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Here’s Why You Should Stop Comparing Hagia Sophia And Babri Mosque

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Ahsan Cheema argues that it is absurd to draw comparison between the Hagia Sophia and Babri Mosque while ignoring the political and historical contexts of Turkey and India.

The event of conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque from a museum was put to scrutiny by most of the western world. Recently, in Pakistan, many articles on different occasions have been comparing the event with that of the Babri Masjid and how both Indian and Turkic governments are running their politics on religious grounds. In the midst of all this, Pakistan had its own event of the obstruction in the construction of a temple in the country’s capital.

All three of the event might look similar, as a symbol of oppression towards some and glorification towards others, but only on the surface level and not at all if studied in a deeper and more contextual sense.

Why we cannot compare the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque with Babri Masjid is related to the context of the benefactors of both events: Muslims in the case of Hagia Sophia and Hindus in the case of Babri Masjid.

Secularism and secularisation can be defined as two different ideas. Secularism can be argued as a political ideology where the governance and religion are separated on the state level and in legal processes while allowing the populous the liberty to keep whatever faith they desire.

Secularisation on the other hand does not only mean that the state and the church are separated but that the populous to be also separated from the church, i.e. the state takes control of the belief of the people while marginalising one belief or eradicating others over secularist beliefs. Meaning, secularisation is not only then political but also social and on a personal scale.

India, historically, has been a state that has inclined towards secularism, in theory, whereas Turkey that was built on the Kemalist idea was more inclined towards the idea of secularisation. Meaning, India and its nationalism are based on heterogeneity,i.e. separate but one and multiple beliefs. Whereas Turkic nationalism proposed by the Attaturk was built on a homogenous principle of one ideological westernised Turkic nation, where anything that was coming from outside of Turkic primordial experience (for example Islam) was simply not acceptable.

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Due to this, not only that Islamic Ulemas were pushed to the side, but the Muslim population in Turkey was also marginalised, oppressed, and pushed to the far south. Similarly, people were pushed out of the political representation and were deemed socially unacceptable for holding Muslim (Arab) values.

Coming back to the question of why we should not compare the aforementioned events. In order to answer this question, we need to keep this demarcation of secularisation and secularism with respect to India and Turkey in mind. Whereas the benefactor populous in India was already enjoying religious freedom and was not marginalised on the account of their belief system, the Turkic Muslims were not enjoying the same status. It was only in 2002 that these Muslims found voice and representation in the form of the AK party [currently in government], whereas the Hindu population of India enjoyed their political freedom.

The question that one needs to raise here is that at one end, through Kemalist reforms, Hagia Sophia as a museum has served as a symbol of oppression for the Muslim population of Turkey and conversion of the monument back to the mosque serving as the symbol of emancipation of a politically oppressed population. Can the event be compared to an act of oppression by a politically emancipated majority on another politically oppressed minority?

The second question that one needs to ask is that while we are living in Pakistan, where Muslims enjoy the political north as a majority and non-Muslims are stuck as the political south, can we really apply the same idea on Turkey and the events there without considering the context and history of the population existing there?

The third question that I would like to raise in this article is that, though one can argue that Erdogan might be using the religious card to buildup the legitimacy for his power, by opposing the decision, are we really going to ignore the Turkic history and experience and feed into the narrative of the clash of civilizations?

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And lastly, I would like to raise the question that instead of criticising the event on the basis of religious extremisms and comparing the event to religious extremism, can we not instead think over the nationalist narratives that somehow are considered sacred and good?

To conclude, one needs to understand that by outright rejecting the event and condemning it, we are rejecting and condemning a population that has been oppressed for almost 70 years.

Due to Kemalist modernisation, which seemed similar to westernisation, and by rejecting a majority population, the fear of the West that has already been ingrained in them is only reinforced by the rejection of the conversion of the Hagia Sophia even further, which is only serving the Erdogan’s nationalist narrative.

Though, this seems problematic, to accept it or reject it should not be the only two options. We need to look for the middle ground and search the grey areas between the black and white to look for an answer where everyone can feel emancipated.

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