Turkey is a secular country with a Muslim majority as we all know. There has always been tension between different political blocs since the Republic was found (it may be about religion, nationalism, minority rights etc.) I can explain more about the history of civil conflicts, military rule, oppression of the hijab in government agencies and universities, history of minority oppression etc. another time if needed. These are all parts of Turkey which are necessary to be understood before making any bold comments about the region. The history of oppression in Turkey is complicated with all parties responsible: both seculars and political islamists. If you ask me what I want out of Turkey, I simply want to live together in peace with everyone respecting each others’ differences, that’s it.
So, what is the situation today? Erdogan has been weaponizing Islam to gain votes for many years now. As his corruption scandal got out in 2013, he has been more vicious than ever, stepping on individual freedoms left and right. A simple example of weaponization of Islam that would make sense to my mainly Muslim following would be how he made people watch the uncensored NZ shooting video in one of his political rallies for votes. I can give a hundred more examples with more details, but I don’t want to stray further away from my point.
Human rights in my country are at an all-time low, we are the #1 jailer of journalists, have pregnant women in our prisons for made up charges, xenophobia is at an all-time high, the youth is unemployed, the economy is going bad… I am against Erdogan using Ayasofya as a political move in this current climate. Our holy places are not political pawns to be used when someone is clearly messing up. I am not against reclaiming spaces at all; I find it beautiful to undo cultural imperialism. But this action was a politically charged one, it was done to show both the Turkish people and the world that Turkey will not be respecting its minorities’ rights or religious harmony. It was done to get authoritarian people’s votes. It is too simple of a perspective just to accept it as reclaiming back of a Muslim place of worship.
I would like to ask ‘What does a Muslim person gain out of this action?’. If I want to pray in the Sultanahmet area I won’t be going into Ayasofya where there are mosaics of Jesus all over the walls. I will walk for two minutes instead (I am not exaggerating) and pray inside the Blue Mosque. There are 5 or more other beautiful mosques in the same area at walking distance one may choose to pray in.
Is it necessary to pray inside Ayasofya which is known for its history of housing different religions?
Why not leave it as a monument of coexistence in the most beautiful place of Istanbul and let people celebrate all its cultures? As a Muslim, I can go and celebrate its Muslim history without being threatened by its presence as a museum. I believe that Ayasofya’s history as a mosque was not erased at all when it became a museum, therefore there is no reason to reclaim it like this, it is already a part of our Muslim Turkish values as it is. I do not want there to be hatred between Muslims, seculars, or minority groups in my country, it is as simple as that. There is no need to send a message that says ‘you do not belong’ to the minority groups living in Turkey through the transformation of Ayasofya. As someone who has lived in Turkey for most of her life, we are tired of hating each other because of these cheap political moves.
And one last point mainly for my Muslim followers, a much more important issue than Ayasofya’s transformation is that people in Turkey don’t really pray anymore. So many empty mosques without anyone to pray in them, it is heartbreaking. I would suggest that this is caused by the erosion of Islamic values in the past 10 years due to Islam becoming a political weapon in the hands of Erdogan. So, what does the turning of Ayasofya into a mosque actually represent in the current political climate of Turkey? Is it simply reclaiming a Muslim space or is it using the sentiments of Muslims in Turkey just for some cheap votes? While Erdogan weaponizes Islam, the youth is straying further away from it and the polarization and hatred within communities is increasing. I want Islam to be a value that brings my people together, not one to cause rifts between them just because politicians twist it like this. Therefore, the transformation of Ayasofya in my opinion, symbolizes the Turkish society becoming distant to Islamic values rather than symbolizing a religious awakening like Muslims all around the world think. Which is why I would say that the transformation of Ayasofya into a mosque is the wrong thing to do.