The reader question: "Do Muslims build mosques on sites where they have defeated an enemy?"
The answer: read on . . . Once the seat of Orthodox Christianity, Agia (Hagia) Sophia was converted into a mosque within days of the conquest of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) by Ottoman Turks in 1453. Among the alterations made during
the Basilica's transformation into a mosque:a cross atop the dome was replaced with a crescent, minarets (slender towers w/ balconies where the Islamic faithful are called to prayer by the muezzin) were erected, an icon of Jesus Christ within the dome was gilded over, the altar and icons were removed, and mosaics described as "irreplaceable & majestic" were plastered over. According to one source, "freeagiasophia.com," during its 553 years of "captivity" by Muslims, many Ottoman Sultans "showed particular interest in embellishing and maintaining Agia Sophia as a mosque."
Today, the once great Basilica is a government-owned museum, convention center, concert hall & tourist destination.
Obviously, the above-question arose from the battle of words and philosophies surrounding the plan to build an Islamic Community Center two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center once stood.
Honestly, my first reaction to the plan was "OK, if you want to build an Islamic Center, then match it with a Christian Center, a Jewish Center and a Nature Center." Or how about an Inter-faith Center, funded, created, maintained and shared by multiple religions/philosophies?
Then I learned that Daisy Kahn, executive director of The American Society of Muslim Advancement, and the spokesperson for the pro-Community Center sector, is supported by Rabbi Joy Levin, executive director of an NYC Jewish Community Center.
During an ABC interview conducted by Christiane Amanpour, Kahn & Levin spoke glowingly and in unity about a Muslim Community Center with a swimming pool and other recreational amenities, a gathering spot for yet another America-as-melting-pot community - its families and its people. The Community Center was beginning to sound much more secular and innocent than a foreboding sign that America is indeed being infiltrated and conquered by Muslims.
This, of course, was too good to be true.
My mental brakes slammed on with accompanying screeching in my head, as Amanpour asked the question, will the Community Center's features include a place of worship with loud calls to prayer several times each day?
Kahn's non-answer was that of course, there will be a place to pray within the Center. She never confirmed or denied Amanpour's "loud calls to prayer" query. I was actually surprised that Amanpour let that slide. Unless, of course, I missed something. I'll have to go back and re-watch the interview.
Personally, in my opinion, the sound of a muezzin calling Muslims to prayer multiple times a day would be a slap in the face to anyone touched by the terror attacks (remember, a parking garage was blown up years before 9/11- in the 90s?) on the World Trade Center- and that's pretty much anyone within a two-block radius, and arguably, all Americans.
I believe the better part of valor for all concerned, the Muslims, the Jews, the politicians, the public, would be to construct an inter-faith center that's board of supporters/directors would include equal representatives from any religion/philosophy that would like to be involved. An interfaith prayer room could certainly be included, decorated with a cross, a Star of David, a crescent, Buddha, a Goddess image, and hey, let's not forget NYC's many citizens of the Hindu faith.
But this isn't about my opinion. As a journalist, I'm charged with truthfully and accurately presenting both sides of an issue, and leaving the decision in the hands, hearts and minds of each and every individual reader. So from here on in, that's what I'm going to do - just the facts, as far as I was able to research the facts, presented truthfully and without bias, regarding the question: Do Muslims build mosques at sites where they have defeated an enemy as a sign of conquest?
I felt this question was likely a loaded one, requiring careful research. I began by Googling the question, and was led to anti-Muslim blogs, where one writer, self-described as someone who had lived and conducted business in the Middle East, cited several examples of incidences and sites where Muslim conquerors have built mosques.
The anti-Muslim blogger named the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as having been constructed near the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, as a symbol of conquest; St. Sophia's Basilica in Istanbul, Turkey as being replaced by the principal mosque of Istanbul (this statement by the blogger contained erroneous "facts", as the Basilica was not dedicated in reverence to St. Sophia, but to the meaning of the word "Sophia," which is "God's wisdom," with the Basilica dedicated in reverence to Jesus Christ. The blogger also stated that "St. Sophia's" was destroyed for a mosque, leading readers to believe that the Basilica no longer exists. It was not destroyed, as the structure itself still stands, although altered and no longer used as a Christian Church.); the blogger wrote that the Cordoba Mosque in Spain was first a Christian cathedral; that a Pagan pantheon in Mecca had been taken over by Mohammad himself; that the Church of St. John in Damascus was destroyed for a mosque; and that the Babri Mosque in India was built by demolishing a Hindu Temple at the site of Hinduism's Lord Rama's birthplace.
