Both Ram Mandir (Temple) and Hagia Sophia in Turkey have been trending on Twitter while Indian PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a grand temple at the site believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.
The decade long legal dispute came to an end after the Indian Supreme Court decision in November last year when Ayodhya’s disputed site was awarded to the Hindu group for the construction of the Ram Temple while the Muslim side was awarded a piece of land to build a “prominent” mosque.
On the other hand, Turkey saw a similar precedent being set by the highest court of the country when Hagia Sophia, a church turned into a mosque and then designated as a museum, was reconverted to a mosque, much to the appreciation of the Islamic world.
As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, ruling on a petition filed by an Istanbul NGO, Turkey’s Council of State overturned a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum.
After centuries of use as a church under the Byzantine Empire, in 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Mehmet II following his conquest of Istanbul. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.
Certain similarities can be drawn in both scenarios. The response of Islamic nations has been varying in both of them. Political parties and religious groups in the two largest Muslim nations, Pakistan and Indonesia hailed the decision of Turkey’s Hagia Sophia but have actively criticised the Ayodhya verdict.
“Muslims around the world over rejoiced and in countries with predominantly Muslim populations, say Pakistan or Indonesia, will only encourage the growing Islamic populism. But at the same time, it will also offer a rhetorical aid to anti-Muslim politics in Europe and countries such as India,” wrote Mir Uzair Farooq in his analysis piece.
The critics of the decisions have argued that both of these resolutions tear the secular fabric of the two countries and pave the way for a majoritarian rule. However, Turkish Ambassador to India Sakir Ozkan Torunlar has denied such claims.
“Neither of the decisions has anything to do with the secular character of our democracies. The verdict of the Council of State is based on proof and laws of the country. Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) has been and will be protected duly as meticulously regardless of its status,” the ambassador said in a letter to the editor of The Hindu newspaper.
“This is a legal ruling and everybody is expected to respect the decision since we are all committed to the rule of law. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not rewrite the Constitution,” he added.
Amish Tripathi, the author of several mythological fiction books, accused the “establishment Indian historians from the old elite” of a bias. “They refer to the Turkic invasions as Islamic invasions, but they do not call the European conquest the Christian conquest,” he wrote in his opinion article titled: ‘Let Ayodhya Ram Mandir be a reminder: Indian ancestors died for it, up to us to rebuild.’
“I believe that they should be referred to as Turkic and European invasions; for the foreign invaders had nothing to do with Indian Muslims or Indian Christians,” he added.
Both the issues have remained a topic of contention among the netizens. Analysts believe that such issues that are brought up after decades or even centuries are nothing but a ploy for political leaders to target sentiments creating a further divide in religious groups, be it Muslims and Christians in Turkey or Hindu and Muslims in India.
“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 nothing less than strong economic growth, nothing will restore Erdogan’s popularity.”
Analysts have argued that for the ruling BJP and its Hindu nationalist supporters, building a Ram temple at the Ayodhya site will be a political dream come true. New Delhi based political pundits have talked about the timing of the Ram temple.
A temple gratifying more than 1.1 billion devotees expected to be completed around the 2024 general elections could be used to please the electorate, helping the incumbent government.
Many including Sanjay Singh from AAP Party had previously attacked the BJP-led Modi government for using the Ra temple issue as a vote bank and said, “Ram Temple is vote bank politics for BJP. They don’t care about Lord Rama. For the past 25 years, they are shouting about building a temple, but are not announcing the dates as to when they will build a temple.”
Earlier, the Pakistan foreign office had expectedly denounced the start of work on the Ram Mandir, describing it as part of the ruling BJP’s efforts to advance a “Hindutva agenda”. It also alleged that the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling last year had “failed to uphold the demands of justice” and its judgment had destroyed the “veneer of so-called secularism” in India.