The Turkish Council of State, in a session next Thursday July 2, will consider opening the monumental complex of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to Islamic worship again, possibly reversing the 1935 decision with which the Turkish government converted into a museum the ancient Byzantine basilica transformed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453).
The pronouncement of the Council of State will represent a strong institutional response which will allow for the realistic evaluation of the possibilities for success of the pressure put in place by sectors of Turkish political leadership to reopen the basilica to Muslim worship.
In recent days, Turkish media have published rumours that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has given instructions to change the statute of the monumental complex of Hagia Sophia, so that it can again be used as a place of Islamic worship but without closing the building for tourist visits.
Meanwhile, the new campaign set in motion by some Turkish powerbrokers to ‘re-islamise’ Hagia Sophia is provoking vehement reactions all over the world, and the whole affair has been transformed into a battlefield of geopolitical clashes.
Among the most decisive pronouncements was one from the “House of Fatwa” (Dar al Ifta al Misryah), an Egyptian observatory chaired by the Grand Mufti of Egypt and charged with resolving doubts and controversies regarding the application of the Koranic precepts and with issuing definitive pronouncements.
The Egyptian body, intervening at a time marked by the strong opposition between Egypt and Turkey also on the Libyan front, has come to define the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople as an “occupation”, marking as an unfortunate event the transformation of Haghia Sophia into a mosque.
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev also spoke about the controversy around the basilica, and warned that “attempts to change the status of Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum, could lead to… [a] violation of the balance between religions”.
Meanwhile, also in Turkey, political analysts such as Orhan Bursal, columnist of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, in a recent article argued that the Hagia Sophia is used by the Turkish leadership as an “electoral tool” to identify “external enemies” to expose to the resentment of Turkish public opinion, and that much at a time of economic crisis linked to the ongoing pandemic.