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Pakistan Church urges combined worship at Hagia Sophia

Catholic and Protestant heads call on Turkey's president to open the famed building to followers of Islam and Christianity

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Pakistan Church urges combined worship at Hagia Sophia

A crescent moon is seen in the sky over Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on July 25. The Council of State on July 10 canceled a 1934 decision by modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to turn it into a museum. (Photo: AFP)

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Catholic and Protestant leaders are calling on Turkish President Recep Erdogan to open Hagia Sophia for both Muslim and Christian worship.

Father Abid Habib, former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, voiced his concern following the first Muslim prayers at Istanbul's Hagia Sophia since its reconversion to a mosque this month.

“As a museum, it was a neutral place keeping Christians and Muslims at peace with each other. While the Muslim world is rejoicing over this decision, the feelings of Christians worldwide have been hurt. I am also not happy,” he said.

“In interfaith dialogue programs, I often hear Muslim scholars quoting a hadith [prophetic tradition] when Prophet Muhammad allowed a delegation of Christians to use Masjid-e-Nabvi [in Madinah, Saudi Arabia] for Christian worship. A cathedral in Boston is used by Muslims for their Friday prayers,” he added.

“Learning from these examples, I propose Hagia Sophia be a house of worship not only for the Muslims but also for the Christians. Allow the Christians to pray on Sundays and the Muslims can pray on Fridays. This will surely enhance the image of the Turkish people.”

Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral during the Christian Byzantine Empire and converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. In 1934, modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered it be turned into a museum.

President Erdogan issued a decree to hand over control of Hagia Sophia to the Directorate of Religious Affairs after Turkey's highest court revoked its status as a museum July 10.

Church of Pakistan Bishop Azad Marshall of Raiwind Diocese posted a photo of a Jesus mural in a July 14 tweet.


The president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan also condemned the move in a press statement.  

“Several countries and all international church bodies, including the World Council of Churches, the Vatican, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Church in Russia, have urged President Erdogan to reverse his decision in the larger interest of interfaith harmony. We would like to propose that the Hagia Sophia be opened for worship for both Muslims and Christians and should remain accessible to all visitors for the rest of the week,” said Bishop Marshall.

“We believe that this is a workable solution and would help in promoting mutual understanding, respect, dialogue and cooperation. Pakistani church leadership hopes that the government of Pakistan would convey their concerns to the Turkish leadership and play its due role in promoting interfaith harmony.”

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