By Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge, Supreme Court of India
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to reconvert the famed Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque is to my mind a reactionary stunt, and deserves to be condemned.
Erdogan’s popularity at an all time low with the Turkish economy tanking, unemployment at a record high, covid situation going out of control.
So, the move by Erdogan is a gimmick to hide his failures.
Till the early 1920s, Turkey was a poor, backward and feudal country, ruled by a Sultan. It was called ‘ The Sick Man of Europe ‘, and was often kicked around by European powers.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an army general, realized the sad state of affairs in his country and decided to modernize it. In the 1920s he abolished sharia law, burqa, and madarsas, and made Turkey a modern secular state.
Among the many reforms he introduced was secularizing Hagia Sophia mosque and making it a museum in 1935.
This marvellous structure was a church in the Byzantine Empire, built in 537 A.D. by Emperor Justinian, and it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Sultan Mohammed II conquered Constantinople (renamed Istanbul ) in 1457.
From 1935 onwards, however, it was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal.
Now President Erdogan is trying to set the clock back by trying to convert a secular country into an Islamic one.
His latest decision to convert Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque is a reactionary step to get cheap popularity, and restore his failing image. He doesn’t know how to save Turkey’s falling economy.
The need of the hour is not mosques, churches or temples but good schools, scientific institutes, engineering colleges, medical colleges, hospitals etc. That alone will take a country forward, not stunts and gimmicks.