Hagia Sophia mosque conversion will fracture Muslim, Christian worlds – Patriarch

Converting Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque would sow division between Muslims and Christians at a time when people need to come together over the COVID-19 coronavirus, Reuters reported Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as saying. 

“The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world,” Bartholomew, who is spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and is based in Istanbul, said. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537 and turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453.

The court is set to rule on Thursday on a challenge to its current status that disputes the legality of its conversion into a museum in 1935 in the early years of the modern secular Turkish state founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Bartholomew told a church congregation that the Hagia Sophia is a vital centre where East and West meet, and that changing its status will “fracture these two worlds”, which would be particularly harmful during a pandemic. 

Some groups have campaigned for years for Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque and Erdoğan, a pious Muslim, backed their call ahead of last year’s local elections.

Many Turks argue that mosque status would better reflect the identity of Turkey as an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and recent polls show that most Turks support changing its status, Reuters said.

The United States and Greece have both expressed concerns about the bid to restore the building as a mosque.