Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and Hagia Sophia
By Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

Why are Muslims celebrating an unislamic war tactic?

Published in: History, World
Date: 14 / 07 / 20

I was enjoying my evening tea along with my daily dose of the popular Turkish series- Ertugrul (of the many things turkish that we love) , when I got a call from my sister. "Did you hear, Hagia Sophia will be re-converted into a Masjid?", she enquired of me. 
It was all over the internet that the famous Orthodox Christian Cathedral that was converted to a masjid by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, then made into a museum by the secular Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has now been reverted to a masjid open for prayers by a Turkish court. 
Her next question on hearing my affirmative reply was,"Do you think the Prophet (saw) would order something like this- conversion of a Cathedral, a revered religious site to a masjid?" My answer was,"The Prophet I've read about, never ordered anything like this". The four Caliphs of Islam, unanimously accepted and respected by Muslim Orthodoxy (Khulafa Rashidoon- The Righteous Caliphs ) in their respective tenures never ordered anything like this. So why is this event being celebrated by the 'online' Muslim community?

I put out a post on it expressing my disappointment as follows:
"Converting a Christian site to a masjid? Islamic or not? Has the Prophet (saw) and His righteous Caliphs (ra) left us a precedent in this regard? Have they converted a church/cathedral/synagogue into a masjid ever?"

But none. Not even one person could say that the Prophet (saw) would do something like this. Not even one comment like that, but still my notifications filled up with people supporting this move by other arguments, none of which had anything to do with the lofty ethics and morals the Prophet (saw) left us with.

Converting religious sites- An Un-Islamic War Tactic

In the past, when wars were fought with physical combat between armies, various tactics were employed to bring down the morale of the enemy. Like killing a key figure, capturing the commander, taking over a key location, pitching one's flag on a key army post, taking women and children hostage, and yes taking control of a key religious site. 
When the Prophet Muhmmad (saw) prepared his people for retaliatory wars in the Medinan Period of Islamic History, He abolished many of these common war practices. The Arabs were not new to combat, as they had a reputation in the area for being fearless fighters. Add to it the 10 years these fierce fighters were asked to be patient. They had been tremendously wronged, oppressed, tortured. But still the Prophet (saw) reminded them that the purpose of Jihad was to bring about justice in the place of oppression and excesses of warfare are ways in which the once oppressed people can themselves become oppressors. Look at what the first Caliph and the best friend of the Prophet (saw), Abu Bakr (ra) advised a Muslim military unit : "O people, I will give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate or disrespect dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them, especially those which are fruit bearing. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone in their monasteries."

The conversion of religious sites was a Non Muslim tactic

The Quran orders the preservation of religious sites in these words- "Were Allah not to check people by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is often mentioned". (Surat Al-Hajj 22:40)

The Catholic armies converted the Grand Mosque of Seville, Toledo and countless other masjids in Muslim Spain to churches and cathedrals during the Reconquista (conquest of Muslim Spain by Catholic Christians)

The communal Hindu political party lobbied to convert the Mughal period Babri Masjid to a temple as a move to bolster their image and use anti Muslim rhetoric to further their communal agenda in India.

Donald Trump threatened to attack religious sites in Iran after the US led assasination of General Solaimani in Iraq.
All these acts have a purpose to subdue the morale of the enemy and establish the power of the oppressor.

These are unislamic and completely against Quranic ethics.


Better than being a Museum

No doubt, what Ataturk did was unislamic and shameful. How can one convert the House of God into a Museum? It was no different from how European colonialist's displayed their loot and pillage from around the world in grand museums.

Would the Prophet (saw) allow the conversion of a Church into a Masjid?

Its disappointing to see that most Muslims would rather support the decision of a ruler, Sultan Mehmed II, than obey the Quran and the Prophet (saw). Many would even bend over their backs to legitimize his war tactic by saying, 'He bought it', 'It was non functional', 'It was his, as he conquered the city', and so on. Most of these 'silly excuses' are simply either a misinterpretation of history or downright misunderstanding of Islamic ethics in war.

How did Umar (ra) enter Jerusalem?

Now this may be an eye opener for many. When during the time of Umar (ra) in 637 CE, Jerusalem was conquered, how did Caliph Umar deal with his victory? What did he do to the Christian holy site there? Jerusalem had been a holy city for the Jews for over a 1000 years and then when they rejected Jesus (pbuh), just over a few years the Roman Army drove them out and Jerusalem became the religious capital of the Christian world for another 600 years. In the 7th Century Umar (ra) took control of the city. What was the fate of the Christians living there? What about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which was the holiest site for Christians? So here you are ! See the big difference between what we are supposed to do as Muslims when carrying out a conquest and what the Ottoman Emperor did (which Muslims unknowingly are celebrating).

Umar (ra) travelled accompanied by a servant on one camel and they took turns. Some distance Umar rode, some distance the servant rode and some distance the camel would be left without load. When they approached the area close to Jerusalem, it was the servants turn to ride and so Umar walked. The servant offered to skip his turn, Umar refused. The people watched in shock as this was contrary to the norm exhibited by the mighty and powerful of the time. As the Christian authorities were awaiting a flamboyant ruler to arrive with a cavalcade of horses, they saw a humble man in simple clothes approach them. This was the one who brought the two world powers to their knees. He signed a treaty and gave guarantees of civil and religious liberties to Christians. Add to that, he even allowed the Jews to return and live inside Jerusalem after being persecuted and banned by the Romans. 


