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Robert Spencer: Erdogan Recites Qur’an Inside Hagia Sophia in Honor of “Istanbul’s Conqueror”

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The West has forgotten much of its history and rejected the rest, but the Islamic world remembers.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that “Turkey’s president has recited an Islamic prayer in the Hagia Sophia, a historic Istanbul landmark that has become a symbol of interfaith and diplomatic tensions.” Hagia Sophia was for nearly a millennium the grandest cathedral in the Christian world, until 1453, when the conquering Turks converted it into a mosque. Now it is a museum, but Erdogan has indicated many times that he wants to make it into a mosque again.

Inside the former great cathedral, Erdogan recited the first verse of the Qur’an, and said he was dedicating his prayer to the “souls of all who left us this work as inheritance, especially Istanbul’s conqueror.”

Nowadays Erdogan frequently invokes and glorifies Turkey’s Ottoman past, reinforcing the impression that many hold, that he is intent on restoring the caliphate in Istanbul and maybe even declare himself caliph.

In any case, when he enters the Hagia Sophia and dedicates his Islamic prayer to “Istanbul’s conqueror,” he is inviting people to remember the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople. In my forthcoming book The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS (which you can preorder here), I recount how, after over seven hundred years of trying, the warriors of jihad finally entered the great city on May 29, 1453. When they did, they made the streets run with rivers of blood. Muslims raided monasteries and convents, emptying them of their inhabitants, and plundered private houses. They entered the Hagia Sophia, which for nearly a thousand years had been the grandest church in Christendom. The Muslims then killed the elderly and weak and led the rest off into slavery.

The Byzantine scholar Bessarion wrote to the Doge of Venice in July 1453, saying that Constantinople had been

…sacked by the most inhuman barbarians and the most savage enemies of the Christian faith, by the fiercest of wild beasts. The public treasure has been consumed, private wealth has been destroyed, the temples have been stripped of gold, silver, jewels, the relics of the saints, and other most precious ornaments. Men have been butchered like cattle, women abducted, virgins ravished, and children snatched from the arms of their parents.

When the slaughter and pillage was finished, Mehmet II ordered an Islamic scholar to mount the high pulpit of the Hagia Sophia and declare that there was no God but Allah, and Muhammad was his prophet. The magnificent old church was turned into a mosque; hundreds of other churches in Constantinople and elsewhere suffered the same fate. Millions of Christians joined the ranks of the dhimmis; others were enslaved, and many were killed.

These are the glories Erdogan was invoking. He was recalling one of the most decisive and devastating victories of the warrior of jihad over the forces of Christendom, at a time when what remains of Christendom has rejected Christianity and decided that its ancient and inveterate foes are really friends after all, and always were, and any conflict between Islam and Christianity must have been the Christians’ fault.

Why would Erdogan be so keen to glorify “Istanbul’s conqueror” now? Because the current situation gives the warriors of jihad the best opportunity they have had in centuries to finish the job of conquering Europe. The modern-day Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in writing about “signs of the victory of Islam,” referred to a hadith:

The Prophet Muhammad was asked: “What city will be conquered first, Constantinople or Romiyya [Rome]?” He answered: “The city of Hirqil [ruled by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius] will be conquered first”—that is, Constantinople—Romiyya is the city called today ‘Rome,’ the capital of Italy. The city of Hirqil [that is, Constantinople] was conquered by the young 23-year-old Ottoman Muhammad bin Morad, known in history as Muhammad the Conqueror, in 1453. The other city, Romiyya, remains, and we hope and believe [that it too will be conquered]. This means that Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice—once from the South, from Andalusia, and a second time from the East, when it knocked several times on the door of Athens.”

And now it is happening. Erdogan knows it, and is exultant in victory.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is Confessions of an Islamophobe. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.

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