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Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan reconverts Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque and declares it open to worship

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Turkey — The president of Turkey on Friday formally reconverted Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had made the religious landmark a museum.

The decision sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians. Originally a cathedral, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque after Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire but had been a museum for the last 86 years, drawing millions of tourists annually.

There was jubilation outside the terracotta-hued structure with cascading domes and four minarets. Dozens of people awaiting the court’s ruling chanted “Allah is great!” when the news broke.
In the capital of Ankara, legislators stood and applauded as the decision was read in Parliament.

Turkey’s high administrative court threw its weight behind a petition brought by a religious group and annulled the 1934 Cabinet decision that turned the site into a museum. Within hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree handing over Hagia Sophia to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency.

He posted the decree on his Twitter account, with the words “may it be beneficial.”

Erdogan had spoken in favor of turning the hugely symbolic UNESCO World Heritage site back into a mosque despite widespread international criticism, including from the United States and Orthodox Christian leaders, who had urged Turkey to retain its status as a museum as a symbol of solidarity among faiths and cultures.

The decision threatens to deepen tensions with neighboring Greece, whose culture minister, Lina Mendoni, denounced the move as “an open challenge to the entire civilized world that recognizes the unique value and universality of the monument.”

“Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, is a monument to all mankind, regardless of religion,” she said.

Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations,” tweeted Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian upper house of parliament, called the action “a mistake.”

“Turning it into a mosque will not do anything for the Muslim world. It does not bring nations together, but on the contrary brings them into collision,” he said.

The debate hits at the heart of Turkey’s religious-secular divide. Nationalist and conservative groups in Turkey have long yearned to hold prayers at Hagia Sophia, which they regard as part of the Muslim Ottoman legacy. Others believe it should remain a museum, as a symbol of Christian and Muslim solidarity.

“It was a structure that brought together both Byzantine and Ottoman histories,” said Zeynep Kizildag, a 27-year-old social worker, who did not support the conversion. “The decision to turn it into a mosque is like erasing 1,000 years of history, in my opinion.”

Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian member of Turkey’s Parliament tweeted that it was “a sad day for Christians (and) for all who believe in a pluralist Turkey.”

“The decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque will make life more difficult for Christians here and for Muslims in Europe,” he wrote. “Hagia Sophia was a symbol of our rich history. Its dome was big enough for all.”

The group that brought the case to court had contested the legality of the 1934 decision by the modern Turkish republic’s secular government ministers, arguing the building was the personal property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Istanbul in 1453.

“I was not surprised at all that the court weighed to sanction Erdogan’s moves because these days Erdogan gets from Turkish courts what Erdogan wants,” said Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute.

“Erdogan wants to use Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque to rally his right-wing base,” said Cagaptay, the author of “Erdogan’s Empire.” “But I don’t think this strategy will work. I think that short of economic growth, nothing will restore Erdogan’s popularity.”

The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, warned last month that the building’s conversion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”

Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, called for “prudence” and the preservation of the “current neutral status” for the Hagia Sophia, which he said was one of Christianity’s “devoutly venerated symbols.”

“Russia is a country with the majority of the population professing Orthodoxy, and so, what may happen to Hagia Sophia will inflict great pain on the Russian people,” he said in a statement.

U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo said last month the landmark should remain a museum to serve as bridge between faiths and cultures. His comments sparked a rebuke from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, which said Hagia Sophia was a domestic issue of Turkish national sovereignty.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the Hagia Sophia issue to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party.

Some Islamic prayers have been held in the museum in recent years. In a major symbolic move, Erdogan recited the opening verse of the Quran there in 2018.

Built under Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, where emperors were crowned amid ornate marble and mosaic decorations.

The minarets were added later and the building was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople — the city that is now called Istanbul.

The building opened its doors as a museum in 1935, a year after the Council of Ministers’ decision.

Mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary and Christian saints that were plastered over in line with Islamic rules were uncovered through arduous restoration work for the museum. Hagia Sophia was the most popular museum in Turkey last year, drawing more than 3.7 million visitors.

Before the decision, UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body, had called on Turkish authorities to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the site’s “universal value.”

