Rightful owners It was difficult, at best, to make my question clear to Mustafa. “How long has your family lived in Turkey?”
His friend and mine, an English speaking graduate of a nearby university, repeated my question to Mustafa in a Turkish dialect. Even so, the question stumped him.
I thought I knew why. Although it seemed important that I counted only three American born generations in my family, the man from Turkey may have claimed his family had lived near Ankara for almost a thousand years. How could he be sure? Who would have kept those records?
I didn’t ask. Instead, this question followed: “Did your grandfather talk about the Ottoman Empire?”
“Yes! Yes!” he told the translator. Then he said something to his friend. All that I understood was Attaturk, a pivotal figure in Turkish history.
We talked about Turkey becoming more Islamic, the reasons and the possibilities. I asked about Hagia Sofia, for 1,000 years one of the largest and oldest Christian churches in Istanbul. Lately, stories had circulated that Muslim Turks wanted to make the Hagia a functioning mosque rather than the museum it is today. (Even so, following the conquest of Constantinople and its name change to Istanbul, Islamic elements were installed near the top of the interior of the main dome.)
That rankled me. What other religions revel in such expropriations? I recalled reading in Wikipedia: … In 1453 Sultan Mehmed laid siege to Constantinople, driven in part by a desire to convert the city to Islam. The Sultan promised his troops three days of unbridled pillage if the city fell, after which he would claim its contents himself. Hagia Sophia was not exempted from the pillage, becoming its focal point as the invaders believed it to contain the greatest treasures of the city.…As written above, immediately after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II converted Hagia Sophia into the Aya Sofya Mosque (please see: Hagia Sophia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia History|Architecture|Mosaics|Minarets
Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom"; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia ; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia - )
When I visited Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) almost a year ago, I was both spellbound and heartbroken at the sight of Hagia Sofia, a magnificent structure that has been debased by strings of minarets on each side of the paths leading to it. “There will be more!” our Islamic guide announced proudly. I grimaced as if I had seen a rusty Chevy hood attached to an antique and pristine Model T.
But I said nothing. Instead, I thought of Edward Said and his ilk, frauds who decried colonial and post-colonial Europe with an outrage that was little more deceit (taquiyyah). It was as if I could hear Said claim that Islam had no interest in colonializing, would never stoop to that. Sadly, his was a lesson in semantics; in their lexicon, Muslims don’t speak of colonies. They do, however, speak of spreading Islam by means of jihad that has never stopped since the days of Mohammad.
Tragically, Muslims believe that once land has been conquered by and for Islam, it can never be returned to infidels, i.e., non-Muslims. That sounds like colonialism by another name.
That’s why, although it’s a significant treasure that belongs to Christian culture, the Hagia Sofia will never be given back. Such an honorable thing to do is beyond the Islamic ken.
B. Koplen 6/18/12
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