by Uzay Bulut
"The historic Istanbul cathedral and museum, Hagia Sophia, witnessed its first Quran recitation under its roof after 85 years Saturday," reported the state-run Anatolian News Agency of Turkey. "The Religious Affairs Directorate launched the exhibition "Love of Prophet," as part of commemorations of the birth of Islamic Prophet Muhammad."
Even though Christians are a tiny minority in Turkey today, Christianity has a long history in Asia Minor, the birthplace of many Christian Apostles and Saints, including Paul of Tarsus, Timothy, Nicholas of Myra, and Polycarp of Smyrna.
All of the first seven Ecumenical Councils were held in what is today Turkey. Two out of the five centers (Patriarchates) of the ancient Pentarchy -- Constantinople (Istanbul) and Antioch (Antakya) -- are also situated there. Antioch was the place where, for the first time, the followers of Jesus were called "Christians."
Turkey is also home to the Seven Churches of Asia, to which John sent the Revelation. During the centuries that followed, countless churches were established throughout the region.
One of them, Hagia Sophia, was once the grandest cathedral in the Christian world -- until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans on May 29, 1453, followed by a three days of unbridled pillage.
Hagia Sophia was not exempt. Pillagers made their way to the Hagia Sophia and battered down its doors. Trapped in the church, congregants and refugees became spoils to be divided among the Ottoman invaders.
The historian Steven Runciman writes in The Fall of Constantinople, 1453:
"They slew everyone that they met in the streets, men, women and children without discrimination. The blood ran in rivers down the steep streets from the heights of Petra towards the Golden Horn. But soon the lust for slaughter was assuaged. The soldiers realized that captives and precious objects would bring them greater profit."
After the fall of the city, the Hagia Sophia Church was converted into a mosque.
A mosque with the name Hagia Sophia (in Greek Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom") is possible if the church is brought under the control of an Islamic theocracy. It is like having a mosque called "the Armenian Mosque of the Holy Cross".
In the 1930s, the Turkish government made it into a museum. But turning a church into a museum is also not a trait of a truly democratic state. One of the common features of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey seems to be their intolerance of churches.
In 2013, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, expressed his hope to see the Hagia Sophia Museum be used as a mosque, and even referred to it as the "Hagia Sophia Mosque."
"Turkey is not converting churches into mosques because there is a need for more mosques, and Turkey does not have the resources to build them," wrote Constantine Tzanos. "The message conveyed by those in Turkey who have achieved the conversion of Christian churches into mosques and demand the conversion of Hagia Sofia is that Turkey is an Islamic state and no other religion is tolerated..."