Hagia Sophia, the foremost cathedral in the entire Christian world for nearly a thousand years, officially became a mosque today, and the party is on in Istanbul. According to Middle East Eye, there was a festive atmosphere as thousands of Turks thronged to the city to take part in the first Islamic prayers at the newly designated mosque, while “in Greece, whose people and church lost the Hagia Sophia six centuries ago, churches meanwhile rang their bells in protest at the conversion. Videos of the Greek dismay were circulated gleefully among the crowd in Istanbul.” This schadenfreude is for the Turks not a bug, but a feature. The redesignation of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is a new declaration of the victory, supremacy, and superiority of Islam.
As Muslims thronged in and around the great cathedral, reported Middle East Eye, “someone shouted loudly: ‘Taqbir!’ And, the crowd enthusiastically yelled: ‘Allahu aqbar!’” The cry of “Allahu akbar,” as it is more commonly rendered in the Roman alphabet, means “Allah is greater,” i.e., greater than your god, and Turks today are making no effort to hide their supremacist delight. Jihad terrorists have often shouted “Allahu akbar” while attacking infidels, and chief 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta explained why this is so in the letter he wrote to himself before carrying out his jihad mission: “When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers.”
Striking fear in the hearts of the non-believers, and proclaiming the victory, superiority, and supremacy of Islam, is what the conversion of Hagia Sophia is all about. When the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror finally defeated the Byzantine Empire and took Constantinople on May 29, 1453, he almost immediately had the Islamic call to prayer proclaimed from Hagia Sophia, so as to herald its conversion to a mosque. The conversion of Christendom’s foremost church to a mosque demonstrated, as far as Mehmet was concerned, that Allah was the true god, that Christianity was a false religion, and that the truth of Islam had been vindicated by an act of Allah himself in granting the Muslims victory over the Christian Byzantines.
The Hagia Sophia mosque stood from 1453 to 1935 as the centerpiece of the Ottoman Empire, the living demonstration of both the legitimacy of the regime and its power. Paradoxically, this was the same kind of thinking that led Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of secular Turkey, to convert the building to a museum in 1935. Ataturk was a Westernized, secular Mehmet, declaring the superiority and victory of secularism over Islam by redesignating the foremost symbol of the Ottomans as a museum, a repository of past glories. When the last Ottoman caliph, Abdulmecid II, asked for an increase in his pay, Ataturk thundered: “The Caliphate, your office, is no more than an historical relic. It has no justification for existence.” On another occasion Ataturk went even further, saying: “Islam, this theology of an immoral Arab, is a dead thing.”
A museum is where one goes to see dead things. Hagia Sophia as a museum proclaimed the death of Islam.
That is why Erdogan, a fervent Muslim who is deeply committed both to Islam, including its political and supremacist aspects, and to the idea of the restoration of the caliphate, had to undo what Ataturk did.
Erdogan is now positioning himself as yet another Mehmet the Conqueror, using Hagia Sophia as his illustrious predecessor did to proclaim Islam’s victory over both Christianity and Ataturk’s secularism. And with the centerpiece of the caliphate now again secured, the caliphate itself is virtually certain to follow.
In February 2018, Erdoğan declared his desire to reconquer the lands the Ottoman caliphate once ruled: “Those who think that we have erased from our hearts the lands from which we withdrew in tears a hundred years ago are wrong. We say at every opportunity we have that Syria, Iraq and other places in the geography [map] in our hearts are no different from our own homeland. We are struggling so that a foreign flag will not be waved anywhere where adhan [Islamic call to prayer in mosques] is recited. The things we have done so far [pale in comparison to the] even greater attempts and attacks [we are planning for] the coming days, inshallah [Allah willing].”
The cries of “Allahu akbar” are therefore not just expressions of joy on this day that is such a very happy one for Muslims. They should, as Atta said, strike fear in the hearts of non-believers, not a paralyzing terror, but a keen awareness of the significance of what has happened today, and a determined resolve to defend free societies from the onslaught that is certain to come from this century’s foremost would-be caliph, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.