Is the current time one of iconoclasm? Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey inaugurated the occasion of converting the Hagia Sofia Museum of Istanbul into a mosque on Friday, 24 July.
The building began life several centuries ago as a Greek pagan cathedral. It then became the grand temple of the Byzantine Greeks until they lost Constantinople to the invading Turks in 1453 AD.
Sultan Mehmet converted it into a mosque. In 1931, the maker of modern Turkey, Kamal Mustafa Atatürk secularised it into a museum.
Now again it has become a mosque. Pakistanis have got inspired to convert Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan built long years ago to commemorate the martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singhji at Naulakha Bazar in Lahore. India has protested and objected to such an act of desecration which would upset all Sikhs here and spread panic in the community in that country.
Bangladesh has not been quiet and on the fringes of Dhaka, some Hindu mandirs have been very recently destroyed.
On 5 August, the foundation stone of the new grand temple for Rama Lalla at Ayodhya is going to be legitimately laid. The other three are illegitimate, iconoclastic actions.
From this distance, we Indians we have been under the impression that the Turks were keen to join the European Union (EU). Surely iconoclastic activity is not the way to win Christian hearts over. In any case, there are many Muslims in Europe and up to five per cent of Germans are Turks.
On the other hand, making a mosque through conversion does not especially impress Muslims if Erdogan was indeed chasing their support. Moreover, Turkey is a member of NATO and Donald Trump is no special admirer of Islam.
The Pakistanis as well as Bangladeshis very well know that in India there are proven (documentary evidence or epigraphs) cases of over 3,000 temple desecrations and conversions into mosques. Systematic conversions from temples to mosques began on the morrow of the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan at the Second Battle of Tarain in 1149 AD., by Shahabuddin Ghori.
When passing through Ajmer, he was impressed by a complex of three adjoining mandirs. He asked his slave assistant Qutbuddin Aibak to join them and convert them into a mosque but within three days. Aibak achieved the task within 60 hours and therefore it has been called Adhai Din Ka Jhopda where Ghori prayed on his return journey.
Incidentally, it is a furlong plus away from the dargah of Moinuddin Chishti. Chishti’s dargah is also built on the remains of a demolished temple. In 1930s the Punjab High Court rejected the appeal of Lahore Muslims that the Sikhs should vacate the Shahidganj Gurdwara so the former could perform namaz as they did until the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
The Muslim League incited the Muslim legislators to go in further appeal to the Privy Council. The Premier, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan openly advised against such a pursuit on the ground that the Hindus could retaliate on a number of mandirs converted into mosques over the centuries.
Sir Sikandar quoted Ajmer Sharif as an example and eventually no further appeal was made. In July 2020, the Pakistanis took the law into their lands and converted the same gurdwara into a masjid; it was called Asthan Shahidi. It is the Muslims who had invaded India, they had demolished Hindu temples by the thousand.
In 1992, the illegitimate replacement for the Ram Lalla mandir was brought down. Indian Muslims should have had the grace to offer the Babri structure on a platter to the Hindus. Not to talk of what Rama meant to the Hindus, even poet Allama Iqbal called him Imam-e-Hind.
The Shias were so much more considerate than the Sunnis by their leader Ali Muhammad Jafar Rizvi withdrawing all claims to the Babri structure. If there is a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims, the bone belongs to the former. The latter have been the conquerors since 1206 and until 1858 in north India especially.
Obviously, there is no clash of interests between the communities but as Prof Samuel P. Huntington had lucidly predicted there would be a fault line clash of civilizations.
To quote him: ‘fault line conflicts are communal conflicts between states or groups from different civilizations.’
Fault line wars are conflicts that have become violent. Such wars may occur between states, between non-governmental groups, and between states and non-governmental groups. Fault line conflicts within states may involve groups which are predominantly located in geographically distinct areas, in which case the group which does not control the government normally fights for independence and may or may not be willing to settle for something less than that.
Within-state fault line conflicts may also involve groups which are geographically intermixed, in which case continually tense relations erupt into violence from time to time, as with Hindus and Muslims in India and Muslims and Chinese in Malaysia, or full-scale fighting may occur, particularly when new states and their boundaries are being determined, and produce brutal efforts to separate people by force.
Fault line conflicts sometimes are struggles for control over people. More frequently the issue is control of territory. The goal of at least one of the participants is to conquer territory and free it of other people by expelling them, killing them, or doing both, that is, by “ethnic cleansing.”
These conflicts tend to be violent and ugly, with both sides engaging in massacres, terrorism, rape, and torture. The territory at stake often is for one or both sides a highly charged symbol of their history and identity, sacred land to which they have an inviolable right’.
Incidentally, Sir Arnold Toynbee had visited Delhi and Bombay in 1961 to deliver the Azad Memorial Lectures. This was at the personal invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru. During the course of his lectures, Sir Arnold expressed surprise at having seen the masjid with tall minarets we have mentioned above, on the banks of the river Ganga, still standing.
This is despite India’s independence, at the holiest of holy places of the Hindus. He went on to say that on his recent visit to Warsaw in Poland, he saw the cathedral in that city as a Roman Catholic edifice. When the Russians had conquered Warsaw a century or more ago, they had converted the earlier Catholic cathedral into a Russian orthodox church.
The Poles could not tolerate this but were helpless. When they regained independence towards the end of World War I, they demolished the Russian church and rebuilt their own.
The writer is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament.