These are some historical points that are critical in understanding the history of the Ayasofya Mosques, historically called the Hagia Sophia. We’ll start with points from the antiquity of Hagia Sophia.
• Muslims didn’t erase the mosaics There were no mosaics of images of any kind to begin with! Justinian who founded the Hagia Sophia was, by the influence of his wife, Theodora, a staunch iconoclast. This was a theological sect of Christianity that deemed images of sacred figures to be sacrilege. There remained no images of any kind in the Hagia Sophia until 300 years later when the iconoclasts lost popular support to the iconodules who favored graven images in their places of worship. Iconoclasm rose again in various times throughout history, such as their rise in the 8th and 9th centuries, when the images of the iconodules were plastered over. Again, Muslims had not even gotten anywhere near Constantinople in the 8th and 9th centuries. This was all done by Christians themselves! So if you’re soooo concerned about restoring the Hagia Sophia to its originally intended design and purpose, you need to be calling for ALL the Christian mosaics and frescoes to be wiped out. I’ll wait.
• The mosaics were all still visible well into the 16th century according to historical testimony from Christians themselves. So, while Christian factions themselves plastered over the mosaics and frescoes of Christ and his mother, the Muslims did not do that.
“Mosaics and paintings were still visible inside Hagia Sophia until the sixteenth century, its central dome being adorned by an enormous Christ Pantokrator who would have dwarfed any person looking at it from the ground. When three centuries later, the Fossati brothers restored the church, they originated lithographs that illustrate the impression of petitesse one feels when inside the church. In their rendering of the building, minuscule men appear swallowed by the convex domes above them.”
[French Encounters with the Ottomans, 1510-1560, By Pascale Barthe]
The Fossati brothers mentioned here reveal another fascinating detail. In 1847, Sultan Abdülmecid appointed the Swiss brothers who were skilled architects to renovate the Hagia Sophia. They completed the restoration in two years, utilizing more than eight hundred workers. They were able to document a larger number of Byzantine mosaics whose precise location within the Hagia Sophia today have not been fully documented since many were either painted over or destroyed often without recording their original location. The drawings of the Hagia Sophia mosaics are kept in the Cantonal Archive of Ticino. Sultan Abdülmecid allowed the brothers to also document any mosaics they might discover during this process which were later archived in Swiss libraries.
So, even as late as the 19th Century, the Ottoman Sultans were showing reverence and respect for the historical Christian icons and artifacts remaining in the Hagia Sophia. This concern of Sultan Abdülmecid ensured that many unknown mosaics and frescoes discovered during the Fossati brother’s works would be documented and preserved for posterity. This would have never happened otherwise.
• Hagia Sophia rests on a historically restless fault-line. It’s first collapse was in 558 which happens to be the year the latest archaeological research postulates is the actual “Year of the Elephant” which happens to be the birth year of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). It suffered numerous earthquakes, of the most devastating was an earthquake in 1344 which saw the church’s capacity irreparably diminished as will be displayed with copious evidence herein.
• Often these earthquakes were followed by massive tsunamis that further wrecked the cities of Greece. On September 23, 1065 an earthquake rocked and leveled Constantinople only to be followed by a Tsunami that destroyed Nicolidea, the Princes Islands, Constantinople, and Nicaea. In 1332, twelve years before the major earthquake of October 1344, another massive earthquake struck Constantinople and was followed by a huge tsunami which further devastated the city. According to a description by Nicephoros Gregoras, "Sea waves higher than mountains flooded the eastern walls of Byzantium and forced them from the earth; waves went under the city gate and opened it; they flooded and overturned houses inside the city walls."
[Tsunamis in the Mediterranean Sea 2000 B.C.-2000 A.D, Sergeĭ Leonidovich Solovʹev, Sergey L. Soloviev, Olga N. Solovieva, Chan N. Go, Khen S. Kim, Nikolay A. Shchetnikov]
• Frequent political turmoil also hampered the building’s use as a functioning church. The Second Palaiologan Civil War, also known as the Byzantine Civil War, of 1341-1347 was one such example. In the middle of this civil war, catastrophic damage was sustained not only from the battles between factions, but due to a tremendous earthquake in October of 1344. This was followed by another massive earthquake in 1354.
• The constant devastation the cathedral experienced led people to believe that it was an omen of God’s displeasure and a sign of His purpose no longer being in their favor. This led people to believe the place had become cursed.
