Thousands of Muslims prayed outside Istanbul's historic Hagia Sophia museum today to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services there. "Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open," and "God is great", they shouted.
I had written in the past that Haghia Sophia, which served as a cathedral for 916 years and as a mosque for 481 years, is a symbol of tolerance and not repression. With today's show-off (yes, an honest prayer is between God and the person, not some men and surprised tourists), Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk proved right to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum.
Atatürk was a late figure of the Age of Enlightenment and his decision was just another proof of it, among others like women's suffrage and public education. However, this decision is still being criticized by two sides: Some Islamists in Turkey and Western European/American right-wing, as well as their Western-oriented Turkish counterparts. They keep presenting Atatürk as a problem in Turkey's past.
"The museumization of places of worship used to happen in communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union. Turkey should not follow that bad example — at least anymore," Mustafa Akyol had given such an instance in Hürriyet Daily News a couple of years ago. With such a complexed mind, almost fixated on Atatürk, you would of course think that everything that he has ever done should be wrong. But maybe, only maybe, you can see today that Hagia Sophia should be better off as a museum.
After all, with such an uneducated (yes, it seems that Atatürk and/or his predecessors failed at this level), pretentious but not truely devout masses in Turkey, you can only create chaos by turning back the clock, making Hagia Sophia a mosque or a church again. It may even rake up the hollow concept of the Clash of Civilizations. And I'm telling these as a Muslim who defines himself as "devout enough," as I know that the most recurring advice in Koran is to be restrained, to be moderate, "not to overstep the mark."
He did a lot of mistakes, like all leaders, but Atatürk was a progressive. So progressive that he keeps embarrassing the so-called progressives of our time, even 83 years after his death. What can be done now? The man was a genius, his anachronical critiques are obviously not, as seen in the square in front of Hagia Sophia.