Rice U. expert: Hagia Sophia should remain interfaith

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Jeff Falk
713-348-6775
jfalk@rice.edu

Avery Ruxer Franklin
713-348-6327
averyrf@rice.edu 

Rice U. expert: Hagia Sophia should remain interfaith
Muslim relations scholar available for interview

HOUSTON – (July 10, 2020) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque is a lost opportunity for interfaith progress and only serves to “stir the pot,” according to an expert at Rice University.

Craig Considine, a scholar on Christian and Muslim relations and author of the new book “The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View,” is available to discuss the conversion with news media.

“This move does not necessarily help bridge the divide between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “Prior to this conversion, this was a space that Christians and Muslims could both have stake in.”

Hagia Sophia was built in the sixth century as a Greek Orthodox cathedral and was turned into a mosque in the 15th century after Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was conquered by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II. Since 1934, the UNESCO heritage site has functioned as a museum, signaling a shift toward secularism and religious coexistence, according to Considine.

“After the Ottoman Empire had fallen and the modern Turkish state emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, the leader of that revolution, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was a secular ruler and fond of separation of religion and state,” Considine said. “He converted the Hagia Sophia into a museum as a symbol of religious tolerance and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.”

The history of Turkey since then, Considine said, has fluctuated between leaning more Islamic or more secular. Erdogan began his political career as “relatively secular” but in the last decade has used Islamic nationalism to carve out his own idenitity for Turkey, he said.

The Hagia Sophia decree will only remind people of past invasions and wars between Christians and Muslims, according to Considine. He argues that converting the museum into a mosque will alienate other communities and “put up more walls” between Christians and Muslims.

“I am disappointed to hear about the fate of the Hagia Sophia. This interfaith building should remain a museum,” Considine tweeted after the announcement. “Or, better yet, it could be a shared space for both Christians & Muslims to pray. Unfortunately, this poor decision only strengthens the ‘clash of civilizations.’”

The clash of civilizations is a theory that cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in modern geopolitics. Considine explains that the decree affects more than religious communities — it affects religious coexistence.

“There’s an idea that Western or Christian civilization and Islamic civilization are not compatible, which is not an accurate representation of history,” Considine said. “There have been plenty of moments and examples to show that these civilizations have worked together and flourished together.”

Considine is a scholar, global speaker, media contributor and public intellectual based at the Rice Department of Sociology. An author of many books and articles, his opinions have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, CBS News, Fox News, MSNBC, Newsweek and Foreign Policy. He has been invited to speak at some of the leading international organizations and universities in the world.

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To schedule an interview with Considine or for more information, contact Avery Franklin, media relations specialist at Rice, at averyrf@rice.edu or 713-348-6327.

Related materials:

Considine bio: https://sociology.rice.edu/craig-considine.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

About Avery Ruxer Franklin

Avery is a media relations specialist in the Office of Public Affairs.