“But Gregoras also felt that much of their misfortune was due to the corruption of Christian principles caused by the war. A sure sign of this was the fact that the cathedral of St. Sophia was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair until, on the night of 19 May 1346, a part of the eastern end of the building collapsed altogether. It was a memorable tragedy and a terrible omen. Repairs were soon carried out by willing armies of workers, rich and poor, men and women alike. But it was the kind of event that often signaled a change in God's purpose to the Byzantine mind. “
[The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, By Donald M. Nicol, p. 106]
• Aside from being caught in the crossfire between internally warring Byzantine factions, in 1204, the Latin Crusaders attacked and sacked the cathedral during the Fourth Crusade, completely looting it of all artifacts and treasures, and laying waste to the building and setting it on fire. So the extensive damage that the Hagia Sophia has suffered over the centuries was not by Muslims but by hundreds of years of Christian onslaught against the cathedral and natural disasters for which only God can be attributed as responsible.
• The destruction of major churches in Constantinople was obviously not limited to the Hagia Sophia. The second most significant church in Constantinople, the Church of the Holy Apostles, had also been destroyed and, like the Hagia Sophia, all but abandoned.
“As the empire entered its final decline, Hagia Sophia became progressively more neglected. A few years after the coronation of Manuel II Palaeologus - third from the end of the imperial line - in 1391, the Spanish ambassador Gonzalez de Clavijo wrote that "the outer gates by which the church was approached are broken and fallen." In the last years of the emperor's reign, the Florentine traveler Cristiforo Buondelmonti got the impression that "only the dome of the Church remained, as everything is fallen down and in ruins." By the fifteenth century, Constantinople was a sadly diminished city. One foreign traveler was astonished to find it so full of ruins, another aghast at its emptiness, and a third remarked on its sparse and impoverished population. The great bazaars were almost devoid of produce, the great warehouses derelict and infested with rats. Many quarters of the city, once buit-up and prosperous, had reverted to nature, with birds singing and wildflowers blooming in orchards and hedgerows. Such were the last stages of a decline that had its roots in the Latin conquest.”
[Hagia Sophia: A History, Richard Winston]
The Latin conquests referenced at the end of this citation being none other than the Christian Crusader conquests of 1204 that saw the entire city ravaged and the Hagia Sophia pillaged and destroyed.
• These disasters dramatically decreased, and on their previous scale and frequency simply ceased to occur. Whatever the otherworldly reason may be, it is observable historical fact.
• So with the Hagia Sophia being a collapsing structure, much of which had already been reduced to rubble, what was Sultan Mehmet Fatih to do when he conquered Constantinople? Should he have spent an exorbitant amount, causing great economic stress upon the Ottoman economy, to restore it as a Church for a sparse Christian population which had already been rapidly dwindling according to the testimony of travelers in the 15th Century? To imagine he should do this isn’t altruism but just plain stupidity. Let’s just be real and stop being stupid for a moment if that’s not too much to ask for. What nation in this history of planet earth has taken on a huge financial burden to restore a dilapidated and nearly completely collapsed house of worship belonging to the people who warred with them for centuries whom they eventually conquered? The closest thing to it would be how the Ottomans preserved the Christian icons and artifacts of the Hagia Sophia!
• Also, the perspective of Islamic law that necessitates that non-Muslim populations sustain their houses of worship by themselves must be taken into account. There is agreement between the four canonical schools of Sunni Islamic law that the People of the Book be free to worship, frequent their houses of worship, and maintain, sustain, and repair their houses of worship. However, their houses of worship remain their responsibility, not the Muslim state’s. Meaning, they are responsible for their own houses of worship. There are exceptions according to some Islamic scholars that aid can be provided to the People of the Book for the restoration of their places of worship if those places of worship predate the arrival of Islam into antiquity. However, that aid can not be a huge and primary expense of the Muslim state. The fundamental principle behind this is the verse of the Qur’an:
(وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَى وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ)
“Cooperate with one another in goodness and righteousness, and do not cooperate in sin and transgression.”
[The Qur’an 5:2]
And it is clear that there is no transgression in Islam greater than worship of other than God.
• There are numerous examples of Mosques and places of worship turned into Churches following conquest: Grand Mosque of Cordoba, The Sveti Sedmochislenitsi (Seven Saints) Church in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a multitude of other examples. And it’s not just Mosques that the Christians converted to Churches. The Buddhist Bao Thien Tower temple of Hanoi, Vietnam became Saint Joseph’s Cathedral by the conquering French. So unless they are ready to revert these back to their original intended houses of worship, they need to shut up.
It is simply an unfortunate historical inevitability that when one nation conquers another, their most venerated monuments will be claimed by the conquerors. Masjid al-Aqsa itself was turned into a church with a cross hoisted atop it for 100 years during Crusader rule and was only restored to a Masjid after Saladin’s victory at Hattin. This is acknowledged as an unfortunate reality and occurrence in the Qur’an that, without God using military deterrence between nations, churches, monasteries, and temples would be razed.
(وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُم بِبَعْضٍ لَّهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا اسْمُ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا)
“If God did not repel some people by means of others, many monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God’s name is much invoked, would have been destroyed.”
[The Qur’an 22:40]
And this is what happened when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk gained power in Turkey, he converted the Hagia Sophia, which had been a Mosque for over half a millennium, into a museum. And now that there is a new government, it is reverted back to the Mosque it had been for hundreds upon hundreds of years. This is the nature of what happens to iconic monuments during power shifts, even when those shifts are unfortunate.
• However, in spite of the aforementioned historical reality, Sultan Mehmet I actually paid the Christians of Constantinople to have the building repurposed. There are some amusingly senseless assertions I’ve seen on social media that this purchase was under “duress”. What conqueror needs to purchase anything in the land he’s conquered? If it’s a matter of duress, he can simply take whatever he wants for himself. It makes absolutely no sense for a conqueror to PAY for anything in his conquered territories unless the intent is goodwill and even-handedness. The documents for this purchase still exist today. And historical scholars agree that had the Ottomans not taken control of the Hagia Sophia and repurposed it, thereby, spending exorbitant amounts in restoring it for posterity, the building would have completely collapsed within a decade to the point of irreparability.
The modern history of Hagia Sophia.
• So after being a Mosque for over 500 years, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a rabid form of liberal secularism came to power in Turkey. They engaged in efforts to remove all semblances of Islam from society by banning the call to pray from Mosques over loud speaker, banning women from wearing Hijabs, banning men from growing their beards, and other draconian measures to rob the Turkish people of their freedom of religion. Among these measures was taking the most significant symbol of Islamic life in Turkey, the Ayasofya Masjid, historically called the Hagia Sophia, and transforming it into a museum in 1935. This wasn’t to do Christians any favors. The Ottoman Sultans had already been preserving relics of the Christian history of the Mosque for centuries. This was merely a slap in the face to the Islamic oriented politicians who contested them and whom they largely had executed and/or assassinated.
• Now, in 2020, it is being reverted, not converted, but REVERTED to the Mosque it had already been for over 500 years before the less than 70 years as a museum. The legal ruling maintains that all Christian icons and artifacts will be preserved just as the Ottoman Sultans did consistently throughout their history. There is no threat to the historical heritage of the Mosque, neither to it’s Christian nor Muslim history. In light of ALL the historical details shared here, such outrage is wholly ridiculous not to mention completely manufactured by clandestine Islamophobic elements in society by whom “woke” Muslims are way too easily swayed and herded like bleating sheep.
The fact that such spineless Muslims are in an outrage over the Hagia Sophia being reverted to the Mosque it has been for over half a millennium is nauseating and revolting. What makes it all the more worse is that they’re doing this on the eve of the Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims by Serbian nationalist “Chetniks” in 1995. What’s the correlation? The Hagia Sophia has always been a symbol of anti-Muslim Serbian nationalism. The Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade was built as a copy of the Hagia Sophia and as close to its dimensions as possible in order to commemorate their constant call to drive the Muslims out of the Hagia Sophia and all of Eastern Europe.
“The mother of all these projects of religious nationalism is the massive cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade, built in imitation of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul that was lost to Christianity in 1453. The cathedral was financed by nationalist Serb expatriates from the same countries as the Croat expatriate communities. The project and the fund drive were tied to the emotionally charged preparations for the 1989 600th anniversary of the death of Lazar. The same Serbian religious publications that pleaded for more contributions stoked Orthodox nationalism with false charges of genocide against Serbs in Kosovo and manipulation of World War II history and the Lazar story. The cathedral is named for the patron saint of the ideology of "Saint-Savaism" that is based upon the call for a greater Serbia, purified of non-Serbs and dominated by the Serb Orthodox religious establishment.”
[Religion and the Creation of Race and Ethnicity: An Introduction, Craig R. Prentiss, pp. 224-225]
The fact that so many Muslims are so unwittingly bleating the causes and slogans of their enemies like sheep unknowingly herded to the slaughter simply sickens me. Learn from this, or don’t. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. As for me, I proudly say “Allahu Akbar” and look forward to praying Salah in the Hagia Sophia one day soon, insha’ Allah. To those enraged I recall the verse of the Qur’an:
(وَإِذَا لَقُوكُمْ قَالُوا آمَنَّا وَإِذَا خَلَوْا عَضُّوا عَلَيْكُمُ الْأَنَامِلَ مِنَ الْغَيْظِ ۚ قُلْ مُوتُوا بِغَيْظِكُمْ)
“And when they meet you, they say ‘We have believed,’ but when they are alone they bite the tips of their fingers in rage. Say: ‘Perish in your rage.’”
[The Qur’an 3:118]