Thousands of Muslims in Turkey, preparing to celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the country 500 years ago, are demanding that authorities allow them to convert the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, despite laws forbidding worship at what was once the world's most renowned Christian church.
Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, which means "Holy
Wisdom" in Greek, was completed in 537 by Emperor Justinian and considered
the center of Orthodox Christianity for more than 900 years. It was converted
in the mid-15th century into a mosque after conquest by the Ottomans and became
a source of pride for the Muslim world.
"Keeping Hagia Sophia Mosque closed is an insult to
our mostly Muslim population of 75 million. It symbolizes our ill-treatment by
the West," said Salih Turhan, head of the Anatolian Youth Association.
There were also some Greek Orthodox Christians living in
Turkey who believe the museum should re-assume its function as a church.
However, the Orthodox patriarchate disagrees.
"If it were to become a mosque, Christians wouldn't
be able to pray there, and if it became a church it would be chaos,"
Father Dositheos Anagnostopulos, a spokesman for the patriarchate, told
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Hagia Sophia was met
by protests from angry Muslims who saw the pontiff's presence as an attempt to
make a Catholic claim of the site.
The demonstrators warned that any sign of a prayer there
would be considered an offense, BBC News reported, noting that Benedict
abstained from making any religious gesture.
According to latest estimates, Turkey's population,
numbering around 79.7 million, is 99.8 percent Muslim, while the remaining 0.2
percent are mostly Christians and Jews.
According to Reuters, just a few thousand Greek Orthodox
Christians remain in Turkey, although the patriarch's seat is still in
Istanbul, as it was before the Ottoman conquest.
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