Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Church That Politics Turned Into a Mosque


From Europe News:

The Church That Politics Turned Into a Mosque 9 February 2012
ISTANBUL — As worshipers knelt to face the Qiblah for noon prayers in the Hagia Sophia of Iznik last week, a caretaker beckoned to a couple of tourists tiptoeing around behind them. "Look,” he whispered, pointing to a faded fresco on the wall, as the imam intoned the prayer and the worshipers faced Mecca. "It’s Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist.”
The caretaker, Nurettin Bulut, a Culture Ministry employee, has been showing visitors around the ancient church in northwestern Turkey for three years, pointing out its Byzantine mosaics and relating its history as the venue of the seventh Ecumenical Council of Christendom and, later, as an Ottoman mosque.
Until three months ago, he was showing them around a museum, with a sign saying "St. Sophia Museum” posted outside, a ticket booth charging 3 lira, or $1.70, per visitor, and a strict ban on prayer enforced inside, just lik
e in its eponymous sister church-turned-mosque-turned-museum in Istanbul.
But in October, the Hagia Sophia of Iznik was closed to the public for several days of construction work by the Directorate General of Foundations, a department of the prime minister’s office in Ankara which manages historical buildings around the country.
When it reopened in early November, a raised wooden platform had been set into the nave and covered with carpets, and green-and-gold plaques with Koran suras had been affixed to the Ottoman mihrab, or prayer niche.
The museum sign was replaced with a new one reading "Mosque of Ayasofya,” the Turkish spelling of Hagia Sophia, and loudspeakers were hoisted on the Ottoman-era minaret. And with dawn prayer on Nov. 6, the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Hagia Sophia was reopened for service as a mosque.
The response from residents has been less than enthusiastic. On a recent weekday, only 18 men answered the call to noon prayer, huddling in a corner of the carpeted platform with the imam to perform their devotions. (...)

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