At the time of the Zuhr prayers, Sophronius, the Patriarch, invited Umar to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Umar declined, fearing that accepting the invitation might endanger the church's status as a place of Christian worship, and that Muslims might turn the church into a mosque.

And Jerusalem for centuries witnessed this beautiful display of inter-religious harmony where Jews, Christians and Muslims worshipped the God of Abraham in their own special ways in the same compound. This unity, however, was threatened when the Zionists came into the picture. 

The real issue isn't Hagia Sophia, but the real issue is that Muslims are unaware of their own legacy and the fundamental characteristic of their own religion, which is 'mercy'.

I fear, hundred years of colonialism, then the educational institutions that were put in place to indoctrinate, the mainstream media and its islamophobic propaganda, have achieved success in convincing not just others but even Muslims themselves, that maybe we are a violent people, intent on converting the whole world to Islam through holy wars. Nothing could be farther from the Quranic perception of the role of Muslims, than this. The fact that you have people comfortably ignoring the Prophet's (saw) ethics and his merciful character and celebrating the medieval war tactic of a conqueror, means that we have a severe disconnect with our roots and a dangerous misunderstanding of our own religion. This is scary !
Let's address the 'silly excuses' that are hurled around as fig leaves over this unislamic conversion:

1. The Sultan bought it and there is a sale deed- Do the conquered have any right to refuse the offer? If that is the case then it is a coercive transaction and not really legal and halal in light of the Quran's guidance on trading. One must be reminded of the warning of the Prophet (saw),"If anyone wrongs a person protected by a covenant, violates his rights, burdens him with more work than he is able to do, or takes something from him without his consent, then I will be his advocate on the Day of Resurrection." People of the Book (Jews and Christians) usually come under this category and any wrong done to them by a Muslim, will be liable to the great trial of facing the Prophet (saw) as one's adversary on the Day of Judgement.

2. It was non functional and needed repair- With many years of war, that may have been the case but it doesn't take away the fact that Hagia Sophia is the Kaaba of the Orthodox Christians. Till date, the heart of the devout yearn for it.


3. It was the seat of political power of Constantinople and hence who conquered it has a right over it- This is a case of misunderstanding Islamic war ethics plus a misunderstanding of the status of Hagia Sophia in the hearts of Eastern Orthodox Christians. Whenever a city was conquered by Muslims, regardless of whether they surrender or not, the Prophetic instructions were to allow the people to practice their faiths and preserve the sanctity of their religious sites. Islam came as a liberative force freeing people from injustice, not a Colonial power that looted, pillaged, massacred and then took over whatever they could get their hands on. That's the British, Dutch, French, Italian, American history for you. That, my friends, is not the Quran, not Islam !
4. In Umar's (ra) case, the people of Jerusalem had surrendered, hence with their treaty they came under the protection of the Muslim Caliphate. But Constantinople was different, as the community did not surrender and hence all of it came to the Muslims as Ghanimah (war booty), including the Cathedral. In that case, they were free and bound by no treaty to whatever they wanted with the Cathedral- The proponents of this argument should be asked for proof. Where has the Quran or the Hadith allowed the conversion of religious institutions onto Masjids, in situations where the Ahlul Kitab do not surrender in war? Are religious institutions included in war booty according to the Quran ? If they think so, they must provide proof. 

Imran Khan- Reliving the Islamic legacy of religious harmony

It was commendable to see a Muslim leader following the example of the Prophet (saw) and his righteous companions when Imran Khan honored Sikh worshippers by constructing the Kartarpur Corridor which leads to the revered Sikh leader Guru Nanak's home in Pakistan. Not only did this move establish religious harmony between the Sikhs and Muslims, but also could bring about a new era of peace between the countries of the Sub Continent. However, the media didn't give it the attention it deserved. Maybe, because it goes against the mainstream media painted stereotypical image of Islam being an intolerant faith.

Modern day Turkey has an immense responsibility

Personally I have great admiration for the Turkish people, their culture, their history and the pivotal role many of their leaders have played in the preservation of Islam. President Erdogan is an honorable statesman, someone who has repeatedly spoken out for the rights of oppressed Muslims throughout the world and stood firm against rogue states like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Even the Prophet (saw) spoke so favorably and lovingly about an army that will 'open' Constantinople and its praiseworthy leader. Many people mistake Sultan Fatih II to be that leader. But another hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud proves that this "opening of Constantinople" is after the Malhama (Great War), so a future event. So clearly the Turks will rise in the End Times. But the reason for their rise will be their sincere love and adherence to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (saw). 

The Turks who will conquer Constantinople will have the love and devotion of Mevlana Rumi, the sincerity and perseverance of Badiuzzaman Nursi and the courage and foresight of Ertugrul Ghazi. These would be a people who realize no matter how many differences we may have with the Orthodox Christian world, the Quran honors them with the status of 'Ahlul Kitab' and preserves their identity and religious sites. Hence, we must uphold the teachings of the Quran over and above every other ideology, norm or military tactic. These are the kind of people the Prophet (saw) referred to in the famous hadith on Constantinople, "What a wonderful army that would be! What a wonderful leader that would be!" [Musnad Ahmad, Al Hakim, al Jami’ al Saghir].

Do you think someone who goes against the Quran and Sunnah and converts a Cathedral into a Masjid, is being referred to in this hadith?
Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

About the author

Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.

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