UNESCO said it must be notified of any change to the status of Hagia Sophia, adding that changes may have to be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee.

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Vietnamese pastor released after 4 years imprisonment over religious freedom advocacy

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A Vietnamese pastor imprisoned for advocating for religious freedom has finally been released after spending over four years in prison, drawing praise from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

On Sept. 18, USCIRF announced that A Dao, a pastor of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ, had been released from prison. Dao was arrested in 2016 while on his way to visit some members of his church after attending a conference on religious freedom in East Timor.

In April 2017, a Vietnamese court tried and sentenced the pastor to five years imprisonment for allegedly “helping individuals to escape abroad illegally” under Article 275 of the country’s Penal Code. Dao was not expected to be released until Aug. 18, 2021.

USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr, who advocated for Dao’s release through USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, said he hopes the release is a “sign that the Vietnamese government is serious about improving religious freedom conditions and will release other individuals detained for their religious freedom advocacy.”

He also called on Vietnam’s government to “take steps to ensure that local authorities respect A Dao’s freedom and safety should he choose to return to his home village.”

Dao had for years advocated for his fellow church members to enjoy religious freedom in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. While in prison, the pastor was beaten and abused by prison guards, while his church experienced ongoing harassment from the authorities.

Representative Glenn Grothman, who adopted Dao through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project, said the pastor’s release marked a “hallmark day for both Pastor A Dao and Vietnam.”

“I hope that his release is a sign of Vietnam transitioning from an anti-God totalitarian state to a country in which religion in general and Christianity in particular can be openly practiced,” he said, adding that the release “shows the importance of American elected officials speaking out against oppression and promoting the importance of religious freedom throughout the world.”

“Religion should not be a tool to oppress any person nor a stain on their character,” he said. “I hope other American Congressmen familiarize themselves with the oppression that religious minorities, which in many parts of the world are Christians, have to deal with on a daily basis.”

Under Vietnam’s constitution, citizens are allowed to “follow any religion or follow none” and the government is required to respect and protect freedom of religion. According to estimates, the majority of Vietnam’s more than 94 million people practice Buddhism. More than 6 million Vietnamese are Catholic, more than 1 million practice the Cao Dai or Hoa Hao faiths, and approximately 1 to 2 million are Protestant.

However, the constitution permits authorities to override human rights, including religious freedom, for reasons of “national security, social order and security, social morality, and community well-being.”

Vietnam’s Communist government is particularly suspicious of Christianity, which it associates with former invaders, France and the U.S.

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF noted that Hmong and Montagnard Christians in Vietnam’s Northern and Central Highlands are regularly harassed, detained, or even banished because of their religious affiliation. Because of this, USCIRF has recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 2002.

Vietnam ranks as the 21st worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. According to the persecution watchdog, Christians in Vietnam are targeted by both government and tribal leaders.

In 2018, Vietnam sentenced and jailed a number of Catholic activists, bloggers and Protestant pastors. In August, a pastor, Le Dinh Luong, was sentenced to 20 years for an alleged attempt to “overthrow the government.”
Sources: Christian Post

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അനുതാപത്തോടെ ദൈവത്തെ വിളിച്ചപേക്ഷിക്കാതെ മുന്നോട്ട് പോകാന്‍ കഴിയില്ല: ഫ്രാങ്ക്ളിൻ ഗ്രഹാമിന്റെ മുന്നറിയിപ്പ്

