Hagia Sophia: Ideological opportunism is not Islamic

Youssef Al-Dayni

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Changing the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is not only a political fiasco (as I explained in a previous article), it also contradicts Islamic values and tolerant behavior when dealing with other religions and their places of worship.

During the era of Islamic expansion, our predecessors preserved the cultural icons of other civilizations. Islam is not against historical monuments; the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) show that Muslims should learn lessons from such monuments, a matter which was practiced by early Muslims who kept cultural and heritage features of other religions untouched.

The distinction between antiquities, which have historical value, and idols was evident from an Islamic perspective, and destructing idols in the early days of Islam was for a purpose – that is to worship God only. As historical monuments were not worshiped, Muslims preserved them and encouraged people to learn from knowledges of ancient civilizations whether it was in science, history, engineering or architecture.

On the other hand, preserving monuments and features of all civilizations reflect wisdom of early Muslims who wanted to show non-Muslims that nothing prevents them from being Muslim voluntarily, as the Quran dictates that “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion” [2:256].

Islam also called people to think about lives and destiny of ancestors and learn as Quran stated: “Have they not traveled through the land and observed how was the end of those before them? They were more numerous than themselves and greater in strength and in impression on the land, but they were not availed by what they used to earn” [40:82]. In the same Surah and topic, Quran stated “And for you therein are [other] benefits and that you may realize upon them a need which is in your breasts; and upon them and upon ships you are carried”. [40:82]

Persevering historical monuments also reflects Islam’s tolerance, as the Quran urges Muslim not to provoke others by insulting their beliefs. “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge”. [6:108]

There is no doubt that the destruction of historical monuments has negative impacts on people who belong to different religions and civilizations, and Islam does not tolerate such things.

Almighty God did not command to eradicate signs and monuments he created for people to infer his existence, and this is an important part of Islam tolerance as it is receptive to the cultural peculiarities of others.

For centuries, Muslims showed great respect for people of other beliefs and their shrines and places of worship. Some extremists in the last few decades are trying to hijack Islam and promote their ideologies at the expense of moderate Islam.

Islamic references like “Key to Happiness” show respect to monuments. The book says in historical literature and sciences related to the study of past civilizations “We find the wisdom and sayings of old scholars about religious and non-religious matters. That is what understood by the early Muslims.”

Islamic scholars and jurists called for preservation of historical monuments, churches, and temples of other religions based on practices of Muslims leaders during expansions era. Those leaders didn’t attack churches and worship places of other religions, a matter which we experienced only with Ottomans, extremists, and terrorists.

Islam instructed its followers not to force people to abandon their beliefs and convert to Islam. It allowed people of all beliefs to practice rituals of their religions, prohibiting any assault on worship places. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) wrote to the bishop of Bani Al-Harith bin Kaab and the bishops of Najran, priests, followers, and monks confirming that there should be no change to their authorities, rights or anything they used to have or practice, and they should not be burdened by any injustice. This was quoted by Abu Ubaid Al-Qasim Bin Salam in his book “Al Amwal.”

Islamic laws are crystal clear about ensuring the safety of churches and worship places, protecting them from risks such as demolishment or vandalization and restoring them if they were assaulted. This include allowing non-Muslims to build churches and worship places when they need to so as Imam Abu Al-Fateh Bin Daqeeq Al-Eid wrote in his book “Ahkam Al-Ahkam”.

Read more:

Hagia Sophia move shows nothing is off-limits for Erdogan's populist Islamist project

Arab media calls Erdogan hypocrite, says he supports extremism on Hagia Sophia move

Hagia Sophia and Erdogan: A debate of ideologies and cultural identities

By changing the status of Hagia Sophia, Erdogan is playing to extremists

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