The Turkish government has sanctioned Quran recitations by a different senior Islamic cleric each day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan so far this year at the secular Hagia Sophia Museum. Christian-majority Greece has condemned the move as the “creeping Islamization of the building,” reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The news agency notes:
Last year, a Muslim cleric recited the Quran in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years to mark the opening of an exhibition.
But this Ramadan the Turkish authorities have gone a step further, with the state TV religion channel Diyanet TV broadcasting every day of the month the Quran recitation by a different senior Turkish cleric, the most extensive use of the building for religious purposes since it became a museum.
The Hagia Sophia was initially built as a church of the Christian Byzantine Empire in the sixth century, before it was converted into a mosque soon after the conquest of Constantinople by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453.
In the 1930s, it became a secular museum under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
AFP describes the current incarnation of the building as “one of the single most emblematic edifices of human civilization … [, a] universal heritage for peoples of all faiths.”
Echoing some Christian groups, Greece has been angered by the recent broadcast of Quran recitations at the secular facility in Muslim-majority Turkey, a move that has been sanctioned and allegedly encouraged by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Islamic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The recitation, broadcast live on Diyanet TV, aroused a furious reaction from Greece, which for years has warily eyed what Athens sees a creeping Islamization of the building,” reports AFP.
“This kind of obsession — bordering on bigotry — for holding Muslim ceremonies in a monument that belongs to the patrimony of humanity is incomprehensible and shows a lack of respect and contact with reality,” Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly declared in a statement.
Nikos Kotzias, Greece’s foreign minister, has reportedly filed a complaint against the Turkish government’s recent use of the Hagia Sophia with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN’s cultural heritage agency.
“We recognize the Hagia Sophia, as you mentioned, is a site of extraordinary significance, and we would encourage the Turkish Government to preserve the Hagia Sophia in a way that respects its traditions and its complex history,” Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters on June 9.
Nevertheless, Tanju Bilgic, a spokesman for Turkey’s foreign affairs, characterized Greece’s comments as “unacceptable.”
Bilgic accused the Mediterranean nation of violating religious freedoms of its Muslim minority, indicating Greece “has not given permission for the construction of a mosque in Athens for years.”
“Some Turkish officials — including a recent culture minister — have voiced a desire to see the Hagia Sophia become a mosque again but this has never been an official policy,” notes AFP.
“Both sides may want to keep the dispute in check however, given the relatively robust relations between Turkey’s AKP government and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras, particularly on the migration crisis,” it adds.