ISTANBUL (ChurchMilitant.com) - A controversial theologian is quoting Pope Francis and Vatican II to justify Turkey's decision returning the world's largest Byzantine basilica to its conquered status as a mosque.
Giles Fraser, a liberal Anglican, says he "cannot but applaud" radical Islamic president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "desire to return this once holy place back to a mosque."
"Christians should be delighted" if Hagia Sophia reverts to being a mosque because "Muslims are our brothers and sisters with whom we share a faith in the living God," Fraser argues.
Church Militant reported Thursday that the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, reached a unanimous verdict declaring that secularist President Kemal Atatürk's 1934 decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful.
Fraser, a Nietzsche scholar, claims he is offering "no less an authority than the pope himself," to "those Christians who believe that Muslims and Christians worship something different."
The former columnist for The Guardian quotes Pope Francis' tweet ahead of his trip to Morocco last year to make his case that Christians and Muslims worship the same God: "We Christians and Muslims believe in God, the Creator and the Merciful, who created people to live like brothers and sisters, respecting each other in their diversity and helping one another in their needs," the pontiff tweeted in March 2019.
"This view goes back to the Second Vatican Council, where it was affirmed that Muslims, 'together with us adore the one, merciful God,'" writes Fraser, citing Lumen Gentium.
"And from the Muslim side, the Qur'an makes it clear that Muslims worship the same God as the Jews," notes Fraser, providing a hyperlink to the Koran (2:132).
"Giles Fraser has offered an argument from authority, which is the weakest of all arguments: Christians and Muslims worship the same God because Pope Francis and the Second Vatican Council say so," distinguished Islamic scholar Robert Spencer told Church Militant.
"In reality, there are immediate and obvious differences — the Trinity, the Crucifixion, and the divinity of Christ," said Spencer, author of over 20 books including Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics: 100 Questions and Answers. "All this was known in the Christian world up until the 1960s."
Vatican II's affirmation that Muslims and Christians together worship the one God — and pointed omission of any discussion of what had led the two to be in conflict for 1,400 years — was a radical departure from the statements of many popes, as well as of saints and martyrs.
Speaking to Church Militant, Sharia scholar and Arabic expert Sam Solomon pointed out that Fraser's claim that "Muslims worship the same God as the Jews" is disproved by the Qur'an.
Citing a number of passages from the Arabic text of the Qur'an, Solomon demonstrates that the notable Quranic figures —Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Jesus — are explicitly singled out as Muslims, not Jews. "All the prophets were Muslims," Solomon asserted.
For example, in the Qur'an (2:127-128) "when Abraham was raising the foundations of the House and [with him] Ishmael," he told God: "make us Muslims [in submission] to You and from our descendants a Muslim nation [in submission] to You."
Author of Not the Same God: Is the Qur'anic Allah the Lord God of the Bible? Solomon also cited the following verses to debunk Fraser's premise that Muslims were following the God of the Jewish Old Testament.
Worse still, Solomon remarked, is the Quranic allegation that Jews, like Christians, also believe Allah has a son. "The Jews say, 'Ezra is the son of Allah' and the Christians say, 'The Messiah is the son of Allah.' That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?" (Qur'an 9:30).
Fraser acknowledges that "there will be those — Greek Orthodox Christians especially — who would prefer it to return to being a cathedral."
"But it is never going to happen in a country where Christianity represents a vanishingly small percentage of the population," he writes, reasoning that "the Hagia Sophia was profaned by secularity in 1935" and "if the choice is between a mosque and a museum, then it is no choice at all: The faithful [Muslims] must return to that space and fill it once again with worship."
The Abu Dhabi declaration calls for "the protection of places of worship — synagogues, churches and mosques" as "a duty guaranteed by religions, human values, laws and international agreements."
Lumen Gentium 16 and Nostra Aetate 3 are the only two references to Islam in Vatican II.
According to Catholic theologian Gavin D'Costa, Jewish historian Jules Isaac persuaded his friend Pope John XXIII to request Cdl. Augustin Bea to drop the charge of deicide made against the Jews within the Christian tradition.
This provoked an adverse response in the Arab Muslim world and generated requests from bishops in Arab countries for including positive statements about Muslims in Vatican II.
Turkey's Council of State declared in its ruling Friday: "It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it [Hagia Mosque] as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally."
"The cabinet decision in 1934 that ended its use as a mosque and defined it as a museum did not comply with laws."
Emperor Justinian the Great dedicated the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to the Wisdom of God in 537. Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople and converted the basilica into a mosque in 1453.