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Hagia Sophia: Religious and political leaders are missing their own chances to right historical wrongs

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Apparently Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is “very distressed” by the decision to revert the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia into a mosque; it has been a museum since 1934. He made his views known in the latest edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Quite why he and a whole host of other voices of faith and no faith from various quarters around the world are distressed is beyond me. I imagine the Hagia Sophia, originally built as a cathedral serving the Christian Byzantine Empire, will continue to be a major tourist draw for visitors heading to Istanbul regardless of its status.

Given the fate of numerous other places of worship, I wonder if the criticism has more to do with politics than prayer. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a polarising figure among world leaders, but he is more or less adored across the Sunni Muslim world for his defence of Muslims and Islam. Seemingly unafraid of upsetting those in power in Europe, Washington, Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere Erdogan has been highly critical of the treatment of refugees. His support doesn’t vary, whether they’re Palestinians, Rohingya, Kashmiris, Uighurs, Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Afghans, Libyans or others caught up in conflict zones and humanitarian disasters. This doesn’t enhance his popularity in world capitals.

READ: Turkey overruled ‘radical decision’ that made Hagia Sophia a museum

Turkey’s military interventions in Syria and Libya have also rattled a whole bunch of presidents and rulers, some of whom are NATO allies and others who are fellow Muslims. Erdogan’s decision to buy military hardware from Russia clearly upset the Americans as well as NATO.

The championing of the vulnerable, infirm, orphans and widows was once the domain of religious leaders, but the truth is that today’s figures of faith rarely enjoy the adulation given so freely to Erdogan. There’s also another inconvenient truth: many people of faith feel abandoned by their spiritual leaders, which is why congregations are on the wane around the world.

I would have thought Pope Francis would be far more distressed by the fact that across America and Europe, for instance, hundreds of churches have been abandoned, demolished or sold off. Maybe he doesn’t want to draw attention to the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to protect its flock in the wake of the hugely damaging paedophile priest scandals.

A general view inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, 1 July 2020 [Flickr]

A general view inside........

© Middle East Monitor