Turkish aide wants Hagia restored for Muslim and Christian worship

By Ecumenical News International
October 23, 2010

A Turkish government adviser says Christians and Muslims should be allowed to worship again in Istanbul's Hagia Sophia basilica, eight decades after it was turned into a museum by the country's secularist authorities.

"Hagia Sofia was built as a place of worship. It served people this way as a church and mosque for more than a thousand years," said Mehmet Akif Ayd'n, an expert with the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which monitors religious sites in Turkey, including more than 80,000 mosques.

"As a Muslim, I'd like it to become a mosque. But if Hagia Sofia were opened to Muslim worshippers on weekdays, it should also be opened to Christians on Sundays. It disturbs me that it's become just a museum and tourist destination."

The expert was commenting on calls for the sixth century landmark to be reopened for religious events.

Turkey has witnessed several attacks by Islamic militants on Christian clergy, including the June 2010 killing of Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the country's Roman Catholic Bishops Conference.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the death of a Muslim leader, who had converted to Islam and sought to build bridges between people of different faiths, is being mourned. He has been especially praised in a Spanish newspaper article.

Mansur Escudero, aged 62, "was considered one of the most important mediators between the Muslim community and the different government administrations in Spain", the English-language edition of the El País newspaper reported recently.

"He was considered an excellent and creative orator, who defended laity as well as freedom of religious practice,” the paper said.

In one of his best known acts of interfaith activism, Escudero asked the Vatican to allow Muslims - there are around 1.3 million in Spain - to pray at the Cathedral of Córdoba, one of the most unusual religious sites in the world.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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