Turkey turning Hagia Sophia back into mosque divides social media

Social media users express both approval and disappointment over decision to change UNESCO World Heritage Site’s status.

People visit Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya Museum in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia has been an attraction for tourists worldwide and visited by millions of people every year [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

People in Turkey and around the globe have expressed mixed opinions on social media following the Turkish government’s controversial decision to turn Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia back to a mosque.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declaration on Friday came after a Turkish high court stripped the sixth-century Byzantine site’s museum status, paving the way for it to be converted into a mosque.

The court cancelled 1934’s council of ministers’ decision to turn the establishment into a museum and said Hagia Sophia was registered as a mosque in its property deeds.

Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire and was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453 and changed the city’s name to Istanbul.

The building, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the historical part of the metropolis, has been an attraction for tourists worldwide, and visited by millions of people every year.

Erdogan has many a time openly expressed his support to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

The decision, however, has once again revealed the polarisation between secular and religious Turks in the country.

Some social media users celebrated the decision as a victory for Muslims.

“Congratulations to the Muslim world. Hagia Sofia is no longer a Museum. It has been turned back into a Mosque. 1st AZAAN after 8 decades took place today. #Turkey Does It Again. Alhamdolillah,” a social media user from Pakistan, Mir Mohammad Alikhan, tweeted.

Engin Altan Duzyatan, a Turkish Twitter user, said “The chains around the Ayasofya have been broken.”

“Turkey will no longer be the same. The time has come for it rightfully command its sovereignty. The spirit of the Ottomans have been revived in the hearts of the Turks. Allahu Ekber! What a time to be alive in!” 

‘Hagia Sofia belongs to humanity’

However, many other social media users disagreed with the decision, saying the World Heritage Site should have stayed neutral.

Razan Ibraheem, whose account says she is based in Ireland, said “the extraordinary history” of Hagia Sofia “should have been kept for everyone from all religions and backgrounds”.

“It should have been kept as a museum and a world heritage site. Hagia Sofia is timeless and not limited to religion. It belongs to history and humanity,” she posted.

According to Ankesh Ojha from India, the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is “a declaration that Turkey is no longer secular”.

Some others compared the development with other local and international issues to make their arguments.

Joseph Lumbard, based in Doha, Qatar, said people making a big discussion out of Hagia Sophia’s status needed to check their priorities, making a reference to Uighur Muslims in China.

“If you are more worried about the fate of the #hagiasofia than of the 3 million Uiyghur Muslims who have been imprisoned and whose mosques are in the process of being destroyed by the Chinese government, you may need to check you priorities,” he wrote in a tweet, referring to the suppressed Muslim minority in China.

Haseeb Ahmed Barlas, who is based in Islamabad, Pakistan according to his social media account, referred in his tweet to an Indian mosque demolished in the 1990s, which had been a source of conflict between the Hindu and Muslim communities for a long time.

“Many Muslim Liberals are criticising Erdogan because of this [conversion of Hagia Sophia]. Where were those liberals, when Hindus were demolishing Babri Masjid?” he tweeted.

Source: Al Jazeera