Mufti of Egypt says Turkey's Hagia Sophia mosque conversion is 'forbidden'

Mufti of Egypt says Turkey's Hagia Sophia mosque conversion is 'forbidden'
Egypt’s grand mufti, Shawky Allam said Turkey's conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is forbidden in Islam.
4 min read
18 July, 2020
The decision to revoke the landmark's museum status sparked condemnation from Western governments [Getty]
Turkey's conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque is "impermissible", Egypt's grand mufti said, adding that places of worship should remain as they are.

Churches and mosques must be preserved around the world, as has been the case during the entirety of Egypt's history, Shawky Allam said, making reference to a previous fatwa by Laith bin Saad Fakih of Egypt who ruled that churches are part of earth's architecture in Islam.

Islamic texts tell us that we are protectors and defenders, and should therefore take great care with human cultural heritage, the mufti said, noting that the companions of the Prophet Muhammed had been intelligent in applying legal order when they travelled to Egypt, the Levant and Iraq, as well as countries that were home to civilisations including Persian, Roman and Pharaonic.

The Sphinx and the temples were left unharmed, he noted during an interview on the "Al nathra" show on Egypt's local Sada al-Balad channel.

The comments came just days after Turkey said the Hagia Sophia could open to visitors outside prayer times and its Christian icons will remain, after a court ruling paved the way for it to become a mosque.

The sixth-century Istanbul landmark's museum status - in place since 1934 - was revoked last week and control was handed to the religious authority, Diyanet.

The decision sparked condemnation from Western governments, Russia and Christian leaders - Pope Francis saying he was "very distressed".

Hagia Sophia spent almost 1,000 years as a cathedral before being converted into a mosque in 1453 and later into a museum.

Diyanet said in a statement last week that Christian icons in Hagia Sophia were "not an obstacle to the validity of the prayers".

"The icons should be curtained and shaded through appropriate means during prayer times," it said.

"There is no obstacle from a religious perspective to Hagia Sophia Mosque being open to visitors outside prayer times."

Hagia Sophia, a major tourist attraction, has been the scene of Islam-linked activities in recent years. In 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited a verse from Quran at the building.

Erdogan, who said the first Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia would begin on July 24, has insisted the building will be open to all, including non-Muslims.

The Turkish leader has rejected worldwide condemnation over Turkey's decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument back into a mosque, saying it represented his country's will to use its "sovereign rights".

"Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries ... attack Turkey's will to use its sovereign rights," Erdogan said during a ceremony he attended via video-conference.

"We made this decision not looking at what others say but looking what our right is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere," the Turkish leader said a day after the decision was announced.

Erdogan went ahead with the plan despite an open appeal from the NATO ally the United States as well as Russia, with which Ankara has forged close relations in recent years.

Greece swiftly condemned the move as a provocation, France deplored it while the United States also expressed disappointment.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, said: "We regret" the decision, speaking to Interfax news agency Saturday.

"The cathedral is on Turkey's territory, but it is without question everybody's heritage," he said.

"We would like to hope that [Turkey] will fully honour all of the commitments having to do with the World Heritage status of the cathedral, in terms of its management, protection, and access."

The influential bishop Hilarion, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's department for external church relations, expressed sorrow, speaking to state TV Rossiya24.

"We had hoped till the end that Turkish leadership would overturn the decision and it brings great sorrow and great pain that the decision was taken.

Read also: World Council of Churches expresses 'grief and dismay' over Hagia Sophia decision

"It is a blow to global Christianity... For us [Hagia Sophia] remains a cathedral dedicated to the Savior."

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