get over it, the Jemevis are excluded, they cannot benefit from the Government budget. Likewise, the rights of deists or atheists are constantly being violated.

We live in the Twenty-First Century! Muslim Turks do not provide the rights of freedom of religion of non-Muslims, while enjoyin their rights living outside.

Now Hagia Sophia will be converted into a mosque again. I am wondering how many people will stop and think about this decision in the framework of what I wrote above! While claming that Islam is a religion of tolerance, It is also known that Islamist circles are highly reluctant when criticizing organizations such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram or Hamas, Taliban or El Nusra. ‘Those who do this are not Muslims’ is not credible. And these extreme terrorist movements are recruiting participants from a certain cultural environment. It is no longer convincing to say that these are not related to the existing religious discourses. The challenge is to make a critical reconsideration and purification. The silent majority should raise their voice. Is it not necessary to bring up a religious understanding that is free from mega-political goals and the method of violence (dar-ul harp, cizye, etc.), which prioritizes the struggle of the individual (servant), adorned with a moral aim to be a good person? Shouldn’t it be necessary to work for a theological concept that maintains that the “arms were dropped?” Isn’t peace achieved only like this?

Do you think making Hagia Sophia’s a mosque is a spirit in this direction? Or is it scratching the antagonistic conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the past? Which one?


I think that Islam doesn’t need to use violence to spread itself to someone else’s temple. The values ​​in it, the morality that brings the universe, love and devotion to the forefront, its structure open to science and development, provides its feature of being a religion where Muslims can find peace in this century as well. And it offers a valuable alternative to civilization for humanity. But all this is important only when it accepts existence with other religions. Offensive discourse telling others how bad their beliefs are, opens the door to violence. The dream of forcing its values ​​leads it to be perceived as a totalitarian ideology. Obviously, according to my humble assessment, this is the greatest evil to be done in the name of Islam. A self-confident religion does not need to force!

I hope the Hagia Sophia decision pushes us all to think and discuss more with all its negativity. This is exactly what you need! While thinking, it is necessary to add emotions and not mind and knowledge. It is necessary to empathize and to recognize that essential differences of the great human family are essential to your identity. You cannot explain to the people who opened their church for you to pray why you made Hagia Sophia a Mosque. Perhaps a different, deeper dialogue with Christians is needed! Maybe instead of focusing on theological differences, we should focus how we can cultivate mutual morality and tolerance culture on the hard road to peace. I hope this article helps, albeit small and humble, helps this mission.

Last word: Being human is our highest identity.

The original Turkish version of this article first appeared at TR724.COM.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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