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അമേരിക്കയെ ബാധിച്ചിരിക്കുന്ന ഗുരുതര പ്രശ്നങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് പരിഹാരം കാണുവാന്‍ ദൈവത്തിനു മാത്രമേ കഴിയുകയുള്ളുവെന്നും അനുതപിക്കുകയും സര്‍വ്വശക്തനേ വിളിച്ച് അപേക്ഷിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യാതെ രാജ്യത്തിന് മുന്നോട്ട് പോകാന്‍ കഴിയില്ലായെന്നും ലോക പ്രശസ്ത വചനപ്രഘോഷകന്‍ ഫ്രാങ്ക്ളിൻ ഗ്രഹാം. ഈ ശനിയാഴ്ച വാഷിംഗ്‌ടണ്‍ ഡി.സിയില്‍വെച്ച് നടക്കുന്ന ദേശീയ പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥനാറാലിയെ കുറിച്ച് ക്രിസ്ത്യന്‍ പോസ്റ്റിനു നല്‍കിയ ടെലിഫോണ്‍ അഭിമുഖത്തിലാണ് അന്തരിച്ച പ്രശസ്ത സുവിശേഷകന്‍ ബില്ലി ഗ്രഹാമിന്റെ മകന്‍ കൂടിയായ ഫ്രാങ്ക്ളിൻ ഗ്രഹാം ഈ മുന്നറിയിപ്പ് നല്‍കിയിരിക്കുന്നത്. കൊറോണ പകര്‍ച്ചവ്യാധിയെ തുടര്‍ന്നുള്ള ലോക്ക്ഡൌണ്‍ മൂലമുണ്ടായ തൊഴിലില്ലായ്മയും, കച്ചവട സ്ഥാപനങ്ങളുടെ അടച്ചുപൂട്ടലുമാണ് ദേശീയ പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥനാറാലി സംഘടിപ്പിക്കുവാനുള്ള പ്രധാന കാരണമെന്നു അദ്ദേഹം വെളിപ്പെടുത്തി.

“ദൈവവും, ദൈവീക വഴികളും ഗവണ്‍മെന്റുകളില്‍ നിന്നും, വിദ്യാലയങ്ങളില്‍ നിന്നും സമൂഹങ്ങളില്‍ നിന്നും നീക്കം ചെയ്യപ്പെട്ടുകഴിഞ്ഞു. അമേരിക്കയെ ചുറ്റിപ്പറ്റിയുള്ള ആത്മീയ അന്ധകാരം നീക്കുവാന്‍ ആര്‍ക്കും സാധ്യമല്ല. റിപ്പബ്ലിക്കന്‍സിനോ, ഡെമോക്രാറ്റുകള്‍ക്കോ ഇത് പരിഹരിക്കുവാന്‍ കഴിയുകയില്ല”. ഫ്രാങ്ക്ലിന്‍ കൂട്ടിച്ചേര്‍ത്തു. നമ്മുടെ തെരുവുകളിലും, ചില സമൂഹങ്ങളിലും അസ്വസ്ഥതകള്‍ ഉണ്ടെന്നും, ജനങ്ങള്‍ പാര്‍ശ്വവത്കരിക്കപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്നതിനാല്‍ അവരുടെ മുറവിളി ആരും കേള്‍ക്കുന്നില്ലെന്നും ഇതെല്ലാം ഒരു സമയത്ത് തന്നെ തിളച്ചു മറിയുകയാണെന്നും അദ്ദേഹം പറഞ്ഞു.

നമ്മള്‍ അനുതപിക്കുകയും സര്‍വ്വശക്തനായ ദൈവത്തെ വിളിച്ചപേക്ഷിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തില്ലെങ്കില്‍ അമേരിക്കക്ക് മുന്നോട്ട് പോകുവാന്‍ കഴിയില്ല. “പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥിക്കുന്ന ആളുകള്‍ ഇപ്പോഴും അമേരിക്കയില്‍ ഉണ്ടോ? ഒരു വലിയ ഉയര്‍ത്തെഴുന്നേല്‍പ്പിന് സാധ്യതയുണ്ടോ?” എന്ന ചോദ്യത്തിന്, ‘വിരളം’ എന്നായിരുന്നു ഫ്രാങ്ക്ലിന്റെ മറുപടി. ക്രിസ്ത്യന്‍ സന്നദ്ധ സംഘടനയായ സമരിറ്റന്‍സ് പഴ്സിന്റേയും, ബില്ലി ഗ്രഹാം ഇവാഞ്ചലിസ്റ്റ് അസോസിയേഷന്റേയും പ്രസിഡന്‍റാണ് ഫ്രാങ്ക്ലിന്‍.
കടപ്പാട് :പ്രവാചക ശബ്ദം

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