ISTANBUL (ChurchMilitant.com) - Turkey's top religious official has defended brandishing a "sword of conquest" while delivering his first sermon from Hagia Sophia's marble pulpit after its conversion into a mosque.
"Preaching in this way [with a sword] sends a message about the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque on the one hand and of conquest on the other," Ali Erbaş, the country's head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) defiantly declared Monday.
"Reading sermons with a sword is a common practice in our history and tradition," Erbaş stated. "When Istanbul was conquered, the first Friday sermon in Hagia Sophia was read with a sword and continued for 481 years," the religious leader tweeted.
"The tradition of the khutbah (sermon) with the sword has been practiced in some mosques in our country," he added.
Erbaş held the sword all through his 19-minute sermon on July 24. The sword has three crescents engraved on it representing the three continents that were the object of the Ottoman conquest.
The "conquest verse" from the Koran (48:1) is also inscribed on the sword. It reads: "Indeed, we have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest."
Two green flags were also hung on the minbar (pulpit) of the mosque as a symbol of conquest.
Speaking to Church Militant, eminent Islamic historian Robert Spencer warned that "the pope and all Christians should take careful note of the words of Ali Erbaş, particularly about Muhammad's prophecy that Muslims would conquer Constantinople."
Spencer, author of bestselling The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to Isis Hardcover warned:
Muhammad also predicts that Muslims will conquer Rome. Erbaş' brandishing of a sword and his reminder of this prophecy during his sermon are clear signals that as far as Turkey is concerned, the days of the Ottomans, who waged constant jihad war against Christian Europe for centuries, have returned.
But it is certain that the pope and other Christian leaders will pay no heed to this, and do nothing to prepare their people for the onslaught that is to come, or to defend either the Church or the monuments of Christian civilization that can be found all over Europe, and which will fall beneath the sword of Ali Erbaş and his fellow jihadis.
"If the sword is held in the left hand it represents Islam as a religion of peace, while in the right hand it serves to scare the enemy," Erbaş explained. "In Islam, conquest is not understood as an occupation but a conquest of hearts."
However, the theme of Islam's geographical and political conquest was the leitmotif of his sermon titled "Hagia Sophia: Sign of Conquest, our Trust in Sultan Mehmet [the Conqueror]."
Erbaş' sermon reiterated the message of Islam's prophet Muhammad "who gave the good news about the conquest, saying: 'One day Constantinople will be conquered. Great is the commander who will conquer it and great are his soldiers!'"
The sermon praised those "who have remolded our geography with faith," especially "Akshamsaddin, the wise scholar who nurtured the love of conquest in Sultan Mehmet's heart and led the first Friday prayer in Hagia Sophia on June 1, 1453."
Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror endowed (waqf) and entrusted this outstanding place of worship as the apple of his eye to believers on condition that it should remain a mosque until the last day. Any property (waqf) that is endowed is inviolable in our belief and burns whoever touches it. The charter of the endower is indispensable and whoever infringes upon it is cursed.
In Islamic law, a waqf is an inalienable endowment intended to be perpetual and last forever.
Dear Muslims! The reopening of Hagia Sophia to worship is a requirement of loyalty to its historical conquest.
The reopening of Hagia Sophia to worship is evidence that Islamic civilization ... continues to rise in spite of all obstacles.
The mosques are only to be maintained by those who believe in God and the Last Day and establish prayer and give zakat (charity) and do not fear except God.
He later lamented, "What could be a sadder sight than a mosque whose minarets are silent, whose minbar is vacant, whose dome is mute and whose garden is deserted?"
Earlier, Erbaş announced plans to open a madrassa (Koranic school) in Hagia Sophia, in line with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's plan to intensify religious education in Turkey in order to raise a "pious generation."
In May, the Ankara Bar Association complained to the chief prosecutor against Erbaş after the imam used a sermon on COVID-19 to attack homosexuality.
"Islam curses homosexuality. Homosexuality brings with it illness and decay to lineage," the highest-ranking Islamic cleric maintained. He urged Muslims "to join the fight to protect people from such evil."
Despite global condemnation of the Islamic takeover of the greatest Byzantine basilica and despite pressure on Pope Francis to address the issue, the pontiff skirted the controversial topic in a sentence.
"I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened," Francis stated during a Sunday Angelus address.
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.
In July, the Council of State, Turkey's top court, annulled the 1934 decision of president Kemal Atatürk's cabinet to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum as part of his secularist reforms.
Immediately afterwards, President Erdoğan announced the resumption of Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia from July 24.