- (Photo: Arild Vågen/ Wikimedia Commons)
Members of the government of the Republic of Turkey have expressed consideration in turning a notable landmark that was once a church into a mosque.
Hagia Sophia, originally built as a cathedral and presently a museum, may be turned into a mosque, recently commented Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.
"We are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon," said Arinc regarding the possible change.
Such a possible move has garnered controversy both within Turkey and internationally, as many believe such a decision could put the country at odds with its generations of secular pluralistic tradition.
Lale Iskarpatyoti, president of the Turkish American Friendship Society of US (TAFSUS), told The Christian Post that she personally believed it should remain a museum.
Speaking for herself, Iskarpatyoti feels that Hagia Sophia is "a testament to Turkish people's tolerance and respect for other religions."
"As we all know, there are religious fanatics in every country; however, most Turks are very open to other cultures and religions," said Iskarpatyoti.
"By keeping Hagia Sophia open as a museum, Turkey should continue to set an example for interfaith tolerance to all other countries and religions around the world."
Hagia Sophia was constructed in the sixth century under the reign of Emperor Justinian I, being placed in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople.
For nearly a thousand years Hagia Sophia stood as a symbol of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, as well as the power and influence of the Byzantines.
In 1453, the Christian empire fell to the invading Turks, whose ruler, Mehmed II, converted the church into a mosque. Hagia Sophia fulfilled this purpose under the Ottoman Empire up until the twentieth century.
Under the secularizing rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the rise of the Republic, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum, which is its present function.
Istar Gozaydin, professor at Dogus University in Istanbul, told VOA News that she believed the announcement about the possible change was politically driven.
"For the pro-Islamic government it's important to have the monument be a mosque," explained Gozaydin to VOA.
"It's got to do with the current political climate in the country, the local elections approaching that would be a significant source for votes."
While known since the days of Ataturk for its sense of modernism and secularism, some believe that in recent years Turkey has been shifting back to a more religiously Islamic society.
When asked by CP if she thought this trend was true, Iskarpatyoti replied that in her individual opinion she felt there was presently a pendulum swing toward that direction.
"Yes, there does seem to be such a trend in Turkey as well as many other countries, even in the U.S. The pendulum is likely to swing back at some point but I am not sure when," said Iskarpatyoti.
"However, in my opinion, the question of whether or not Hagia Sophia should be converted to a mosque has more to do with religious tolerance rather than the notion of secularism."