I first researched "St. Sophia's," or accurately, Agia Sophia.
As previously stated, the anti-Muslim blogger's claim that Agia Sophia was razed in favor of a mosque is not true. The Basilica was taken over by an Islamic conquering army, and all signs of Christianity that could be obliterated were. But the structure stands today, and many of the Christian-Byzantine features have been restored. One source stated that a room is set aside inside the structure for use by both Muslim and Christian workers for prayer.
The use of Agia Sophia as a mosque ended along with the Ottoman Empire, and in 1934, the modern Turkish State turned the Basilica into a museum. The Free Agia Sophia Council of America describes the Basilica as a "Holy site . . . brutally violated," by both Islam's followers and the modern day Turkish government.
Free Agia Sophia's mission is to restore Agia Sophia to a functioning Church of the Orthodox Christian faith and to reestablish the Byzantine Basilica as a "Holy house of prayer for all Christians of the world and the Basilica (seat) of Orthodoxy that it was before the conquest of Constantinople by Ottoman Turks in 1453."
The history of Istanbul's Blue Mosque, that was erected opposite to Agia Sophia more than 1,000 years after the Basilica's first existence, should be noted. One source revealed that the Blue Mosque was built by Sultan Ahmen I, with construction beginning in 1609, not because the Sultan was a fierce conqueror, but to placate Allah (Islam's incarnation of God) because the Sultan had not won any notable victories. The construction of most mosques was funded by the spoils of war. However, the Blue Mosque had to be funded with treasury funds, as Sultan Ahmen's spoils of war were paltry. The Blue Mosque does stand on the site of a palace of Byzantine emperors, facing Agia Sophia, which at the time, is described as having been the most venerated mosque in Islam.
On to the story of the Cordoba Mosque in Spain and the claim that it usurped a Christian cathedral. The anti-Muslim blogger I found during my research also pointed out that the name being floated for the Islamic Community Center near Manhattan's Ground Zero is "Cordoba House," described by the blogger as a site of key significance among the history of Islam's conquests of things-Christian.
Cordoba, Spain is the site of the capital of the Islamic Empire in Spain and is the place where Islam established its first Caliphate in Europe. A Caliphate is best described as a jurisdiction or a territory, ruled by a Caliph. The last of the Caliphs were Ottoman Turkish Sultans. In Cordoba, the Grand Cordoba Mosque was erected where a Visigoth Christian Church stood before the Visigoths were defeated by the Muslims.
I'm going to throw in my opinion here, which may be supported by historical fact. Calling the Visigoths "Christians" in the truest sense of the word -all loving, all forgiving, self-sacrificing, as Jesus Christ was - is akin to calling a Great White Shark a guppy. The Visigoths were an Eastern Germanic tribe best described for purposes of common understanding as barbarian/warriors - one of the groups of Goths - who ravaged Rome and established a kingdom in present-day Spain and southern France.
The Visigoths were "Christianized " in the latter half of the fourth century, but theirs is often described as a less-than loving, charitable, peaceful incarnation of Christianity. Many varieties of Christians are less-than literally Christ-like. That does not negate the fact that the Muslims did indeed build a mosque on the site of the Visigoth's cathedral upon defeating them.
So yes, naming the Islamic Center intended for placement close to Ground Zero is honoring and recalling an important site of Islamic conquest where a Christian house of worship was razed and replaced with a mosque.
Agia Sophia was not destroyed in terms of its actual structure, but it was altered significantly for conversion from a house of Christianity to a mosque, after a major Islamic take-over of a Christian Empire.
So yes, historically, it can be said that Muslims build mosques on sites of Christianity that they have conquered.
Next week, we'll take a look at the history of mosques usurping other religious/philosophical sites in Jerusalem, Mecca, Damascus, India, and at the prophet Mohammad as a champion of the downtrodden among his people, a man of God and as a warrior. I'll also delve into the record of Daisy Khan's controversial husband.
Until then, be well & happy. Strive to understand your neighbors as you would have your neighbors understand you.