Watch Evening News weeknights at 6:30 p.m. ET.
ISTANBUL (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a historic verdict, Turkey's top court has returned the world's greatest Byzantine basilica to its previous status as a mosque after it abolished President Atatürk's 1934 decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum.
Turkey's highest administrative court, the Council of State, reached a unanimous verdict declaring that president Kemal Atatürk's cabinet had no right to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum as part of his secularist reforms and has rendered the decision unlawful.
The court is expected to deliver its judgment Friday, but Turkish journalist Mehmet Ardıç, a close advisor of the current radical Islamic president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, broke the news Wednesday. "The countdown has begun," he tweeted.
Numan Kurtulmuş, deputy chairman of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), told Turkish media that on July 15, or even earlier, Hagia Sophia will be opened as a mosque "for prayer." The ruling was also confirmed by the popular Turkish history Twitter channel Ottoman Records.
Emperor Justinian the Great dedicated the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to the Wisdom of God in 537. Sultan Mohammed II conquered Constantinople and converted the basilica into a mosque in 1453.
Speaking to Church Militant, world-renowned Islamic historian Robert Spencer pointed out that under the radical Islamic rule of president Erdoğan, the ruling was not at all surprising.
"The Ottoman caliphate conquered and subjugated the Christian East, and waged jihad warfare against Christian Europe for centuries. Western Christians would be naïve to assume that Erdoğan doesn't have jihad in mind as part of the agenda of his revived caliphate," Spencer said.
The author of bestselling The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS slammed Pope Francis for his deafening silence on Turkey's takeover of what was once a Catholic basilica: "Centuries ago, popes of Rome stood in the forefront of efforts to galvanize Europe into resistance to the Ottoman attempts at jihad conquest and Islamization."
"By contrast, Pope Francis, who has said nothing about the impending re-Islamization of Hagia Sophia, will likely open the gates and welcome in the invaders, while shaming Christians who thought any opposition was warranted," Spencer lamented.
The Islamic scholar also explained why the re-conquest of Hagia Sophia was inevitable as a consequence of Islamic theology of sacred space: "Islamic theology holds that once Islamic prayers have been said in a structure, it is a mosque."
Most famously, when Mehmet the Conqueror entered Hagia Sophia on May 29, 1453, he brought with him a Muslim cleric who chanted the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, from the pulpit. That act made Hagia Sophia a mosque. Accordingly the Charter of Fatih of Sultan Mehmet cannot be altered, not only because it states that it cannot, but because in the Islamic understanding, no secular law can overrule the truths of Islam.
"If Hagia Sophia became a mosque, it is always a mosque," Spencer stated.
Turkey's Council of State began hearing the case on July 2 and announced that a decision would be made within 15 days, Church Militant earlier reported. Sources say the court reached its decision in 17 minutes.
Seventy-three percent of Turkish citizens are in favor of transforming Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a mosque, according to an Areda Survey published on June 11. To the question: "Should Hagia Sophia be converted into a mosque and open to worship?" 22.4% answered "no" and only 4.3% said they did not have a firm opinion on the matter.
The Anatolia Youth Association said it had collected 15 million signatures to petition for Hagia Sophia to be turned back into a mosque.
On July 1, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed to the Turkish government "to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect Turkey's diverse faith traditions and history and to ensure it remains accessible to all."
Greece's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a condemnation on May 29 — the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople — when the Qur'an was read in Hagia Sophia to commemorate the event.
"Today's reading of excerpts from the Qur'an inside Hagia Sophia — a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the World Cultural Heritage Site and has been a museum since 1935 — is an unacceptable attempt to alter its monumental character and provoke a response to religious sentiment," the statement read.
"This action offends the international community and re-exposes Turkey, which must respect both the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and UNESCO, of which it is a member."
"We call once again on Turkey to respect its international obligations and to stop subordinating its highly honorable role in internal affairs as the custodian of such an important monument as Hagia Sophia, which belongs to all mankind," it added.
On March 31, President Erdoğan recited Islamic prayers in Hagia Sophia, calling on guests to join him in silently reciting the first verse of the Qu'ran, dedicating the prayer to the "souls of all who left us this work as inheritance, especially Istanbul's conqueror."
Erdoğan's relentless campaign to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque also sparked outrage in Russia, adding a religious dimension to an already fragile geopolitical relationship.
"A threat against Hagia Sophia is a threat to our spirituality and history," warned Patriarch Kirill, leader of Russia's Orthodox Church. "What could happen to Hagia Sophia will cause deep pain among the Russian people" and will be a "return to the Middle Ages."
Turkey has snubbed every word of caution from the international community, stating that it will make the decision as a sovereign nation without external interference.
Pope Francis is not expected to appeal to Turkey on behalf of the Orthodox Churches, even though Erdoğan's inflammatory move is seen as a slap in the face for Pope Francis' human fraternity declaration, signed in February 2019.
The pontiff's relationship with Islam is understood to be far more important to him than his ecumenical relationship with Eastern Orthodox Christians.
As a museum, Hagia Sophia remained Turkey's most visited tourist destination in 2019 — visited by 3.72 million people, according to the nation's Culture and Tourism Ministry.