Mohammed Alsherebi, an investor and advisor to global leaders on strategy and investment in the Middle East, said he does not intend to pray in the Hagia Sophia, which Turkey recently re-converted into a mosque, due to his Muslim faith.
“As a Muslim, it is against my religious beliefs to forcibly convert another religion’s holy place for my own use,” Alsherebi wrote in Newsweek on Tuesday.
“This might not bother the political Islamists who support the move, but it is a principle that Islam has been committed to for 1,400 years,” he said.
The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in 537, was turned into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul on May 29, 1453, and then became a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s presidency.
On July 10, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the opening of the Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship after the Council of State – Turkey’s highest administrative court – ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum was illegal.
Erdoğan said that prayers will be held at the site on July 24.
But Alsherebi said that, when the site was a museum, it represented an inclusive space that could be a bridge between continents and civilisations.
“But all this has been destroyed in a populist move that is an attack not only on the rights of Christians but also the right of moderate Muslims to live in harmony with those of other faiths,” he said. “The Mosque conversion has been celebrated only by extremist Islamists (including Hamas), and condemned by almost everyone else, including UNESCO, the European Union and archbishops around the world.”
Alsherebi said that the move showed the dangers of autocracy and intolerance, and the broader need for religious freedom in the Muslim world, and said that it was also an example of the example of the tensions between the traditional, moderate Islam that the majority of the world’s Muslims subscribe to, and a certain narrower strain of political Islamism.
“Rather than creating a rift between two of the world’s great religions, this stunt should unite all faiths against their abuse by political actors,” he said. “Instead of pitting Muslims and Christians against each other, this should be a rallying cry for all men and women of faith to protect their traditions from the corruptions of extremists.”